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The Sutton-Taylor Feud

The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas

Chuck Parsons

Publication Year: 2009

The Sutton-Taylor Feud of DeWitt, Gonzales, Karnes, and surrounding counties began shortly after the Civil War ended. The blood feud continued into the 1890s when the final court case was settled with a governmental pardon. Of all the Texas feuds, the one between the Sutton and Taylor forces lasted longer and covered more ground than any other. William E. Sutton was the only Sutton involved, but he had many friends to wage warfare against the large Taylor family. The causes are still shrouded in mystery and legend, as both sides argued they were just and right. In April 1868 Charles Taylor and James Sharp were shot down in Bastrop County, alleged horse thieves attempting to escape. During this period many men were killed “while attempting to escape.” The killing on Christmas Eve 1868 of Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm was perhaps the final spark that turned hard feelings into fighting with bullets and knives. William Sutton was involved in both killings. “Who sheds a Taylor's blood, by a Taylor's hand must fall” became a fact of life in South Texas. Violent acts between the two groups now followed. The military reacted against the killing of two of their soldiers in Mason County by Taylors. The State Police committed acts that were not condoned by their superiors in Austin. Mobs formed in Comanche County in retaliation for John Wesley Hardin's killing of a Brown County deputy sheriff. One mob “liberated” three prisoners from the DeWitt County jail, thoughtfully hanging them close to the cemetery for the convenience of their relatives. An ambush party killed James Cox, slashing his throat from ear to ear—as if the buckshot in him was not sufficient. A doctor and his son were called from their home and brutally shot down. Texas Rangers attempted to quell the violence, but when they were called away, the killing began again. In this definitive study of the Sutton-Taylor Feud, Chuck Parsons demonstrates that the violence between the two sides was in the tradition of the family blood feud, similar to so many other nineteenth-century American feuds. His study is well augmented with numerous illustrations and appendices detailing the feudists, their attempts at treaties, and their victims.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Title Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: The Sutton-Taylor Feud

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pp. 1-10

Bill Sutton stepped down from the hack first, and then helped his pregnant wife Laura, holding her arm gently. She was now in her early months, strong, smiling, and confident, but to loving husband Bill she was delicate and fragile, and he was more than ordinarily concerned about...

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1. The Taylors and the Suttons—Texas Pioneers

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pp. 11-26

During the tumultuous days following the Civil War, Reconstruction and its aftermath, and into the decade of the 1870s, some considered the Taylors as outlaws, but although several were fugitives from the law, the Taylors in truth were Texas pioneers. Grassroots historian...

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2. Homicides and Private Quarrels

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pp. 27-50

Hays and Doboy Taylor, the sons of Creed, were the first of the Taylors to be involved in difficulties with the occupying Federal forces. Anyone associated with them naturally became part of the “Taylor gang,” although the Taylors certainly never considered themselves a gang. We...

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3. A Killing in Clinton

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pp. 51-76

Richard H. Chisholm was the first permanent settler in the area that became DeWitt County, establishing a home there in January 1829. Soon other settlers moved in and a settlement grew on the west bank of the Guadalupe River, five miles southeast of the present site of Cuero, today...

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4. The State Police—“Murder Most Foul”

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pp. 77-108

Special Officer C. S. Bell sought out Helm knowing his special abilities in dealing with so-called desperadoes. In late April 1869 Bell left Austin in pursuit of an escaped convict, James W. Weaver. He first proceeded to the plantation of Helm’s father-in-law, named Crawford, some “twenty miles...

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5. Rampant Killings

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pp. 109-136

The man who made a huge difference in the events of the feud entered onto the stage in 1871. He was John Wesley Hardin, the second-born son of Rev. James G. and Elizabeth Dixon Hardin, and he was named for the founder of Methodism. Born on May 26, 1853, in Fannin County, he...

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6. Treaties of Peace

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pp. 137-170

July of 1873 was deadly for the followers of William E. Sutton, as Cox, Christman, and Helm all fell before the guns of the Taylor party. Clearly, John Wesley Hardin’s expertise in planning and executing ambushes had produced positive results. Historian Robert C. Sutton Jr. believed that it...

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7. McNelly and the Rangers Arrive

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pp. 171-200

The June lynching of the three young men in Clinton, as well as the double killing of William E. Sutton and companion Gabriel Webster Slaughter on the deck of the Clinton in March, brought statewide attention to the feud. The death of Sutton should have marked the end of the feud, allowing...

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8. Bloody 1875

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pp. 201-218

In spite of McNelly’s good work in DeWitt County, he received criticism from some, and surprisingly from Sen. B. J. Pridgen. The senator had written to Governor Coke asking for Rangers to protect him and his family. The governor turned the note over to McNelly who responded on...

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9. Last Killings

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pp. 219-242

The triple killing of the Taylor men—Jim Taylor, Mace Arnold, and A. R. Hendricks—perhaps caused many people of DeWitt County to breathe a sigh of relief. The leaders of both factions were now dead; many of their followers were either dead or had left the country. In spite of Bill...

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10. Prisoners and Trials

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pp. 243-256

In the nineteenth century the average newspaper had relatively free rein as to what to print. Inaccuracies and halftruths could be printed as fact, and the correspondents who simply signed their names as “Justice” or “Pidge” or “Citizen” could fearlessly write what they believed or pleased with...

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11. With the Smoke Cleared

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pp. 257-268

After the pardon of David Augustine, perhaps the citizens of DeWitt County felt it was safe to say that the Sutton-Taylor Feud was finally over. The Brassells had been long buried; their accused slayers had endured their trials at no doubt great expense. Some participants had sold out...

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Epilogue: All Is Forgiven

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pp. 269-274

Although Jim Taylor’s two friends who died with him received little recognition, a special event occurred in 1988, which provided some degree of fame. On July 10 of that year, at the Taylor-Bennett Cemetery just south of Cuero on Highway 87, the graves of A. R. Hendricks and Mason...


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pp. 275-306


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pp. 307-360

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 361-371


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pp. 373-388

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413670
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412574

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 46 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vendetta -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Violence -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950.
  • Sutton family.
  • Taylor family.
  • Pioneers -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas.
  • Peace treaties -- History -- 19th century.
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