ESSAY: Reichenstein and Manley
The month of October 1909 did not begin well for the Manley family. On the morning of the 8th Mrs. Manley was using a rag and a pan full of gasoline to clean a skirt in her South Dallas kitchen. Perhaps unaware of how dangerous her makeshift cleaning fluid could be, she was sitting near a lit stove. In moments the fumes from the gasoline suddenly ignited, catching Mrs. Manley by surprise. Alerted by her screams, neighbors rushed in to put out the fire and the blazing pan of gasoline was thrown into the backyard. Summoned to the Manley residence, the Dallas Fire Department arrived to find Mrs. Manley had been badly burned on her hands and arms. In a story which appeared the next day in The Dallas Morning News it was reported she "displayed more grit than is usually shown by a woman under such conditions when she stood in the door of her home and told Chief Magee how it happened." Unfortunately for her, before the month was out Mrs. Manley's "grit" was to be to be severely tested again, in a way she probably could not have then imagined.
Mrs. Manley, her husband J. D., and their infant son lived at 157 Lincoln Street, near City Park. Their neighbors included some of Dallas's most prominent citizens. Among them were Alex and Philip Sanger, founders of Sanger Brothers department store, as well as Judge George Aldredge, and the Cockrells, one of the "first families" of the city. The Manleys, in sharp contrast, were of decidedly modest means. J. D. Manley was a carpet-layer by trade. He also held the rank of Sergeant in Company E, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas National Guard.
On Saturday, October 23, about two weeks after his wife had burned herself, J. D. Manley sat at home sharpening his bayonet, preparing to go on duty. On that day, all Dallas was abuzz with excitement over the anticipated State Fair visit of President William Howard Taft. Mayor S. J. Hay, anxious about the president's safety, had, upon recommendation of the Secret Service, called out the Guard. His fears were not without foundation. Only a few years earlier, in 1901, a lone crazed gunman had assassinated President McKinley in Buffalo, New York. The mayor wanted no such incident to occur in Dallas. The last thing the city needed, Mayor Hay no doubt thought, was for the President of the United States to be killed on the streets of Dallas.
The city was taking no chances with the presidential dignity either. Weighing over 300 pounds, President Taft was the heaviest chief executive the country ever had. At Fair Park a specially reinforced platform and chair had been constructed facing the racetrack grandstand where the president was scheduled to speak that afternoon. The motorcar in which Taft would ride was also reinforced.
The President was scheduled to arrive at the fairgrounds by train. Since a portion of the track ran through the middle of Parry Avenue, immediately in front of Fair Park's main entrance, it had been deemed necessary to string wire along the street, separating it from the sidewalk. The job of the National Guard was to patrol the street, keeping the expected crowds behind the wire and away from the presidential train as it passed on its way to the fairgrounds station.
Two miles west, where Dallas's red sandstone courthouse sat on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River, two young deputy county clerks were looking forward to getting off work at noon. Thirty-four year old Louis Reichenstein, known to his friends as "Pete," was a clerk in the Department of Vital Statistics. He and his friend J. W. Cooper were planning to go straight from town to the fairgrounds, which then lay on the outskirts of Dallas. There, the main attraction for the two men was not the President but an afternoon at the races, to be followed by a few cold beers at the racetrack saloon. When 12 o'clock finally arrived, the two friends quickly left the courthouse and caught a streetcar heading east for Fair Park.
At the fairgrounds, Reichenstein and Cooper passed the afternoon at the races as they had planned. Later, in the saloon beneath the grandstand, they downed four or five beers before deciding to call it a day. By then it was nearly 5 o'clock p.m. Leaving the saloon, they decided to head for their respective homes, neither one of them being interested in staying to hear the President speak.
As J. W. Cooper was later to recall, he and Reichenstein walked along the "Pike" (now called the "Midway") and before leaving the grounds, decided to have one last look at the art exhibit. Afterwards, they left the park by the exit on Armstrong (now First) Avenue, slightly south of the entrance on Parry. They had hoped to take a streetcar on the south belt line back to the city but with the President due to arrive any moment, found themselves in the midst of a pushing, jostling crowd trying to get into the fairgrounds. The two young men were quick to realize the futility of trying to push through a tide of humanity moving in the opposite direction. Reversing course, they allowed themselves to be swept along with the crowd to Parry Avenue. There, they hoped, they would be able to cross the street to catch a car on another line.
In the meantime, on Parry Avenue, Sergeant Manley and the other guardsmen of Company E were doing their best to keep the surging crowd of fairgoers back behind the wire strung up along the street. Making their job more difficult were numerous people blatantly ignoring orders to stay behind the wire, ducking under it and running across the street in defiance of the soldiers. Adding to their frustration were gangs of young boys who "hurrahed" the guardsmen, taunting them with epithets of "tin soldiers" and other derogatory remarks. No doubt the guardsmen could hardly wait for the President's train to pass so they could be relieved of this tedious, thankless task.
