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Feud That Wasn't

The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas

By James M. Smallwood

Publication Year: 2008

Marauding outlaws, or violent rebels still bent on fighting the Civil War? For decades, the so-called “Taylor-Sutton feud” has been seen as a bloody vendetta between two opposing gangs of Texas gunfighters. However, historian James M. Smallwood here shows that what seemed to be random lawlessness can be interpreted as a pattern of rebellion by a loose confederation of desperadoes who found common cause in their hatred of the Reconstruction government in Texas. Between the 1850s and 1880, almost 200 men rode at one time or another with Creed Taylor and his family through a forty-five-county area of Texas, stealing and killing almost at will, despite heated and often violent opposition from pro-Union law enforcement officials, often led by William Sutton. From 1871 until his eventual arrest, notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin served as enforcer for the Taylors. In 1874 in the streets of Comanche, Texas, on his twenty-first birthday, Hardin and two other members of the Taylor ring gunned down Brown County Deputy Charlie Webb. This cold-blooded killing—one among many—marked the beginning of the end for the Taylor ring, and Hardin eventually went to the penitentiary as a result. The Feud That Wasn’t reinforces the interpretation that Reconstruction was actually just a continuation of the Civil War in another guise, a thesis Smallwood has advanced in other books and articles. He chronicles in vivid detail the cattle rustling, horse thieving, killing sprees, and attacks on law officials perpetrated by the loosely knit Taylor ring, drawing a composite picture of a group of anti-Reconstruction hoodlums who at various times banded together for criminal purposes. Western historians and those interested in gunfighters and lawmen will heartily enjoy this colorful and meticulously researched narrative.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce


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List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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Series Editor's Foreword

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pp. ix-x

With The Feud That Wasn’t: The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas, James Smallwood has set himself the arduous task of correcting a legacy of myths and conjecture that reach well into the twentieth century. As Smallwood observes in his introduction, “myth, legend, and lore sometimes displace history in the mind of the reading public, many of whom ...

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pp. xi-xiii

I incurred many debts in researching and writing this volume. I am pleased to say that when doing the research, I met and made more new friends than I can count. First, I would like to thank Sheron Barnes and Elizabeth Corte of the Regional History Center of the Victoria College / University of Houston Library. Both grand young ladies, they cheerfully helped me when I was gathering material located in the archives of the Regional History Center. ...

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pp. xv-xxiv

MONDAY, May 26, 1874, was a great day for the residents of Comanche County, Texas, and for many folks from the adjacent areas who came to Comanche town to enjoy a day filled with distractions to take their minds off their problems. All awakened to greet a warm, sunny day, one ideal for watching and wagering on the horse races and eating the food and drinking the liquor and having an entertaining time. The town’s merchants rolled ...

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Chapter 1 Founding the Taylors’ South Texas Crime Ring

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pp. 1-17

THE scion of the Taylor family was Josiah Taylor who in 1813 was one of the leaders of the ill- fated Gutierrez- Magee filibuster. He fought at the disastrous Battles of Medina and La Bahia before intrepid Spanish soldiers forced the expedition to withdraw. In the campaign Josiah received a total of seven gunshot wounds but lived to make his escape. After Stephen F. Austin opened the land of the Tejas to American settlement, Josiah returned ...

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Chapter 2 Continuing Mayhem

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pp. 18-35

MORE violence occurred in South Texas as the year 1867 swept by. Much of it could be traced directly to the Taylor ring. For example, on March 17, raider Bateman Bell rode into Bastrop with several of the gang. Before the day had passed, Bell, who had been drinking, had harsh words with Unionist John Catchings, the result being that Bell tried to beat Catchings to death. Local lawmen interfered. They arrested Bell and charged him with ...

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Chapter 3 Open Warfare

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pp. 36-50

ALTHOUGH Doughboy remained on the loose, the Taylor gang was reduced by one in a bizarre development. Lawmen in Clinton arrested one McClannahan who was wanted for horse theft; he also had an indictment pending against him in Lavaca County and had earlier broken out of jail in Gonzales. To make sure that he did not escape, deputies chained him in the basement of the jail, one that had only one entrance, a trap door in ...

