Historian recalls early Abilene Sheriff who died in shootout 136 years ago this week

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ABILENE, TEXAS (KRBC/KTAB) — One of Abilene’s very first sheriffs was shot and killed 136 years ago this week, on Jan. 8, 1884. And if you walked down the streets of Abilene 136 years ago, it’d look a little different than it does today.

Local historian Jay Moore says you’d definitely see more horses in 1884.   

“There was a depot, but it wasn’t that depot. There was a railroad track, but it wasn’t off the ground like that one. The town was dirt streets, blank sidewalks, very few brick buildings,” he said.

Abilene was then considered a lawless town, and Walter Collins was its protector and sheriff at the time. But in a local saloon on the corner of 1st and Pine St. serves as a reminder of that building and that tragic day.  

“At the cattle exchange, the owner was a fellow named Zeno Hemphill, and Mr. Hemphill had a very poor reputation,” he said.   

Walter Collins walked into Hemphill’s saloon to talk to him about his non-compliance with a new gambling law.   

“Things got heated and Mr. Hemphill slugged Frank. Then guns were drawn, and they all apparently emptied their revolvers,” Moore says.    

In an instant, it became a classic western shootout. After the commotion, Frank and Zeno laid there on the floor, dead from their injuries. But in death, they ended up becoming unlikely neighbors.  

“Zeno Hemphill and Mr. Collins ironically were about the same time in the cemetery just yards apart. So, both families were at the cemetery at the same time,” Moore said.

And it was just late last year where members of the Taylor Country Sheriff’s Office went to Austin to put his name on the Lost Lawman Memorial wall. 

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