It was about twenty-five minutes past five o'clock when Reichenstein and Cooper reached a point on Parry Avenue where they stood opposite Kentucky Avenue, across the street. With the crowd milling and pushing behind, they stopped to survey the scene, noticing that every now and then someone would duck under the wire and dash across Parry Avenue. Wanting to catch a streetcar on the other side of the avenue, Pete and J. W. decided to take a chance. But as they stooped to go under the wire, J.D. Manley who spotted them stopped them. "You can't come in here!" he shouted, "It's against orders!"
Pete Reichenstein's reaction was to protest that he and Cooper merely wanted to cross Parry Avenue to catch a streetcar but obviously, by then, Manley had endured enough of having his authority questioned. Holding his rifle up to his chest, he roughly pushed Reichenstein back with the barrel, striking him against the shoulder. "You're a fine soldier," cried the surprised Reichenstein, "hitting a man like that for nothing!"
What happened was never been disputed by any of the parties involved but later, how and why it happened depended on who was telling the story. Some said Reichenstein was accidentally pushed from behind; others that Manley lunged forward. Regardless, J. D. Manley, after Pete Reichenstein protested being shoved, lowered his rifle, put one foot forward and the other behind, his front knee bent slightly. On the end of his rifle was an 18-inch long bayonet, the same one he had spent the morning sharpening, and in the next horrifying instant Pete Reichenstein was impaled upon it, its razor-sharp length piercing his abdomen! J.W. Cooper, standing beside his friend, watched in disbelieving shock as Reichenstein fell back upon the crowd, blood gushing from his wound. Manley, standing in the street as if he were paralyzed, just stood and watched, as if it were all some terrible dream. Obviously stunned, he made no attempt to flee.
As the people standing near the scene gradually became aware of what had just occurred, a mounted policeman rode up. Seeing Manley standing there, his bayonet covered with Reichenstein's blood, he called out in astonishment, "MY GOD! Have you killed a man?" Wiping the blood from his bayonet with his fingers, Manley replied quietly, "Doesn't it look like it." Surrendering his weapon willingly to the surprised policeman, the young guardsman was arrested without incident.
As the man who'd wounded him was being led away by police, Pete Reichenstein was carried across the street to a nearby fire station where a motor ambulance and doctor were summoned. While waiting, the wounded man was still conscious and in great pain. Dr. Anton Remer, who had an office on nearby Exposition Avenue, arrived first and began to examine Reichenstein. A Dr. Sumner and Dr. W. W. Samuel, who had run over from the emergency hospital at Fair Park, soon joined him. It was immediately obvious to all three medical men that the wound was severe. When the motor ambulance arrived, Reichenstein was taken immediately to St. Paul's Hospital in nearby East Dallas. There, after examining Reichenstein, the doctors soon determined that nothing could be done to save him and his family was summoned as it was deemed only a matter of time before he succumbed to his wound.
President Taft, who was never told of the incident, arrived at Fair Park on schedule and gave his open-air speech as planned. Ironically, although thousands of people had turned out to see him, hardly anyone could hear him what he said. This was due to the soreness of Taft's throat, after weeks of similar speech making and the fact that he spoke outdoors where his voice was lost in the wind. Afterward, the President was driven to the Oriental Hotel downtown where he and the elite of Dallas society sat down to a sumptuous dinner. And although they did not know it, even as they dined, Pete Reichestein lay dying at St. Paul's Hospital and J. D. Manley sat staring at the bars of a jail cell.
Pete Reichenstein's mother, his wife Mary, and his brothers Charles and Jacob were by his side, as he grew weaker by the hour from loss of blood. While he was still strong enough and his mind was lucid, a statement was taken from the unfortunate county clerk concerning the event that had led to his now imminent demise. As he spoke, it was written down and attested to by Reichenstein's father-in-law, T. J. Murane, a notary public. It read:
The statement was read twice to the dying man so to be sure of its correctness and in one of the last acts of his life, he signed it. Shortly thereafter, at 1:10 a.m. on Sunday morning, October 24, Reichenstein expired, attended in his last moments by his family.
The press displayed no mercy for his killer. "That a reckless, irresponsible boy in citizen's clothes becomes a positive menace when he gets a militia uniform on his back, a bayoneted gun in his hands, is shown by the fatal wounding of a spectator at the Taft ceremonies in Dallas." reported The Denton Record and Chronicle. The Sherman Daily Democrat was equally outspoken, "Guns and bayonets are often placed in the hands of the wrong men. There is nothing to warrant such a deed unless the supposed offending person is really in the act of doing some bodily harm to the one whose life is believed to be in jeopardy."