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Chapter 4 More Murder and Mayhem

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pp. 51-64

THE Taylor gang remained active as the winter months of 1868 gave way to a new year. Hays and Doughboy Taylor along with Ran Spencer were in the field, defying any authority to bring them to justice. Their defiance was understandable, for, as in the past, the Taylor men often outnumbered the lawmen sent to arrest them. By January 1869, the Taylor forces had broadened their areas of attack on Unionists and freed people. Th e new ...

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Chapter 5 Rampant Lawlessness

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pp. 65-81

AS Helm, Bell, and their men disposed of the Choates, Captain Smith was carrying out his orders from General Reynolds. Once he reached the town of San Patricio, he found that people were greatly excited. Someone told Smith that Jack Helm had moved to “Round Lake” with at least two dozen men. When Smith and his escort reached the place, they questioned Helm, who produced several military documents, along with items from the ...

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Chapter 6 Lawmen Closing In

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pp. 82-100

IN January 1870, Detective Bell continued his quest to find and arrest Doughboy Taylor. Knowing that the Taylors were having him followed, Bell changed directions several times coming out of Austin and wound up in Waco after losing a spy. He received word that George Pierce, a desperado who ran with both the Hamilton gang and the Taylors, was in Webberville. ...

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Chapter 7 Enter John Wesley Hardin

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pp. 101-115

BY the time John Wesley Hardin became a coleader of the Taylor gang, he had developed a criminal career that could match or exceed the deeds of the most infamous of the Texas desperadoes. He committed most of his crimes before he reached twenty- one years of age. ...

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Chapter 8 A Matter of Attrition

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pp. 116-135

AFTER John Wesley Hardin returned to Texas, he became one of the two leaders of the Taylor raiders, the other being Jim Taylor. With Hardin involved, the murder rate attributed to the ring went up precipitously. In September 1871, a posse from Austin rode into Gonzales County looking for John Wesley, intending to arrest him and any other renegades they could ...

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Chapter 9 Lawmen Begin Taking Control

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pp. 136-152

IN the winter of 1873–74, after the standoff with the authorities, the Taylor- Hardin gang defiantly remained active in DeWitt County. They committed robbery and murder, and they continued to rustle cattle and steal horses. Although the guerrillas continued to bawl about the “Lost Cause” and Confederate honor, Gov. Richard Coke and Adj. Gen. William Steele now understood the menace of the crime ring and determined to break ...

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Chapter 10 Exterminating the Taylor Crime Ring

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pp. 153-164

EVEN as the Taylor ring’s manpower seemed to be dwindling, more trouble developed, this time in Austin. After learning that rangers would soon take some prisoners (Taylor men) to Clinton to stand trial, a number of the relatives and friends of the incarcerated men came to see them. A sergeant allowed private conversations over the objection of his men, who ...

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Chapter 11 The Collapse of the Taylor Ring

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pp. 165-179

WHEN Jim Taylor rode into Clinton in late December 1875, he was not alone. Approximately forty desperadoes served as his escort, including his cousin Bill Taylor, who had come out of hiding. District court was soon to convene, and some of the Taylor bunch were due to appear to be tried for various offenses, ranging from murder to cattle rustling. Basically, the brigands took control of the town, making their headquarters in John ...

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pp. 181-182

HERETOFORE, most authors who have written on what has been called the “Sutton- Taylor Feud” presented traditional, pro- Confederate propaganda in which myth, legends, and faulty memories stood equal to truth. No one bothered doing the real research necessary to understand the struggle. Most studies glorified the former Rebels, personified by the Taylors, ...


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pp. 183-184


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pp. 185-214

Notes on Sources

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pp. 215-216


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pp. 217-229

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443869
E-ISBN-10: 160344386X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603440172
Print-ISBN-10: 1603440178

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos. 6 maps.
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce
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OCLC Number: 680627848
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Feud That Wasn't

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Subject Headings

  • Taylor, Creed, d. 1906 -- Friends and associates.
  • Hardin, John Wesley, 1853-1895.
  • Taylor, Creed, d. 1906.
  • Sutton, William, d. 1874.
  • Outlaws -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Crime -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) -- Texas.
  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950.
  • Violence -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Peace officers -- Texas -- Biography.
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