The Sutton–Taylor feud began as a county law enforcement issue between relatives of Texas state law agent, Creed Taylor, and a local law enforcement officer, William Sutton, in DeWitt County, Texas. The feud cost at least 35 lives and eventually included the outlaw John Wesley Hardin as one of its participants. It started in March 1868, not reaching its conclusion until the Texas Rangers put a stop to the fighting in December 1876.
The Sutton–Taylor feud arose from a growing animosity between the Texas Taylor family—headed by Pitkin Taylor, the brother of Creed Taylor (a Texas Ranger)—and local lawman, William E. Sutton - moved to Dewitt when his mother remarried to William Mcdonald. Sutton had been elected deputy sheriff in Clinton, Texas prior to the feud's inception. The feud lasted almost a decade and has been called the "longest and bloodiest in Texas history."
On April 23, 1866 William P. "Buck" Taylor shot a black soldier, Sergeant John O'Brien, who had come to a dance. That same month, John Hays Taylor killed a black soldier, a Sergeant Josiah Ripley, in an Indianola saloon
In November 1867 John Hays Taylor and Phillip Goodbread "Do' Boy" Taylor reportedly killed two Yankee soldiers, a Major John Thomson and Sergeant John McDougall, in Mason, Texas Four months later, on March 25, 1868, Deputy Sutton shot and killed a Taylor kinsman, Charley Taylor, whom he was trying to arrest for horse theft.
The following Christmas Eve, Deputy Sutton killed William P. "Buck" Taylor and his associate, Richard Chisholm, in a Clinton saloon, following an argument regarding the legality of the sale of some horses.
On June 5, 1869, Jack Helm assisted Captain C.S. Bell in trying to arrest members of the Taylors. Helm, as a deputy sheriff, assisted in the capture of Jim Bell. Goliad County Sheriff Andrew Jackson Jacobs, however, was killed by the Peaces brothers, Taylor allies. Later that summer, on August 23, 1869, the Sutton faction allegedly shot John Hays to death after he had caused repeated disruption in town.
The following year, in July 1870, Sutton was appointed to the Texas State Police Force serving under Captain Jack Helm. The police force was tasked with enforcing the "Reconstruction" policies of the federal government. This force operated with a bit of a free-hand—returning, more often than not, with "wanted" suspects dead.
On August 26, 1870, the Suttons were allegedly sent to arrest brothers Henry and William Kelly on a reportedly trivial charge. They were related by marriage to Creed Taylor's brother, Pitkin. During the attempted arrests, the Kellys were killed. Following his handling of the task, Helm was dismissed from the State Police Force, although he was legally cleared of any wrongdoing.
John Wesley Hardin joins the feud
In early 1872, on-the-run outlaw John Wesley Hardin joined his cousin, Mannen Clements, in neighboring Gonzales County, Texas. There, Clements and his brothers were active in the cattle herding (or, by most accounts, cattle rustling) business working in close alliance with the Taylor family.
On May 15, 1873, Sutton family allies Jim Cox and Jake Christman, were gunned down by the Taylor faction at Tumlinson Creek. There were reports that Hardin had led the fight in which these two men were killed, but he would never either confirm or deny his involvement.
Deaths of lawmen
Hardin's main notoriety in the Sutton–Taylor feud occurred two days later, in a May 17, 1873, gunfight in Cuero, Texas. Hardin killed a Dewitt County deputy sheriff, J.B. Morgan. Hardin played a part in the death later that same day of Morgan's superior, DeWitt County Sheriff Helm in Albuquerque, Texas. Reportedly, Hardin, Helm and Sam McCracken, Jr. were talking in front of a blacksmith shop. Helm was unarmed (having left his revolvers in his room at a boarding house). James Creed "Jim" Taylor snuck up on Helm from behind and attempted to shoot him, but his revolver misfired. As a startled Helm turned, Taylor managed to get off a shot, striking Helm in the chest. Helm rushed Taylor with the intent to grapple with him, but Hardin shattered Helm's arm with a shotgun blast. Helm attempted to flee into the blacksmith shop. Hardin held townspeople at gunpoint while Taylor chased down Helm and unloaded the remaining five bullets into him. As Hardin and Taylor mounted their horses and prepared to ride away, they boasted that they had accomplished what they had come to do.
