Late in 1926, Dexter Eliot (D.E.) Chipps, a divorced lumberman, walked into the First Baptist Church office of the nationally renowned fundamentalist preacher J. Frank Norris. He was there to warn the preacher against his continuing his attacks on the Fort Worth mayor and other political crones that Chipps considered his friends. What exactly happened in that office is a matter of dispute, but what isn't in dispute, is that Chipps was never to leave that building alive. Either in self defense or with murderous intent, an unarmed D.E. Chipps was shot, shot three times, shot by J. Frank Norris, shot with a gun he kept in a drawer in his desk. The story of the killing, the tensions that caused it and trial that followed — a trial as notorious in its day as the trial of Casey Anthony today — is the subject of David R. Stokes' popular history, The Shooting Salvationist.
It is a remarkable story filled with religious and political conflict and Stokes does his best to milk it for all its drama, but unlike many of the more prominent legal battles of the early twentieth century some of the early parts of the narrative are burdened with the need for a good bit of exposition. People famous and infamous in their day have become meaningless names; institutions and organizations that once dominated the country have faded and disappeared. The modern reader needs a good deal of information to understand what is going on and why it's happening. This kind of background may be necessary, but it can stall the narrative. Stokes is very good at supplying the needed information, although there are times the reader might have hoped he could have done so with a bit more style and a little less repetition.
He is careful to set the story in its historical, cultural context, constantly relating it to some of the more well known events of the day: the death of Harry Houdini, the Dempsey, Tunney fight, the death of the last of Abe Lincoln's sons, the Scopes Trial. He talks about the influence of the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Catholicism in the fundamentalist churches. He describes the political infighting in the city of Fort Worth and in the state of Texas. He emphasizes the importance of the church in the lives of parishioners and in the community in general.