James Light Townsend (1845 - 1894)

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Nicknames: "Light"
Place of Burial: Weimar, Colorado, TX, USA
Birthplace: TX, USA
Death: Died in Weimar, Colorado, TX, USA
Occupation: Private in Co. A 5th Texas Cavalry (CSA), Sheriff of Colorado County for 14 years, Colorado County Feud
Managed by: Lizzie Keitel
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About James Light Townsend

Townsend, James Light (private) age 14 in 1860; enrolled in Company A, 5th Texas Cavalry; captured at Yellow Bayou, Louisiana, May 18, 1864.

United States, Civil War Soldiers Index for J. L. Townsend

Name: J. L. Townsend

Event: Military Service

Rank In: Private

Rank Out: Private

Side: Confederate

State (or Origin): Texas

Military Unit: 5th Regiment, Texas Cavalry (5th Mounted Volunteer

Company: A

NARA Publication Title: Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Texas.

NARA Publication Number: M227

NARA Roll Number: 37

Film Number: 880050

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Weimar Mercury, November 17, 1894

Despite the combined efforts of the best physicians in the state, Sheriff J. L. Townsend continued to decline, and on last Monday morning at 4:30 passed peacefully into the sleep that hath no awakening. His remains were brought to Weimar Tuesday afternoon on a special train and were laid to rest in the Masonic cemetery, fully one thousand persons being present to witness the sad ceremony. Mr. Townsend had been sheriff of our county for the past twelve years, and was one of the shrewdest, most zealous officers southwest Texas ever possessed. He was a true friend, a brave and fearless officer, and a true christian gentleman. He leaves a wife and several children to mourn his sad and untimely death. The Mercury extends its sincere sympathy to the bereaved family in their dark hour of trouble.

The death of our late sheriff, J. L. Townsend, has saddened the hearts of all Oakland--both white and black alike mourn his death. Quite a number of our people, of both races, attended his funeral and as the last rites were being performed every head bowed in grief, every heart ached and (?) of sorrow, and every eye dropped a tear in sweet remembrance (?) of some kind expression or token of comfort from the lips of our loved, our honored but dead and departed sheriff.

His was a life of valour,

His was a life of fame,

He achieved in every battle

Victories that crown his name.

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The Colorado County Feud

During the days prior to the widespread use of barbed wire to contain cattle, the range was open. Wild cattle were frequently found on the range and were usually free for the taking if not branded. Robert Earl “Bob” Stafford became wealthy from driving Texas Longhorns to market in the north. It was during this time, in the mid 1870s, that a feud developed between the Stafford family and the Townsend family. While there has been much speculation on the reasons behind all the discontent, there appears to have been no clearly identified reasons for it. The Townsend family had been in Colorado County much longer than the Stafford family, though both had amassed considerable wealth. The Townsends had arrived in Colorado County in 1838 and the Staffords in 1856.

J.L. “Light” Townsend was elected to the position of Colorado County Sheriff. The Staffords immediately began to try to unseat the new sheriff. This effort continued through subsequent elections, with no success.

During the Civil War, Robert Stafford enlisted in Hood’s Texas Brigade, but came home before the war’s end to concentrate on building his herd. After the war, Stafford was joined by a large number of relatives from his native Georgia.

The Stafford family soon developed a reputation for killing rustlers or even suspected rustlers. At least on one occasion the Staffords ordered their cowboys to ride the range and kill anyone they even thought was rustling cattle!

Bob Stafford’s empire was growing, but he had overlooked one thing - retaliation! One of the Stafford brothers was shot dead and another wounded. But, this didn’t slow down Bob’s business dealings. In 1869, he drove a large herd of cattle to Kansas. Shortly after that cattle drive, he started buying up all the brands he could get from Colorado County and surrounding counties. His business interest made him wealthy. In 1882, he started his own bank as sole owner and president. In time, Stafford and his fellow cattlemen decided to organize the Columbus, Texas Meat and Ice Company. Using the new refrigerated rail cars, the company would then ship dressed, chilled beeves to distant markets, saving money over the price of cattle drives.

On July 7, 1890, the city of Columbus was celebrating the newly constructed courthouse. That evening there was to be a dance at the Opera House, which was constructed in 1886 on Stafford’s money. About an hour before the dance was to start, Bob Stafford visited his Opera House. There he got into a heated argument with City Marshal Larkin Hope, the sheriff’s son in law, and his brother, Marion Hope. The Hopes shot and killed Bob Stafford and his younger brother, John.

The death of Bob Stafford led to an economic downturn in Columbus and Colorado County. The meatpacking plant, the opera house and many other endeavors with which Stafford was affiliated, began to collapse. In 1891, the meat packing plant was closed. Within twenty years, there would be very little of Stafford’s fortune left in Columbus.

There was an outcry from the citizens to have Sheriff Townsend removed from office as a result of the Staffords’ killings. He wasn’t removed from office then, but was later removed by some sharpshooting citizen in 1894! The feud had really heated up.

In a matter of a very short while, it was known that at least six families were involved in the feud. Following the death of Sheriff Townsend, Samuel Houston Reese, Townsend’s deputy and cousin by marriage, was selected to take the Sheriff’s place.

Reese’s deputy and former City Marshall, Larkin Hope decided to run against Sheriff Reese. Larkin Hope was shot to death in downtown Columbus before the election. Sheriff Reese was not implicated in the murders. However, he wasn’t re-elected, either.

Reese was shot to death with innocent bystander, Charles Boehme in downtown Columbus. The family of Reese viewed his murder as an assassination. The next few years would be spent getting revenge.

Columbus began to get a reputation for violence that caused many people to avoid it. It was referred to by some as “hell’s half acre”! As the word spread, travelers bypassed the town.

The feud continued on through the 1890s. The citizens finally voted to end their city government and return things to the jurisdiction of Colorado County. In 1906, the city government of Columbus, Texas was voted out of existence!

At some point in 1906, a small man, missing three fingers on his left hand, arrived in Columbus. He was Texas Ranger Captain James A. Brooks. Brooks was one of the Rangers' legendary Four Captains, who had, through their deeds, shaped the future of the Texas Rangers. The city remained unincorporated for twenty-one years. It appeared that the Colorado County Feud was over!

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Sheriff James Light Townsend (CSA)'s Timeline

1845
November 12, 1845
TX, USA
1869
1869
Age 23
Colorado, TX, USA
1870
December 31, 1870
Age 25
Colorado, TX, USA
1874
September 6, 1874
Age 28
Columbus, Colorado, TX, USA
1878
November 17, 1878
Age 33
Colorado, TX, USA
1879
1879
Age 33
Colorado, TX, USA
1882
April 10, 1882
Age 36
Columbus, Colorado, TX, USA
1886
November 18, 1886
Age 41
Columbus, Colorado, TX, USA
1894
November 12, 1894
Age 49
Weimar, Colorado, TX, USA
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