But Manley was not completely without friends. According to The Daily Times Herald, a week after the incident his fellow guardsmen stated their belief the City of Dallas should do something to help their comrade since it had been at the city's request the Guard had been called out. Unfortunately for Manley, the City of Dallas did not agree. He remained in jail, charged with murder and denied bail, pending an indictment by the Grand Jury.
Reichenstein's funeral was held on Monday, October 25, 1909, with services at both his mother's home and at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on South Harwood Street. Among the pallbearers were J. W. Cooper and County Clerk Jack Gaston. "Pete" was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in North Dallas, beside his father. A simple ground-level marker was later put in place, bearing only his actual first name, "Louis," and the years of his birth and death. He was survived, in addition to his mother and brothers, by his wife Mary and four young children.
Manley's examining trial was held in November. It had been expected that in light of the seriousness of the charge and the fact that Reichenstein's family was somewhat prominent in Dallas, a large number of spectators would show up. Surprisingly, the courtroom was not crowded. It had been expected that in light of the seriousness of the charge and the fact that Reichenstein's family was somewhat prominent in Dallas that a large number of spectators would show up. Even Manley's wife was absent. There were also fears, apparently groundless, for his safety.
The defendant, unshaven and wearing a blue suit and shirt without a collar, sat with his attorneys. A newspaper reporter commented, "The wrinkled lines which appeared around his eyes and mouth indicated that he realized the seriousness of the charge against him." Although well represented by the firm of Muse, Allen, Walker and Williams, his attorneys presented no witnesses for the defense. To make matters worse for the young guardsman, the testimony of the State's witnesses was overwhelming. J. W. Cooper, the prime witness, declared that Manley had "lunged" at Reichenstein with the bayonet. Among the other witnesses called that day were Dr. Samuel and a Mr. A. J. Smith, who had been standing near the spot where the incident took place. Smith's testimony differed little from Cooper's except that Smith had thought to look at his watch, noting that Reichenstein had been stabbed at "5:22 o'clock." Again, Manley was denied bail and sent back to his cell. There, he refused to discuss the case with newspapermen except to say that he was sorry it had happened.
The young carpet-layer languished in jail for an entire year before finally being brought to trial on October 28th, 1910. That fall, as always, the fairgrounds were packed with crowds of people having fun on the "Shoot-the-Chutes" and "Scenic Railway" rides on the "Pike." Others watched the motorcycle and automobile races (soon to be banned following the accidental death of a motorcycle racer). The Coliseum building, then brand-new, hosted the first horse show ever held at the Fair. But down on the bluff overlooking the Trinity, in the same courthouse from which Pete Reichenstein had set out a year earlier for an afternoon's enjoyment at the Fair, J. D. Manley sat in a crowded criminal courtroom, presided over by Judge R. B. Seay, on trial for the unfortunate clerk's murder. A newspaper reported observed, "There were a number of ladies present." The trial had also attracted the attention of Judge R. W. Simpson of Gilmer, Texas, who as an interested onlooker, sat with Judge Seay during the morning session. Another out-of-town Judge, J. H. Beavers, was also present.
Seated directly behind his lawyers, one of who, J. C. Muse, was also a judge, Manley was joined in the courtroom by his young wife and their small child, Mrs. Manley holding the baby with hands no doubt scarred from the burning gasoline incident of the previous year. As her husband listened intently to the testimony of the State's witnesses on the first day, he would occasionally turn to his wife and whisper in her ear. From time to time, he would reach out and stroke the baby's hair.
J. W. Cooper was the first witness called, his testimony little different from the year before. One of Manley's lawyers, J. C. Muse, cross-examined Cooper, hinting that the two men had been drunk at the time of their encounter with Manley. Mr. Cooper denied the allegation, stating that he and Reichenstein had each drank five or six beers but not a drop of whiskey. Muse also challenged Cooper every time there was even the slightest variation in his testimony from that given at the earlier examining trial. "This action on the part of Judge Muse," reported a local newspaper, "called forth much objection from attorneys for the state and several times Judge Seay had to warn attorneys for both sides that they would have to observe the rule more closely in the examination of witnesses." The paper also noted that Manley's rifle, with bayonet attached - "altogether a dangerous-looking weapon," was introduced as evidence, adding that Cooper was allowed to use the gun to demonstrate "to the jury how Manley first struck Reichenstein over the shoulder with the barrel of the gun and then how he stepped back and thrust the bayonet into the abdomen of the deceased."
