The Tucker-Parnell Feud
Showdown at Sunset-1902- The True Story
For the rest of his long life, young Jack Pendleton would never forget that day.
It was 4:30 on a pleasent fall afternoon, October 9, 1902. The streets around the courthouse square in downtown ElDorado, Arkansas, were bustling.
It being Thursday, folks were going about their workday business. Youngsters had finished school for the day. Visitors from other communities were in town conducting their affairs, some in the courthouse itself, others in the shops and stores that lined all sides of the square.
Twelve year old Jack was concentrating on an errand for his father, who ran the bucther shop at the square's southwest corner. Jack was on his way to fetch a horse from the corral across the square. As usual, he took his shortcut inside the iron fence surrounding the courthouse. But today he had trouble with the gate. As he struggled with it, he heard the commanding voice of the town marshal.
"Jack, you better get out of the way. It looks like there's going to be some trouble here."
Jack turned from the gate as Marshal Guy Tucker barked out the warning. The marshal, wearing his blue serge suit and black Stetson hat, swung away as he spoke. He jerked back his coat, revealing his Colt pistol.
Torn between his inclination to obey the law officer's order and his boyish curiosity, Jack reluctantly reversed his steps. He headed back toward the butcher shop. But he kept glancing over his shoulder at Tucker. Then he saw what had caused the marshal to send him packing.
Two of the numerous Parnell brothers, Tom and Walter, had approached the gate in the east stretch of the courtyard fence. Tucker,still inside the fence,was facing them down.
Bad feelings between Marshal Tucker and the Parnells had been simmering for weeks. In a few moments, those feelings would erupt into a bloody shootout, and three men would lie dead in the ElDorado streets. Anotherthree would be wounded.
The gunfight would burn a lasting scar on the town and would ignite what has come to be known as the Tucker-Parnell feud. In days to come, that feud would claim additional lifes. It would leave such bitter feelings that even today descendants of original participants in the feud won't discuss its particulars.
In 1902, eldorado was an ordinary railroad hub, set in the midst of a sea of timber. The lumber business drove the economy and provided the properity that recently had allowed construction of the new courthouse. That red brick structure was surrounded by a low iron fence. Residents still clung to the frontier spirt, though it now was gilded with a layer of late 19th century entrepreneuism and was marked by lingering memoried of the Cival War and Reconstruction. Toughness, a strong sense of pride, and personal honor were bedrock civic virtures.
The town, especially the square, was a busy place. Business was good and rivalries sprang up naturaly as competition thrived. There is no reason to believe the chain of events that set in motion the Tucker-Parnell feud started as anything but another small-town rivalry. But this one got out of hand.
On the southeast corner of the square stood the general merchandise store run by some of the Parnells. A former business partner described the family as"pretty good people" though "a litle bit hard."
On the north was a harness shop run by the town constable, Harrison Dearing. Dearing was a close associate of town Marshal Tucker, but he also was a good friend of Walter Parnell.
At the beginning, the rivalry that touched off the feud involved Dearing but not the Parnells. Over the years, garbled versions of the feud's origins told of a red-headed woman and a argument over a sidewalk. Both played important, but secondary, parts in events that October day.
It seems Miss Jessie Stevenson of ElDorado was working for a local photographer by the name of Robert Mullens. Mullens, apparently a hothead inclined to agrument and willing to back up his points with a bit of physical violence, had his heart set on Miss Jessie. But she was engaged to marry William Puckett of Texarkana, a border city about ninety miles to the west.
One September day, Puckett arrived in ElDorado to claim his bride. Photographer Mullens had other ideas, however, and a furious argument broke out in his downtown gallery. Puckett was forced to beat such a hasty retreat that he left his horse and buggy behind. He was resourceful enough, though,to enlist the aid of Marshal Tucker, who accompanied Puckett back to get Miss Jessie.
Quickly enough, the couple was married and planned to travel to Texarkana by train. But word reached Puckett that Mullens intended to intercept the newlyweds on their journey. Once again, Puckett turned to Tucker.
This time, Tucker sought Constable Dearing's assistance, and the lawmen rode with the Pucketts on the train to the McMurrian Station. There, Mullens was waiting on the platform. Tucker arrested him before he could interfere with the couple and returned him to ElDorado.
It turned out that Dearing and Mullens already had been fussing for weeks. The cause of their conflict was nothing more than some disagreements between their children, but that had been enough to set the stage for what was to follow.