14 April 1828

Noah Webster copyrights the first edition of his dictionary.

Noah Webster Jr. October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843 was an American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English-language spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. He has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”. His blue-backed speller books taught five generations of American children how to spell and read. Webster’s name has become synonymous with “dictionary” in the United States, especially the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 as An American Dictionary of the English Language.

Born in West Hartford, Connecticut, Webster graduated from Yale College in 1778. He passed the bar examination after studying law under Oliver Ellsworth and others, but was unable to find work as a lawyer. He found some financial success by opening a private school and writing a series of educational books, including the “Blue-Backed Speller.” A strong supporter of the American Revolution and the ratification of the United States Constitution, Webster hoped his educational works would provide an intellectual foundation for American nationalism; however, by 1820 he became a critic of the society he helped create.

In 1793, Alexander Hamilton recruited Webster to move to New York City and become an editor for a Federalist Party newspaper. He became a prolific author, publishing newspaper articles, political essays, and textbooks. He returned to Connecticut in 1798 and served in the Connecticut House of Representatives. Webster founded the Connecticut Society for the Abolition of Slavery in 1791 but later became somewhat disillusioned with the abolitionist movement.

In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The following year, he started working on an expanded and comprehensive dictionary, finally publishing it in 1828. He was very influential in popularizing certain spellings in the United States. He was also influential in establishing the Copyright Act of 1831, the first major statutory revision of U.S. copyright law. While working on a second volume of his dictionary, Webster died in 1843, and the rights to the dictionary were acquired by George and Charles Merriam.

14 April 1881

The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight is fought in El Paso, Texas.

On April 14, 1881, a group of about 75 heavily armed Mexicans moved into El Paso, Texas looking for two missing vaqueros named Sanchez and Juarique, who had been searching for 30 head of cattle stolen from Mexico. Solomon Schutz, mayor of El Paso, made an exception for the Mexicans, allowing them to enter the city limits with their firearms. Gus Krempkau, an El Paso County constable, accompanied the posse to the ranch of Johnny Hale, a local ranch owner and suspected cattle rustler, who lived some 13 miles northwest of El Paso in the Upper Valley. The corpses of the two missing men were located near Hale’s ranch and were carried back to El Paso.

A court in El Paso held an inquest into the deaths, with Constable Krempkau, who was fluent in Spanish, acting as an interpreter. The verdict was that Sanchez and Juarique had been in the vicinity of Hale’s ranch looking for the stolen cattle. The court determined that the American cattle rustlers, among them Hale, had feared the men would discover the cattle and return with a larger, armed Mexican force. Two American cattle rustlers, Pervey and Fredericks, were accused of the murders of Sanchez and Juarique after they were overheard bragging about killing two cowboys when they found them trailing the herd to Hale’s ranch during the night of April 13 or in the early morning of the 14th.

Meanwhile, a large crowd had gathered in El Paso, including John Hale and his friend, former town Marshal George Campbell. There was tension among some of the Americans, who were concerned that the Mexicans, with a combination of anger, restlessness, and being heavily armed, would become violent while demanding justice for their two murdered comrades. At the inquest, Pervey and Fredericks were formally charged with the murders and immediately arrested. Court was adjourned and the crowd dispersed. The arrestees were scheduled for trial at a later date. With the formerly tense situation defused, the Mexicans returned to Mexico with the two corpses for proper burial.

The Gun Fight
Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire, a noted gunfighter who had only started as town marshal on April 11, was present in the court room. After the court adjourned, he walked across the street for dinner. Constable Krempkau went to a saloon next door to retrieve his rifle and pistol. There, a confrontation took place with George Campbell over remarks he allegedly made about Krempkau’s translations, and his apparent friendship with the Mexicans. John Hale, who was reportedly unarmed, was heavily intoxicated and was also upset with Krempkau’s involvement in the matter. Hale grabbed one of Campbell’s two pistols and yelled, “George, I’ve got you covered!” He then shot Krempkau, who reeled backward. Slumping against a saloon door, Krempkau drew his own pistol.

Marshal Stoudenmire heard the shot, jumped up from his dining chair at the Globe Restaurant, pulled out his pistols, and ran out into the street. While running, Stoudenmire fired wildly, killing Ochoa, an innocent Mexican bystander who was running for cover. As the first shot was heard, John Hale sobered up quickly and jumped behind a thick adobe pillar. When he peered out from behind the pillar, Stoudenmire fired and struck Hale between the eyes, killing him instantly.

Campbell stepped from cover with his pistol drawn, saw Hale lying dead, and yelled to Stoudenmire that this was not his fight. However, Constable Krempkau, mistakenly believing that Campbell had shot him, then fired his pistol twice at Campbell before losing consciousness from loss of blood. Krempkau’s first bullet struck Campbell’s gun and broke his right wrist, while the second hit him in the foot. Campbell screamed in pain and scooped up his gun from the ground with his left hand. Stoudenmire whirled away from Hale and instantly fired at Campbell, who dropped his gun again, grabbed his stomach and collapsed onto the ground. Stoudenmire walked slowly toward Campbell and glared at him. In agony, Campbell yelled, “You big son of a bitch! You murdered me!” Stoudenmire said nothing. Both Campbell and Krempkau died within minutes.

After just a few seconds, four men lay dead or dying. Three Texas Rangers were standing nearby, but did not take part, saying later that they felt Stoudenmire had the situation well in hand.

Three days after the gunfight, on April 17, 1881, James Manning, a friend of Hale and Campbell, convinced former deputy Bill Johnson to assassinate Stoudenmire. Stoudenmire had publicly humiliated Johnson days before. Late at night of April 17, an intoxicated Johnson was hiding behind a pillar of bricks, but his wobbly legs gave in and he fell backward, squeezing the double triggers of his double barreled shotgun into the air and narrowly missing Stoudenmire. Stoudenmire immediately fired his pistols and sent a volley of eight bullets at Johnson, shooting off his testicles. Johnson bled to death quickly.

This began a feud between Stoudenmire and Manning and his brothers. Eventually, Stoudenmire’s brother-in-law Stanley “Doc” Cummings and later Stoudenmire himself died at the hands of the Mannings, who were acquitted in two trials where the juries were packed with their friends.

14 April 1828

Noah Webster copyrights the first edition of Webster’s Dictionary.

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Noah Webster was a lexicographer and a language reformer. He is often called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”. In his lifetime he was also a lawyer, schoolmaster, author, newspaper editor and an outspoken politician. Noah Webster was a very learned and devout man, and his ideas about language in his long introduction to his dictionary make for interesting reading. The frontispiece gives us a wonderful portrait of Webster. He presents as a man of strong will and determination, qualities he would have needed to push his great project to a conclusion.

In 1807 Webster began compiling a fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language; it took twenty-eight years to complete. To evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English, Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, France, and at the University of Cambridge. His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings.

At the age of seventy, Webster published his dictionary in 1828, registering the copyright on April 14. Webster did all this in an effort to standardize the American language.