- No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell: The Stafford-Townsend Feud of Colorado County, Texas, 1871–1911 by James C. Kearney
No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell is a fascinating and sophisticated examination of a Texas feud that should be of interest to scholars of Texas history, the West, and the South. The book is also one that the non-scholarly reader interested in any of these areas will find absorbing. Bill Stein, the director and archivist at the Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus, Texas, who died in 2008, conceived the idea for this book. Stein collected much of the primary material upon which it is based, but died before he was able to shape it into a book. His family left that task to James C. Kearney, a well-known scholar of Texas Germans and also a native of Colorado County. With input from James Smallwood, noted Reconstruction scholar (now deceased), who suggested ways to organize the book, Kearney carried out additional research.
The Stafford-Townsend Feud has the distinction of being probably Texas’s longest running feud, beginning with a shootout in Columbus in 1871 and lasting until 1911. Only the thirty years of the Sutton-Taylor feud come close. Kearney sees the feud as developing in two phases. The first stage began with a confrontation between Robert E. (Bob) Stafford, four of his relatives, and Sumner Townsend, son of Asa Townsend, on the streets of Columbus. Both men were wounded. The resulting hostility between the two families continued to worsen, ending with the murder in Columbus of Bob Stafford and his brother John by nephews of the Townsend family, Larkin and Marion Hope. This triumph of the Townsend clan marked the beginning of the second phase of the feud, when the Townsends themselves divided in a dispute that placed Mark Townsend against Sam Reese, husband of a Townsend, but also an associate of the Stafford faction in Columbus. Their dispute led ultimately to the assassination of Larkin Hope and the revenge killing of Sam Reese, both in 1898, and a series of murders and attempted murders ending with three deaths in 1911.
The collision between the Staffords and Townsends and their various backers generally has been interpreted as one between two ambitious and aggressive cattle families. Kearney shows, however, not only the economic issues but the personal and political ones that contributed to the feud. The Staffords, particularly Bob, achieved great economic success running cattle (not always his own), building an opera house, opening a bank, and constructing a packing house in Columbus. The Townsends, on the other hand, managed to secure control over critical county offices through alliances with black voters, then used these offices to further their own fortunes. That Bob Stafford may have resented the Townsend family’s control [End Page 106] over the black vote may have been reflected in his last words, a racist insult that he shouted at the white Hope family member who killed him. After the death of Bob Stafford, the bad feelings engendered in the first phase of the feud fueled subsequent events. Kearney’s analysis, showing the importance of politics as well as economic jealousies and personal hostilities, is insightful.
Kearney has done a particularly good job of telling a very complex story that involves many different people. He very helpfully provides an appendix with biographies of all the major characters. There are also appendices containing Kearney’s interview with John Goeppinger, a participant in many of the events; the report of Ranger captain Lamartine Sieker of shootings in 1898; and the witness list for the 1912 trial of Frank Stelzig, the man who killed the last victim of the feud.