ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- A lone plaque sits at the corner of North 1st Street and Pine street. Although it sits next to a parking lot, it commemorates a deadly shootout that happened in the building that once stood there 139 years ago.
“It was the first time a law enforcement official died in the line of duty in our county… One of the few times at that point in Texas history that an elected city official died in the line of duty,” Frontier Texas Executive Director Jeff Salmon explained.
A historical re-enactment of this fatal encounter in early Abilene will take place on Saturday, March 11, and Saturday, March 18 in the Frontier Texas outdoor courtyard. Showings begin at high noon sharp and are free to the public. Salmon said they hope to share the historical significance of this incident with as many people as possible.
“At that point, the citizens at that point said, ‘We don’t want any more of this lawlessness. We are going to be a city of law and order,'” Salmon described.
On the evening of January 8, 1884, Abilene City Alderman Frank Collins and his brother Walter Collins, a Taylor County Deputy Sheriff, approached the building at North 1st Street and Pine Street. The two searched for Zeno L. Hemphill, the man that ran a gambling operation out of the building/bar known as the Cattle Exchange.
“The new city ordinances prohibited gambling and other things… They got into an argument and when the dust clears, there’s three people who have died in this tragic event,” Salmon explained.
The men had been sent at the behest of the Abilene Council, but much more was at play between the three than simply pistols and poker chips.
“Zeno Hemphill had been indicted for murder and was out on bail on a bond being held by one of the Collins brothers,” Salmon said.
As a bail bondsman, Collins bailed Hemphill and an assortment of unrelated criminals out on a ‘group bond,’ a singular sum used to cover multiple bonds. Due to this case and other factors, group bonds are no longer allowed today.
“Because the holder of the bond and the bondee were dead, the court system here did not know what to do to release these other people,” Salmon explained.
The case made it all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court. Their decision helped Abilene sort out the issue and established a new Texas law that still stands today.
“That you could no longer bond multiple parties under a single bond,” Salmon stated.
Both the Collins brothers and Hemphill are buried at the Abilene Municipal Cemetery. Although they sit only a few yards away from each other, Hemphill’s grave has a characteristic that sets it apart from the rest – He was buried at an angle.
“There’s a lot of folklore around that. But the basic story is that it designated that he was a crooked man and didn’t deserve to be buried directly in line with the other people who were being buried at the time,” Salmon shared.
The Pine Street Shoot-out re-enactment began around 2010. Salmon and his peers worked to establish the historical plaque commemorating the incident. Salmon said that the first re-enactment was simplistic.
This will be the third re-enactment and Salmon has written an entirely new script based on research gathered in the past few years.