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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

THE BARRYMORE SHOOTING

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
During the peak of his career, someone asked John Barrymore, the patriarch of America's famous family of thespians, what he thought about Texas.

In his deep, resonant voice, Barrymore replied: "Texas is a no man's land where sudden death lurks in every bistro."

He had good reason for feeling that way.

In 1879, after performing in a play at Marshall's old Mahone Opera House, Barrymore and his co-star, Ellen Cummings, walked to the Marshall railroad depot to wait for a train that would carry the stage troupe to another city on their tour.

While at the depot, Barrymore, Miss Cummings and fellow actor Ben Porter decided to have a late dinner in the railroad restaurant.

While they were eating, Jim Currie, a drunken railroad detective, wandered into the restaurant and demanded a drink. The waiter refused, telling Curry he had already had enough to drink.

Incensed, Curry focused his attention on Miss Cummings at the table with Barrymore and Porter. He made several remarks about the actress' character even though he apparently didn't know her.

In his usual chivalrous fashion, Barrymore rose from his chair to protest, removed his coat, and told Currie to leave.

Currie then pulled a gun. He fired once at Barrymore, striking him in the arm. When Porter jumped up to help Barrymore, Currie shot him in the stomach.

With Currie drunk, on the loose and armed with a pistol, the three actors ran for their lives. Barrymore and Miss Cummings fled through a back door and Porter left by the front door, but fell on the sidewalk, weak from a loss of blood. Observers went for a physician, but Porter soon died from the wound.

Barrymore recovered from his wounds, but Texas newspapers had a field day with the crime. "This is no reasonable way for the people of Marshall to treat so distinguished a guest in our fair state," editorialized one newspaper.

Some state newspapers were quick to point out that Currie was not a native of Texas. "Like three-fourths of the murderers who have disgraced our state, he comes from abroad," said the Marshall newspaper, apparently a reference to Currie's home state of Louisiana.

A year later, Currie was tried for murder in Marshall in one of the city's most famous trials. During the nine-day trial, Currie's attorney portrayed Barrymore as the cause of the incident and described Currie as a well-regarded, upstanding member of Marshall society. Currie's brother, revealed the defense, was the mayor of Shreveport.

In the end, after only ten minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict that stunned the prosecution team. They found Currie not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

For years, Marshall wondered how Currie was able to win his release, despite the presence of eyewitnesses and seemingly irrefutable evidence. The prosecutor claimed he had the answer. He said the verdict was bought and paid for by Curriešs brother...the mayor of Shreveport.

All Things Historical
>
June 22-28, 2003 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a former president of the Association and author of nearly 30 books on East Texas.

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Bob and Doris Bowman
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More Historic Murders of East Texas
Bob and Doris Bowman
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