By the time the lawyers had finished with Cooper, it was after 11 o'clock. The only other witness called on the first day was Mr. E. Rynearson, who had been seated in a wagon near the scene of the crime. He was still on the stand when the court adjourned for lunch and when the trial resumed in the afternoon, Rynearson was called back.
The prosecution's purpose in having Rynearson on the stand was mainly to corroborate Cooper's testimony. As with he did with Cooper, Judge Muse thoroughly cross-examined Mr. Rynearson, hoping to bring out evidence that either Reichenstein or Cooper had threatened or provoked Manley or that the crowd behind Reichenstein had shoved him into the bayonet. But it was to no avail. Rynearson declared he had not seen anything in either Cooper's or Reichenstein's behavior which would have justified the action taken by Manley. Reichenstein's dying statement, for Manley the most damning evidence of all, was also read into the record.
As the trial stretched out over the next six days, several more witnesses were called, including one of Manley's fellow guardsmen, and Dr. W. W. Samuel, one of the physicians who'd attended to Reichenstein's wound before he was taken away to the hospital. On the trial's seventh day, October 31st, none other than the Mayor of Dallas, Stephen J. Hay, was called to the stand, as a witness for the defense. Questioned about why he had called out the National Guard on the day of the President's visit, Hay stated he had done so on the advice of the Guard's General Scurry and the request had been made and granted in the interest of protecting the President from possible harm. At that point, an attorney for the prosecution challenged the mayor, exclaiming, "Now didn't you Mayor Hay, order out the troops in order to add to the splendor of the assemblage?" J. C. Muse, infuriated, interjected at once, "We object to that!" The mayor, Muse declared, "Did not say it was for the reason of adding to the splendor of the occasion but simply to carry out the policy of protection." The prosecution then asked the mayor if he had expected a riot or some other tumult, to which he replied, "No more than the people of Buffalo expected it when McKinley was shot."
Finally, Manley himself was called to the stand, where he testified that he thought his life was in danger, that Reichenstein (who had been unarmed) had a gun and was going to shoot him. He further stated that the killing was accidental; that his bayonet had caught on the wire and that he had not meant to stab Reichenstein.
Obviously realizing the case was lost, J. C. Muse, in his closing arguments, requested that the charge be changed from murder to manslaughter - on the grounds that Manley had not been in his right mind at the time of the incident and that he truly had felt threatened by Reichenstein.
Unfortunately for the young guardsman, that line of reasoning had little influence on the jury. On November 4, 1910 they returned a verdict of guilty to first-degree murder, sentencing him to life-imprisonment. As the verdict was read, Manley sat tightly holding his wife's hand, a look of resignation on his face.
Then, as the jury began to file out of the courtroom, Manley did a most unusual thing. When the first juror started to pass by where he was seated, the convicted man suddenly stood up and extended his hand to the man. "Good-bye." he said, smiling. Momentarily taken aback, the juror hesitated and then, slowly, he took the young man's hand and shook it. Manley then continued to do this with each and every one of the jurors as they filed past him. Why did he do this? Was it Manley's way of thanking the jurors for not passing the death sentence on him, for showing some measure of mercy? Or was it just the spontaneous gesture of a man whose spontaneous behavior had brought him into the courtroom in the first place? No one knows.
Today, only Louis Reichenstein's simple grave marker in Dallas's Greenwood Cemetery remains as proof of this bizarre tragedy. That J. D. Manley was the responsible party was never doubted or denied but one question was never adequately answered: Why? Why did J. D. Manley kill Louis Reichenstein? Did Manley really believe the county clerk had a gun and was prepared to shoot him, or perhaps the President? It seems unlikely. Certainly no one on the jury believed it. Was it an accident? Did Manley merely lunge at Reichenstein to frighten him? Did he forget there was an 18-inch bayonet on the muzzle of his rifle? Did the crowd behind push Reichenstein into it? Perhaps the answer lay in a question put to Manley by one of the prosecuting attorneys who cross-examined him at the trial, alleging that on the morning of the murder, as he sat in his kitchen sharpening his bayonet, Manley said to his mother-in-law, that "he intended to kill some -- that day." This, Manley denied, declaring that he had sharpened his bayonet the night before, not in the morning, adding "I do not remember whether I saw or talked to my mother-in-law on that day." But was that the truth?
Ironically, Reichenstein and Manley lived only a few streets apart in the same part of town - South Dallas, but socially, they were light years apart. Perhaps Pete Reichenstein died not because J. D. Manley bore him any personal animosity but because the well-dressed clerk represented to Manley all that he did not himself enjoy (and probably never would) and in a moment of passion became the victim of an act of class-warfare at its most basic level.
Copyright © 1984 and 2002-2003 by Steven Butler. All rights reserved.