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Showdown at Sundown Begins Saturday

Posted on June 25, 2012

Originally published in the El Dorado News-Times on June 26, 2012.

By: Tia Lyons

Showdown at Sunset, the long-running historical re-enactment of an early 1900s gunfight that left three men dead on the Union County Courthouse square, will begin its summer run on Saturday on the east side of the courthouse.

The cast of Chicago, South Arkansas Art Center?s summer production, will lead in Showdown with a performance at 6:00 p.m.

The re-enactment will follow at 6:30 p.m.

Showdown, which is now in its 14th year, captures an infamous piece of El Dorado history and is presented each summer by Main Street El Dorado.

Ironically, the origins of the Tucker-Parnell conflict didn?t even start with the two families, according to information compiled by Dr. Kenneth Bridges, who teaches history and geography for South Arkansas Community College, for Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.

The dispute reportedly ignited over a woman, Jessie Stevenson.

Two men, local photographer Bob Mullens, and William Puckett of Miller County, had set their sights to marry Stevenson, who worked for Mullens in his studio.

On Sept. 19, 1902, Puckett arrived in El Dorado to meet Stevenson, enraging Mullens, who claimed that Stevenson was going to marry him and not Puckett.

Mullens allegedly attacked Puckett and Puckett summoned Tucker for protection after he found Stevenson and quickly married her. The newlyweds, accompanied by Tucker, then left El Dorado to board a train headed back to Texarkana.

Tucker had enlisted the help of El Dorado constable Harrison Dearing to help protect the couple, and as they tried to entrain, Mullens showed up on the scene and rush toward them.

Dearing arrested Mullens, who was immediately released on bail, and the next day, Mullens confronted Dearing about the arrest. A fight ensued, during which Dearing shot Mullens.

Mullens died the following day.

The Parnells, who had been close friends with Mullens, then entered the fray.

Enraged by the shooting of their friend, Marshall Parnell?s eight sons fiercely defended him and later claimed that Tucker and Dearing had a vendetta against them due to a recent dispute over construction at the Parnell store downtown.

The family had also been at odds with several businessmen and El Dorado city leaders, including former business partners Tucker and Dearing, and the construction project had reportedly disrupted a busy downtown sidewalk.

The delay of a subpoena for brother Mat Parnell to testify before a grand jury at the courthouse regarding the Mullens shooting added more fuel to the Parnells? fire.

A second brother, Dan Parnell, testified on Oct. 9, but at about 4:30 p.m. that same day, three other Parnell brothers, Tom, Walter, and Jim, came face to face with Tucker, Dearing, and Frank Newton, an El Dorado grocer and also a Parnell rival, as the latter trio walked along the east side of the square near the courthouse.

Heated words were exchanged. Guns were drawn. Within moments, gunfire erupted and swept across the street. When the frenzy died down, Dearing and Walter and Tom Parnell lay dead.

Tucker, who was shot six times, survived.

Others involved in the shoot-out included Tucker?s younger brother Clarence and Dr. R.A. Hilton, who shot Mat Parnell.

The incident touched off a series of assaults and shootings in Union County that lasted until 1905 and resulted in dozens more deaths.

The effort to re-enact that tragic time in the city?s history and to offer a peek into life in El Dorado in the early 20th century began in the late 1990s, and since then, Showdown has become an award-winning tourist draw for El Dorado, drawing hundreds of people downtown each summer.

Showdown has received the Community Trademark Award from the Arkansas Festivals and Events Association and has been named one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association.

The re-enactment used to be staged each Saturday throughout June, July and August, but in 2009, MSE scaled back the performances to the last  Saturday of each month for better economic feasibility.

"We?re proud to present Showdown at Sunset again this summer. We?re hoping that visitors will come downtown, enjoy this unique event, do some shopping, eat dinner and see all the amazing things Main Street El Dorado has to offer,? said Mark Givens, executive director of MSE.

Characters for the re-enactment include Tucker, grandfather to former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker,  Tom Parnell, Mat Parnell, Mullens, Stevenson, then-Union County Sheriff H.C. Norris, and others.

Cast members for this season are Rob Bosanko, Jimmy Bennett, Marsha Antoon, Steve Splawn, David Joyner, Bill Meyer, and Keith Owens.

Showdown is free and open to the public. Each person who attends the event will receive a Showdown souvenir trading card.

Group seating is available.

"Showdown is fun for the whole family and you can?t beat the price of free,? Givens said.

For more information, call the MSE office at 862-4747, send an email to