The next night, Hardin and other Taylor supporters surrounded the ranch house of a Sutton family supporter, Joe Tumlinson. Eventually, a shouted truce was arranged. Both sides signed a peace treaty shortly afterward in Clinton, Texas. The peace, however, lasted less than a year.
The feuding continues
The Sutton–Taylor feud reached its apex when cousins James Creed "Jim" Taylor and Bill Taylor gunned down William E. Sutton and a companion, Gabriel Slaughter, while they waited on a steamboat platform in Indianola, Texas on March 11, 1874. Having grown tired of the feud, William Sutton was planning to leave the area for good. In retaliation, the Sutton faction caught and lynched three of the Taylor group, on June 22, 1874. Those lynched were Rufus P. "Scrap" Taylor; John Alfred "Kute" Tuggle and James White.
On June 1, 1874 Hardin's cousin, Alexander Henry Barekman (who had been involved with the Taylors and Hardin in the killing of Sutton) and another cousin of Hardin's, Alexander "Ham" Anderson, were killed by a Texas Ranger Company in retaliation of Hardin's killing of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb May 26, 1874.Another member of the Taylor group was George Culver Tennille who was killed In Gonzales County Texas July 8,1874
After this, the fighting continued, although with much less frequency. James Creed "Jim" Taylor was killed January 1, 1875. On November 17, 1875, Reuben H. Brown, the new leader of the Suttons and ex-marshal of Cuero, Texas, was shot down in the Exchange Saloon by Hardin, his last known action in the feud. Hardin, who by then had re-settled his family in Florida under the assumed name of "Swain," admitted in his biography that he and his brother, Joseph, had been involved—along with both Taylors—in Sutton's killing.
On Sept 16, 1876 Dr Phillip H Brassell and son, George, were killed by the Suttons.
Conclusion of hostilities
Following another outbreak of violence in October 1876, Texas Ranger Captain Jesse Lee Hall led a force into Cuero, Texas to break up the feud for good. By January 1877, he and his supporting troop had put an end to the conflict once and for all.
- The Texas Vendetta, or, the Sutton-Taylor Feud. J.J. Little & Co. 1880. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
- Parsons, Chuck (2009). The Sutton-Taylor Feud: the deadliest blood feud in Texas. University of North Texas Press. ISBN 978-1-57441-257-4.
- Freedmen's Bureau: Report of Freedmen and Union Men Killed & Outrages Committed in DeWitt Co., Texas Since the Close of the Rebellion; letter to Col. W. H. Sinclair, Asst. Adjut. General from Albert A. Hetzner; Freed Men's Bureau archives online; accessed April 2018
- Annual Report of the Adjutant-General for the State of New York for the year 1895; p. 1270 and 1295; Text: "...killed by Jayhawkers, April 23, 1866, near Kelly's Station, Texas."
- I Hope to be With You... The Civil War in Texas and Cork; Irish American Civil War online; accessed September 2015
- Hardin, John Wesley; article; Leon C. Metz; Handbook of Texas Online; published by the Texas State Historical Association; accessed October 16, 2013.
- The Sutton-Taylor Feud of DeWitt County; legendsofamerica.com; accessed October 15, 2013
- Hardin, John W. (1896). The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written By Himself. Smith & Moore, Seguin, Texas. ISBN 978-0-8061-1051-6.
"...but as I have never pleaded to that case, I will at this time have little to say." ~J.W. Hardin
- Deputy Helm; article; Handbook of Texas online; accessed October 11, 2013.
- Wise, Ken (March 2012). Hunter, Michelle (ed.). "The Trial of John Wesley Hardin". Texas Bar Journal. Austin, TX: State Bar of Texas. 75 (9): 202. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- Hardin, John W. (1896). The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written By Himself. Smith & Moore, Seguin, Texas. ISBN 978-0-8061-1051-6. Retrieved October 30, 2011.
- George Culver Tennille at Find a grave accessed September 14,2018