Gunfight at the Payton Corrals

Gunfight at the Payton Corrals
Sammie J. Stewart

I entered on duty with the U.S. Border Patrol December 14, 1964 at El Paso, Texas. I graduated as a member of the 83rd Session of the US Border Patrol Academy in April, 1965. I came to the Border Patrol by way of the Texas Department of Public Safety in El Paso. All I had to do was change uniforms.
I was assigned by the DPS to give driver license tests at the Hawkins Way DPS office in El Paso and I became well acquainted with several Border Patrol Officers who worked city patrol. I would check any INS documents of Mexicans who used a Mexico address as their residence. Almost always they had a Form I-186 or as it was called, a “local card.” I would also make sure they listed their place of
employment on the application. You can see where I am going with this. They were easy pickings for the City Patrol officers. The Border Patrol officers supplied me with lots of .38 wad-cutter ammo.

Upon my graduation from the Border Patrol Academy, I returned to the El Paso Sector and was assigned to the Ysleta Station for my probationary year. There I received those first first instructions upon which I was to rear my future US Border Patrol ambitions. In the 1960's there were probably no more than fifty or sixty agents in the El Paso Texas Sector. Anyone who spent sometime there will tell you that there were a bunch of colorful characters and most had a very
colorful nickname. Almost all the nicknames were bestowed by the most colorful of all EPT characters, Glen “Punchy” Painter.

There were some very colorful characters at the Ysleta Station. Austin C. Mattson was the “PAIC” and John Sanchez was the “Segundo.” Some of the officers from whom I was to learn all about being a Border Patrol Officer were “Cowboy Kent,” Crazy Nick” Davis, Louis “Pneumonia” Jones, “Doctor” Jim Dove, and several more I can't remember. “Punchy” hung “Silent Sam” on me and at a later date, I might write about many more nicknames and how some of the PI's got them.
When my probationary year was completed at the Ysleta Station, I was moved back to Station One of the EPT Sector which was located across Hammit Street from the EPT Sector Headquarters. I was immediately assigned to desk duty at Station One. This duty, I found out, was to further prepare me for an illustrious career in the US Border Patrol. The duties of the desk officer included answering the telephone, handling all radio traffic, writing up aliens and just about anything else the PAIC or the shift supervisor wanted. The PAIC of Station One was Elmer Hoffman.

So much for the introduction. I will now get into the subject of this war story....”The Gunfight at the Payton Corral” !!!

I was working the evening shift (4 pm - 12 am) and, of course, handling all the assigned duties flawlessly. The shift was almost over and several of the evening shifts PI's were already in the office as well as most of the midnight crew. There could have been twelve to fifteen men present. Suddenly the radio almost exploded. An officer, “Mike Me,” who was working the 4 to 12 was still out somewhere in South El Paso screaming “I'm being shot at, they are shooting at me from Mexico”!!! I grabbed the radio and asked for his exact 10-20 (location). He responded that he was in the Payton Corrals. Everyone in the room knew he was somewhere in the old Payton Packing Plant which was located in or very near the Chamizal area and just behind the levee which ran along the river from El Paso to somewhere near Fabens, Texas.

Almost instantly every officer took off for the Payton Packing Plant like they were shot out of a gun. My relief was there so I grabbed a shotgun and got into first vehicle I saw. It was a mad race involving about a dozen or so vehicles and, of course, nobody knew exactly where officer Mike Me was. Everyone took their favorite route to the corrals. By the way, I was the only officer with a long gun and this fact got me a trip to see the Chief the next day.

When my driver and I arrived at the Corrals, it looked like a Border Patrol parking lot. As we dismounted we heard what was without a doubt a rifle shot. About five seconds passed and then it sounded like every Border Patrolman shot their pistols three or four shots each. It sounded like the battle at the Little Big
Horn. My partner and I ran to the sound of the guns. I don't know how many shots were fired by the USBP forces but there were plenty.

My partner and I finally located the Border Patrol response force which was well concealed behind the levee and in a pretty close formation. About the time we joined up with group, another shot came from the Mexican side of the river. There was a lull of maybe five seconds and once again another round of shots were fired into Mexico. You can just imagine what it sounded like.

There was a first line supervisor there who's name escapes me. He saw that I had a shotgun and told me to slip down the levee for about 10 yards and watch for the shooter to fire again and then empty the shotgun into the muzzle blast of the rifle if I saw it. As I moved away I thought it over. I had trouble with that picture but as luck would have it, there was not another shot fired. That was the end of the “Gunfight at the Payton Corral” except for all the jokes Officer Mike Me became the butt of.

Some of us got invited to go over to the Sector Headquarters the next day to answer a few questions as to how many shots were fired. It was amazing how nobody could remember and, of course, they didn't fire a one. All the Agents had heard the old saying, “The jails are full of people who confess.”

Sammie J. Stewart
PAIC - Ret