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The Johnson-Sims Feud

Romeo and Juliet, West Texas Style

Bill O'Neal

Publication Year: 2010

In the early 1900s, two families in Scurry and Kent counties in West Texas united in a marriage of fourteen-year-old Gladys Johnson to twenty-one-year-old Ed Sims. Billy Johnson, the father, set up Gladys and Ed on a ranch, and the young couple had two daughters. But Gladys was headstrong and willful, and Ed drank too much, and both sought affection outside their marriage. A nasty divorce ensued, and Gladys moved with her girls to her father’s luxurious ranch house, where she soon fell in love with famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer. When Ed tried to take his daughters for a prearranged Christmas visit in 1916, Gladys and her brother Sid shot him dead on the Snyder square teeming with shoppers. One of the best lawyers in West Texas, Judge Cullen Higgins (son of the old feudist Pink Higgins) managed to win acquittal for both Gladys and Sid. In the tradition of Texas feudists since the 1840s, the Sims family sought revenge. Sims’ son-in-law, Gee McMeans, led an attack in Sweetwater and shot Billy Johnson’s bodyguard, Frank Hamer, twice, while Gladys—by now Mrs. Hamer—fired at another assassin. Hamer shot back, killed McMeans, and was no-billed on the spot by a grand jury watching the shootout through a window. An attempt against Billy Johnson failed, but a three-man team shotgunned the widely respected Cullen Higgins. Texas Rangers and other lawmen caught one of the assassins, extracted a confession, and then prompted his “suicide” in a Sweetwater jail cell.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Contents

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-vii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

I first became acquainted with the Johnson-Sims Feud during the late 1990s, while researching a biography of Pink Higgins. Although I wrote about this West Texas conflict in the last chapters of The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins (Eakin Press, 1999), I wanted to know more about the Johnson and Sims families. As the years passed, I continued to collect material about these two pioneer families and ...

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1. Introduction to a Blood Feud

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pp. 1-10

There was bad blood between W. A. Johnson and Ed Sims. Johnson was a pioneer cattleman of Scurry County, and as president of Snyder’s First National Bank he was a prominent citizen of the community. Sims, the oldest son of another pioneer ranching clan, had married Johnson’s headstrong daughter, Gladys, in 1905 when signal the union of two successful ranching families. But while two ...

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2. Billy Johnson, Cattle Baron

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pp. 11-32

By the time that pioneer cattlemen Billy Johnson and Dave Sims arrived in West Texas, Americans had become captivated by the range cattle industry. This fascinating enterprise evolved in Texas during the nineteenth century....

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3. Dave Sims, Cattle Baron

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pp. 33-52

While Billy Johnson was progressing from teenage cowboy to pioneer rancher to family man to cattle baron, Dave Sims was following a similar trail. Five years older than Billy Johnson, Dave was born during a family migration from Arkansas to Lampasas County in the Hill Country of Texas....

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4. Gladys and Ed

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pp. 53-74

Gladys was the princess of the Johnson ranch. She was the baby of the family and the only daughter. And she was the apple of her father’s eye. After three sons, Billy Johnson was ready for a daddy’s little girl....

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5. E. C. Sims vs. Gladys Sims

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pp. 75-92

Gladys Sims was unhappy. She was unhappy with her husband, unhappy with her marriage, unhappy with herself. Gladys may have been physically mature when she married, but at fourteen she remained a girl, spoiled and headstrong and hot-tempered....

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6. Storm Clouds

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pp. 93-102

By the time that her divorce from Ed Sims was finalized, Gladys had found the love of her life. Frank Hamer already was famous as a Texas Ranger and deadly gunman, and he would prove aformidable ally for the Johnson family...

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7. Tragedy in Snyder

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pp. 103-114

The divorce of Ed and Gladys Sims was finalized in September 1916. Soon afterward Ed married Mildred Girard, the dressmaker from Dallas, but he continued to find it difficult to arrange custody time with his daughters. He stated flatly that Gladys and her parents were “prejudicing his children against him.”....

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8. The Search for Revenge

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pp. 115-126

Ed Sims was buried in the Post City Cemetery on Sunday, December 17, the day after he was murdered. “The funeral was attended by a large crowd of people,” reported the Snyder Signal.1 Ed’s loved ones made up a significant portion of those in attendance, because he was the first member of his immediate family to die...

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9. Assassination and Retribution

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pp. 127-142

Ada Sims McMeans took the remains of her husband back to Odessa for burial. The oldest daughter of Dave and Laura Belle Sims now was a widow, her husband killed in a shootout with Frank Hamer—who was married to Gladys Sims Hamer....

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10. Aftermath and Redemption

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pp. 143-168

An important element of classic tragedy is redemption. In Romeo and Juliet the Capulets and Montagues reconciled over the corpses of the young lovers. But there would be no Johnson-Sims reconciliation in West Texas....

Rest in Peace

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pp. 169-170

Endnotes

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pp. 171-180

Bibliography

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pp. 181-186

Index

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pp. 187-208


E-ISBN-13: 9781574413489
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412901

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 60 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

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Subject Headings

  • Vendetta -- Texas -- Scurry County -- History -- 20th century.
  • Ranchers -- Texas -- Scurry County -- Biography.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas -- Scurry County.
  • Family violence -- Texas -- History.
  • Scurry County (Tex.) -- History -- 20th century.
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