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Tucker-Parnell Feud

The Tucker-Parnell Feud (or Parnell-Tucker Feud) refers to a series of assaults and shootings in the Union County area between 1902 and 1905, stemming from a shootout in downtown El Dorado (Union County) that left three dead in October 1902. The repercussions of the downtown shootings led to an estimated thirty to forty deaths in Union County over the three-year period.

The dispute began not between the Parnells and the Tuckers, two Union County families, but between two other men over which would marry an El Dorado woman. William Puckett of Texarkana (Miller County) had arranged to marry Jessie Stevenson and arrived in El Dorado on September 17, 1902, to meet her. Stevenson worked for local photographer Bob Mullens, who became enraged when Puckett arrived at his studio trying to find her. He claimed that Stevenson was going to marry him, not Puckett, and allegedly attacked Puckett. Puckett summoned El Dorado city marshal Guy B. Tucker for protection as he located Stevenson and quickly married her. As the newlyweds left El Dorado to board a train back to Texarkana, Tucker accompanied the couple and enlisted El Dorado constable Harrison Dearing to help protect the two. As the couple attempted to board the train, Mullens suddenly appeared and rushed toward them. Dearing arrested Mullens, who was quickly released on bail. The next day, Mullens confronted Dearing over the arrest. The fight escalated. Dearing shot Mullens, who died the next day.

The Parnell family had long been close friends with Mullens and at odds with several businessmen and city leaders in El Dorado. Marshall Parnell’s eight sons, enraged at the shooting, strongly defended Mullens. The Parnells later claimed that Tucker and Dearing, former business partners, had a vendetta against them arising from a recent dispute over construction at the Parnell store downtown, which had reportedly disrupted a busy sidewalk.

On October 9, the bitterness escalated further. Apparently, a subpoena was to be delivered for another brother, Mat Parnell, to testify before the grand jury at the county courthouse regarding the Mullens shooting. The subpoena was delayed, enraging the Parnells, who were anxious to tell their side of the story. A second brother, Dan Parnell, was able to testify that day. That afternoon at about 4:30 p.m., as Tucker, Dearing, and El Dorado grocer and Parnell rival Frank Newton walked along the east side of the downtown square near the courthouse, they encountered three more of the Parnell brothers: Tom, Walter, and Jim. Heated words were exchanged, and all quickly pulled their guns. Within moments, a confused frenzy of gunfire swept across the street.

Jim Parnell shot at Newton, missing him. Newton returned fire, missing Parnell. Dearing then shot Tom Parnell. Mat Parnell had now arrived and joined the fight as the younger brother of Marshal Guy Tucker, Clarence, arrived. Clarence Tucker and Mat Parnell fought, with Tucker cutting Parnell. Dr. R. A. Hilton arrived and shot Mat Parnell. Jim Parnell then struck Hilton. Dearing, Newton, and Guy Tucker all shot Tom Parnell multiple times, killing him. Constable Dearing and Walter Parnell wildly shot at each other, killing each other. Guy Tucker was shot six times but survived. A crowd quickly gathered to see the aftermath of the carnage, and Union County sheriff H. C. Norris separated the two factions. In the end, Walter and Tom Parnell lay dead, along with Constable Dearing.

The city was tense in the weeks following the shootings, with factions throughout the county backing either Tucker or the Parnells. Charges were filed against the Parnells in the incident but were dropped on the condition that brothers Mat and Jim Parnell leave Arkansas. The Parnells angrily charged that Tucker had effectively rigged the justice system against them in Union County. Animosity and violence spread across the county in the months afterward as attacks began to mount against supporters of either Tucker or Parnell.

In August 1903, Guy Tucker was sent a jug of strychnine-laced whiskey from an unknown assailant. Days after the attempted poisoning, on August 8, Tucker confronted John Parnell on the courthouse square. Parnell had written an angry letter to a local newspaper critical of Tucker and the local justice system just days before the poisoning. After a heated exchange, Tucker shot and killed him. Immediately, rumors of mobs threatening to descend on the town and bomb threats prompted the state militia to be called out to restore order. Tucker was brought up on murder charges for the death of John Parnell but was acquitted in March 1905 after a series of delays.

Tucker resigned as city marshal later in 1905, apparently believing that his resignation would defuse the violence in the area, and began running a saloon in nearby Champagnolle (Union County). Violence continued as two Tucker allies were killed and Tucker himself was later shot by unknown assailants, resulting in the amputation of his arm. Tucker then moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), and the feud gradually subsided. Many of the surviving members of the Parnell family eventually moved away from Union County, but the daughter of Walter Parnell, Blanche Parnell Wade, stayed in El Dorado and became a renowned benefactor in the city. She even had a brief, cordial meeting with Governor Jim Guy Tucker, grandson of Guy Tucker, when he visited the city in 1993.

In the decades since the feud ended, El Dorado has commemorated the incident in a number of ways. Historical markers detailing the events surrounding the violence have been placed in the downtown area. Since the 1980s, a re-enactment of the deadly 1902 shootout and the events leading up to it has been held in downtown El Dorado near the site of the violence. The “Showdown at Sunset” has become a popular local attraction and is held every Saturday evening in June, July, and August. The event has been rated as one of the “Top 100 Events in North America” by the American Bus Association.

For additional information:
Arnold, George. Gunfight on the Courthouse Square: The True Story of the Tucker-Parnell Feud in Union County, Arkansas, 1902–1905. El Dorado, AR: News-Times Publishing, 1995.

Tucker, Marshall. Parnell-Tucker Feud: A Truthful Account of the Trouble on the Streets of El Dorado, Arkansas. Junction City, AR: South Arkansas Historical Foundation, 2003.

Kenneth Bridges
South Arkansas Community College

Last Updated 9/9/2009

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