Dothan Riot 1889
The Dothan riot was as dramatic as the great Shootout at the OK Corral. In October of 1889, just four years after Dothan was incorporated, the now-famous Riot erupted at the public well and the bell-tower in the center of the intersection of St. Andrews and Main streets. The riot began over a tax the city levied on every commercial dray that traveled the city streets. The Farmers' Alliance, headed by Green Stringer, refused to pay the tax, claiming it was unfair to the farmers who wanted to haul their cotton to the gins, and bales of cotton to the new railroad freight depot in the Dixie section of town.
Early one evening Marshall Tobe Domingus, Deputy Parker Powell and several friends were out for a stroll. They met Green, his sons Ben and George, and several of their friends across from the Deal and Shadgett Bar on East Main near the town's water well. Soon a fight started. The brawl soon escalated into a full-scale riot, which left two dead and several wounded.
The tax that started the confrontation remained in place.
Truth Of The Riot of Dothan by Helon H. Cutler
The Dothan riot was a dramatic “Shootout” between the Farmers Alliance Association, formed by the farmers of the area, and the authorities of Dothan. The city had been incorporated just four years prior to the now-famous Riot. The city boundaries were one mile square starting at the intersection of Main Street and South St. Andrews meaning one half a mile up and down each street.
In 1885 the Farmers Alliance Cotton Warehouse was located first on the corner of South Foster and Crawford Street and later moved. Their location was outside the corporate limits due to the city wanting to tax Cotton. In 1889 the Town Council placed a new ordinance imposing taxes for draying. The term draying means pulling a heavy wagon. This tax was to increase the revenue for the newly incorporated town.
The trouble arose from the Alliance Warehouse's refusing to pay the town’s new levied tax. The Farmers' Alliance, managed by George Madison Callen Stringer, refused to pay the tax, claiming it was unfair to the farmers who wanted to haul their cotton to the gins, and bales of cotton to the new railroad depot.
Mr. G.M. Stringer was running drays from the Farmers Alliance warehouse and refused to pay these taxes. Stringer claimed that he was not draying in the town limits. Mayor A. C. Crawford of Dothan heard his case and decided that he was liable. G. M. Stringer still insisted that he was right and informed the mayor that he would not abide the laws of the town. This of course brought about bad feelings.
On October 12, 1889 G. M. STRINGER drove the dray. Marshal Domingus and Deputy Powell told him to consider himself under arrest. The Marshal helped him unload the cotton. Afterward they tried to arrest G. M. Stringer and he resisted.
A tussle ensued; G. M. Stringer’s received a severe head wound with a club and the marshal received a slight knife wound across the right cheek. The marshal and deputy subsequently arrested G.M. Stringer and carried him before the mayor who found him guilty. Stringer appealed the case to the circuit court of Henry County. G. M. Stringer then took out a warrant for Domingus and the Deputy for assault with intent to murder. The assault case was set for hearing Monday, October 16, 1889.
A large crowd of 300 strong gathered in town to witness the trial of Marshall Tobe Domingus for clubbing George M. Stringer severely. Marshall Domingus’ trail was postponed to Tuesday morning on account of absent witnesses for the defense. Green Bostie Stringer, Jr., brother of G. M. Stringer, while walking up the street in Dothan in the vicinity of the intersection of St. Andrews and Main streets. He over-heard Marshall Domingus making remarks about the difficulty which occurred on the preceding Saturday with his brother. Thereupon G. B. Stringer, Jr. told Marshall Tobe Domingus that he had not treated his brother right. A dispute arose, in which Marshall Domingus called G. B. Stringer a damn liar, and G. B. Stringer, Jr., called Marshall Domingus a damn liar. Marshall Domingus struck him with a club which he carried. Domingus hit G. B. Stringer, Jr. several times with the club, knocking him down, senseless.
Thereupon George Stringer appeared on the scene, and said to the Marshall Tobe Domingus, "That is my brother you are knocking”. Marshall Tobe Domingus backed up against the store, drew his pistol, and shot at George Stringer. Jeff Walker, an Alliance man, was accidentally killed by the first shot fired. Thereafter, George Stringer drew his pistol, and they both began beating each other with their pistols. When they separated, Marshall Domingus fired a second time at Stringer. George Stringer made a return shot which hit Domingus. Marshall Domingus returned fire striking George Stringer just over the left eye which instantly killed him.
This brawl soon escalated into a full-scale riot with bullets going everywhere. Pistols were used with not less than 18 or 20 shots being fired in 5 seconds leaving seven men on the ground dead or wounded. After G. M. Stringer was killed, William Newberry, another Alliance man, stepped up and began firing at Tobe Domingus, inflicting a mortal wound. William Newberry also shot Parker Powell, who in turned fired back at him, missing his mark. The others wounded were from the shots of this quintet’s.
Those instantly killed were George M. Stringer and Jeff Walker. Marshal J. L. Domingus was shot through the head, the abdomen and stabbed in the side. The others wounded were Green Stringer, Sr., father of G. M. and G. B. Stringer, shot in the arm, Parker Powell, arm shot. Peter Tew, shot in leg, and Green Bostie Stringer, head wounded.
The following day, Sheriff Cureton of Henry County, came and arrested people connected with the fight. Those who had serious wounds to heal were held at home and the others were placed in jail to wait for trial. The trial proceedings were moved to Dale County, Alabama due to harsh feelings from both the Alliance farmers and the Dothan authorities concerning this riot. The appellant, Marshal J. L. Domingus, in this case was indicted for the the murder of George Stringer and was convicted of murder in the second degree by Judge J. M. Carmichael, and was sentenced to the penitentiary for 10 years.
Marshal J. L. Domingus appealed this case to the Supreme Court of Alabama in that it predicates murder of a killing done "pursuant to a previously formed design," regardless of whether the formation and entertainment of such design resulted from malice, from sudden passion aroused by adequate provocation, or from the necessity and instincts of self-preservation. The testimony in the case was in great conflict. The circumstances of the difficulty, as gathered from the evidence introduced in behalf of the state. The case was Reversed and remanded.
The tax that started the confrontation still remains in place. An Ordinance of the town provides that a license tax be paid on all drays, hacks, or vehicles of any kind run for hire within the corporate limits of the town.
Note from writer: No where in any of the newspaper documentations of this story or testimony of any of the witnesses in the court case of J. L. Domingus does it mention a City Well / Bell Tower as depicted by the Mural of the Riot of Dothan located on the corner of S. St. Andrews and Main Street. According to the 1895 Sanborn Map of the City of Dothan, the City Well was located behind what is now the Dothan Opera House.
Sources: Court records: 11 So. 190, 94 Ala. 9, (Cite as: 11 So. 190), DOMINGUS V. STATE; Supreme Court of Alabama, Feb.25, 1892; Newspapers: The Light, T. E. Williams, Proprietor, Wednesday, October 16, 1889; Montgomery Advertiser, Wednesday, October 16, 1889; Bainbridge Democrat, Tuesday, October 17, 1889.
Cast of the Dothan Riot reenactment held in front of the Dothan Opera House Saturday afternoon, Sept 9th, 2006. One of many events during the Johnny Mack Brown Film Festival in downtown Dothan.