Tax Resisters Gunned Down in Dothan, Alabama

From the Buffalo Courier, :

Seven Men Riddled.

Sanguinary Shooting Affray in an Alabama Town.

 A special to the Advertiser from Dothen, Ala., says: “In a difficulty here seven men were shot. Two are dead and another dying. The trouble arose between the town council and the draymen of the farmers’ warehouse, the latter refusing to pay the license demanded by the town authorities. Both marshals were shot, and one will die. Two draymen were killed. Great excitement prevailed among the farmers last night, but all was quiet.”

Curious, I decided to do a little digging in the archives. I quickly found that Scotty E. Kirkland had been there first and had published what he found about “The Dothan Riot” in The Alabama Review.

reenactors pose before a mural representing the Dothan Riot in Dothan, Alabama

The short version of the story goes something like this: Dothan had only recently incorporated as a town in what had long been a sleepy rural area of the Wiregrass region of Alabama dominated by small-scale agriculture. In , some 250 people lived in the town of Dothan (its boosters claimed 400). The town’s political elite were focused on cleaning up the town by keeping the rural rowdies under control. The farmers were not interested in buckling under to the town’s elites and had intimidated a series of officials and marshalls into abandoning their positions.

In , a new marshall came to town, a 19-year-old named J.L. “Tobe” Domingus, who decided to play tough: “breaking up large gatherings in saloons and hotels to prevent riotous behavior, using his pistols and clubs effectively to enforce the law. His policing tactics kept the Dothan jail full.”

Dothan enacted a poll tax for town street improvements, and also put anyone arrested by Domingus to work on the city streets as part of their punishments. Area farmers saw these measures as townies forcibly enlisting farmers to improve the townies’ property, and Domingus in particular was the symbol of this injustice.

Farmers were increasingly unionizing at this time as well. The local branch of the union called the Farmers’ Alliance organized a cooperative that would purchase and sell the cotton raised by its members, and planned to establish a warehouse in Dothan for this purpose. Dothan responded by levying a tax on the proposed warehouse. The Alliance countered by deciding to build the warehouse just outside of town in order to avoid the tax.

In the construction of a railroad through the area began, and on the first train came to Dothan, as the Alliance’s warehouse was going up adjacent to the tracks. The warehouse opened on .

On the town, having been frustrated by the Alliance’s move of the warehouse out of town limits, passed an ordinance levying a tax of $25 on any wagon hauling goods through town. Domingus began arresting any Alliance member who tried to haul their cotton through town to the warehouse without paying the tax. George Stringer, the warehouse manager, was arrested three times in the initial weeks the tax was in effect — the third time he was severely beaten by Domingus and his deputy.

Domingus and the deputy were put on trial for assault, but in the midst of the trial, Domingus for good measure clubbed Stringer’s brother. George Stringer and a friend drew their weapons, Domingus and his deputy did too, and then things got very Wild West for a few seconds. Domingus shot George Stringer and his friend to death. Domingus was then stabbed and shot. Powell was shot in the arm. Several others were wounded.

Domingus survived, barely, and was put on trial for the murders. (He was convicted, but his convictions were reversed by the state supreme court. He then boldly returned to Dothan and continued to serve in law enforcement there for the next 45 years.)

But by , the city decided they’d pushed things too far. It rescinded the tax on the Alliance members’ wagons.