Dudley Payne: A 10-Year Search Ends

When I first barreled headlong into researching the lives of minor league ballplayers from the 19th century who played at least a game or two in Paris, I attacked the internet without any genealogy skills. In fact, I really didn’t think about genealogy at all; after all, I was just researching old ballplayers. Their off-field lives were of little interest. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that where these ballplayers came from and where they eventually went was just as much a part of their stories as how many home runs they hit. In short order, I subscribed to all the genealogy websites, newspaper archive sites, and more. I turned into a full-fledged family researcher, only the families were those of which I’d never heard. And I uncovered some wonderful tales, several allowing me to correct mistakes in baseball research accepted as fact for over a century.

For every researcher, one fact or subject of their study plagues them. In baseball research, I’ve learned that if I stick at it long enough, the story will eventually unveil itself. And with that, I’m pleased to write that following a decade-long search, I have finally learned the story of Dudley Payne, an outfielder playing briefly with Paris’ initial entry in the Texas League in 1896. As it turns out, I barely had to look outside my own backyard.

Dudley Payne was born in Anderson County, Texas, near Palestine, February 27, 1874. His father, Joseph B. Payne, originally from Georgia, had graduated Memphis Medical College in 1855 and moved to Magnolia, Arkansas, where he married Dudley’s mother, Martha Harper, in 1856. The couple had their first son, Wallace, less than a year later.

During the Civil War, J.B. Payne served as a surgeon for the Confederate Army in Company C of the 36th Arkansas Infantry. His regiment never strayed far from home, fighting in Arkansas battles such as Prairie Grove, Jenkins Ferry, Poison Springs, and the Trans-Mississippi Campaign. By 1864, Dr. Payne was released from service and moved his practice to Palestine where he remained for over a decade. During this time, Martha gave birth to four more children including Dudley. By 1880, the Payne’s had returned to Arkansas where Dr. Payne set up a medical practice in Hot Springs, at the time a growing destination for people across the United States who sought treatment from the thermal waters.

While growing up in Hot Springs, Dudley learned to play baseball, and he became an impressive pitcher at an early age. In fact, by the time Dudley turned 18, he had signed with the Texas League’s Houston Mud Cats, posting a 17-6 record before traveling a few miles southeast to finish out the 1892 season with Galveston, adding six more victories to his season total. His 23-10 overall record led all Texas League pitchers in 1892.

Payne’s whereabouts from 1894-1895 are unknown, but in 1896 he returned to Texas where he began the season playing for the Sherman Students, moving to Paris when Sherman folded just a few weeks into the season. Despite his previous success as a pitcher, Sherman and Paris both used Payne as an outfielder, a position for which he was hardly suited. Playing in 25 games, he batted just .230 and soon left Texas for Hot Springs. In 1897, he remained in his adopted hometown, co-managing and playing with the Bathers of the Arkansas State League. That would be his last season in professional baseball.

Over the next three years, it is assumed that Dudley Payne attended dentistry school somewhere, likely in Texas, as in 1900, he had set up a practice in Athens. A year later, he married Frances Jones of his hometown of Palestine, and the couple to two sons. In 1907, Dudley and family moved to Ardmore, Oklahoma, where the couple had another son. The stay in Oklahoma was brief, however, and once again the Payne’s moved, this time back to Hot Springs where his father remained in practice following the 1901 death of his wife.  Likewise, brothers Brodie served as a lawyer, filling the shoes of the oldest of the Payne family, Wallace, who passed away in 1895.

Sometimes the answers are just a stones throw from home.

While in the early 20th century, Hot Springs had gained worldwide fame for its healing “vapors,” it had also become the spring training home of several major league baseball franchises. Surely, the old minor league ballplayer enjoyed watching the likes of the Boston Red Sox, New York Giants, Chicago White Stockings, and Chicago Cubs prepare for the regular season.

Unfortunately, Dudley Payne’s time was short. While Hot Springs claimed its healing waters, the city attracted people with all sorts of illnesses, among them the most common killer of its time, consumption, or tuberculosis. No doubt working in the mouths of very ill people exposed Dudley to all sorts of diseases, and it is unrecorded exactly which he contracted. However, on an unrecorded date in 1911, Dr. Dudley Payne died in Hot Springs where he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Six years later, the old surgeon J.B. Payne died in Argenta (now known as North Little Rock), and he too was returned to Hot Springs for burial beside his wife and sons.

While the exact movements of Fannie Payne and her sons is unclear, it is believed they initially returned to Texas where Fannie worked as a cook in Texarkana. One son, Jack Lamar Payne, is known to have moved to California where he worked for the Great Northern Railroad. On July 10, 1945, while working in Whitefish, Montana, the 36-year-old son of Dudley Payne was killed when he was run over by a freight car in the west yards of the Great Northern complex.

And with that, the life of another early Texas Leaguer, no matter how short his baseball career, is in the books. In a way, finally laying Dudley Payne to rest brings sorrow. But untold hundreds of faceless names remain to be discovered in the annals of the oldest minor league circuit in baseball, the Texas League.

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