Though feuds and range wars were rampant throughout the American West, it seems the Lone Star State wins the "prize" for having the most. In virtually every county in the state, bitter wars were waged, often beginning with a few family members before growing to include hundreds of men. From disputes rising out of Civil War sympathies, to cattle thievery, and old-fashioned arguments between neighbors, the Lone Star State was not only filled with violence stemming from numerous outlaw factions, but also from locals killing each other.
This notorious range war began as a county law enforcement issue between the Taylor family (headed by Pitkin Taylor, brother of Creed Taylor, a renowned Texas Ranger), and local lawman, William E. Sutton (a former Confederate soldier, who had moved with his family to DeWitt County, Texas, originally intending to simply raise cattle). The feud, which lasted a decade and cost at least 35 lives, has been called the longest and bloodiest in Texas history. It eventually involved the Texas State Police, the Texas Rangers, and the outlaw John Wesley Hardin.
Sutton had become a deputy sheriff in Clinton, Texas, and on March 25, 1868, he shot and killed a Taylor kinsman named Charley Taylor, whom he was trying to arrest for horse theft. Later that year (on Christmas Eve), Sutton killed Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm in a saloon in Clinton, after an argument regarding the sale of some horses. On August 23, 1869, the Sutton faction was suspected of the ambush and killing of Jack Hays Taylor.
In July 1870, Sutton was appointed to the State Police Force, serving under Captain Jack Helms. The police force was tasked with enforcing the "Reconstruction” policies of the federal government, but operated with somewhat of a free-hand, and more often than not returned with wanted suspects dead.
On August 26, 1870, the Suttons were allegedly sent to arrest Henry and William Kelly, sons-in-law of Pitkin Taylor, on a trivial charge. However, rather than arresting the men, the Suttons shot the Kellys. Due to his handling of the affair, Helms was dismissed from the State Police Force, though cleared of any wrongdoing.
Read More About the Sutton-Taylor Feud:
Reese-Townsend or Colorado County Feud:
The Colorado County Feud, a series of gun battles between members of the Townsend family of Columbus, started during the 1898 Colorado County sheriff's race. The election pitted incumbent sheriff Sam Reese against his one time deputy, Larkin Hope. Former state senator Mark Townsend, who directed a political machine that had backed the winning candidate in each of the last nine sheriff's elections, dropped his backing of Reese and endorsed Hope. The move seemingly assured Hope of victory. But on August 3, 1898, Hope was killed by an unknown assailant in downtown Columbus. Immediately, suspicion centered on Jim Coleman, a close friend of Sam Reese's sons, Walter and Herbert. Townsend picked a new candidate, Will Burford, and, with feeling running high against the Reeses, Burford won the election. Less than a year later, on March 16, 1899, Sam Reese was killed in a gun battle on the street near where Hope died. Will Clements, Marion Hope, and Mark Townsend were among those shooting. Stray bullets killed Charles Boehme, a bystander, and wounded a boy named Johnny Williams. Even though the best evidence suggests that Reese had provoked the fight in which he was killed, his sons vowed to get revenge. In five more gunfights-on May 17, 1899, January 15, 1900, July 31, 1900, June 30, 1906, and May 17, 1907-five more men were killed and several others wounded. The dead included Reese's brother Dick, Burford's son Arthur, Will Clements's brother Hiram, and Jim Coleman. Also dead was another innocent bystander, Dick Gant. No one was ever convicted of any of the murders. Those accused included Mark Townsend, Jim Townsend, Step Yates, Will Clements, Walter Reese, Joe Lessing, Frank Burford, and Marion Hope. The Townsends, Reeses, Burfords, Clementses, Hopes, and Lessings were all related to each other, either directly or through marriage.
Read More About the Colorado County Feud: