Historical Figure John Larn and a Giveaway!

Hi, I’m Andrea Downing and today I’d like to talk about the lesser known figure of John Larn.

The history of the West is littered with a glittering array of gunfighters and lawmen—sometimes both in one man. After all, the West wouldn’t have been ‘Wild’ without them; think how boring it would be if we only had pioneers and a quite ordinary workforce to write about! Like cream, certain names rise to the top in the litany of gunfighters: Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Their counterparts, the lawmen, were often not much better than they; think Pat Garrett and Wyatt Earp and company. But there were lesser mortals who left a trail of destruction in their wake, and one such man was John Larn.

Larn was born in Alabama in 1849, well before the heady, post Civil War main migration to the West. As a teen, he moved on to Colorado to find work as a cowboy, but the hot-headed young man ended up killing his boss around 1869 in an argument over a horse. Heading to New Mexico, he notched his gun a second time when he killed a sheriff he believed to be in pursuit of him. Moving on to Texas, he next had work as trail boss for rancher Bill Hays in Fort Griffin, around 1871. This led to the deaths of 3 more victims on the trail to Trinidad, Colorado.

As we all know, ladies love a bad boy, and Mary Jane Matthews, from a prominent family, was no exception. The couple married, would eventually have two sons, and Larn managed to become a well-respected citizen—for a time at least—of Shackleford County in Texas. But by 1873, rumors started to appear of cattle rustling in which Larn was involved. Somehow, he was able to put the spotlight on his former boss, obtain a warrant charging the outfit with rustling and, keeping in mind no good deed goes unpunished, he gathered a possee and joined soldiers from Fort Griffin to ambush and kill all Bill Hays’ ranch hands.

By now, you may be getting the idea that Larn was one blood-thirsty dude. I’d agree! His next foray into law enforcement was to join a vigilante group called The Tin Hat Brigade in Griffin. Griffin had become so lawless, such a magnet for the anarchic and unruly, that it needed this group to take control and bring some law and order. Earning respect from the local townspeople for this work, Larn was elected sheriff in 1876 and was able to build a ranch on the Cedar Fork at Lambshead.
But I guess law enforcement may not have paid well because in less than a year Larn had either resigned or been pushed out, and his next post was as a deputy hides inspector. This involved keeping an eye on all cattle movement and supervising butchers as well. He also obtained a contract to supply three cattle a day to the fort. Needless to say, Larn didn’t think to supply his own beef. He practically started a range war, leading a band of men in bushwhacking and heading cattle off ranches. When a band of citizens searched the area behind Larn’s house, no prizes for guessing what they found. Six hides with other ranches’ brands were found and, at last, Larn’s game was up. For a moment at least…no charges were filed despite the arrest. Unfortunately for him, however, his bad temper led to his last assault—that of a local rancher by the name of Treadwell who had supposedly uncovered Larn’s cattle rustling. Larn was arrested and taken to Albany, where the sheriff had him shackled to his cell. When vigilantes arrived wanting to lynch Larn, they found they couldn’t remove him and shot him instead. He was twenty-nine years old. That’s about the age of my hero in Shot Through the Heart.

Here’s a little more about the book:

Gunslinger Shiloh Coltrane has returned home to work the family’s Wyoming ranch, only to find there’s still violence ahead. His sister and nephew have been murdered, and the killers are at large.
Dr. Sydney Cantrell has come west to start her medical practice, aiming to treat the people of a small town. As she tries to help and heal, she finds disapproval and cruelty the payment in kind.
When the two meet, it’s an attraction of opposites. As Shiloh seeks revenge, Sydney seeks to do what’s right. Each wants a new life, but will trouble or love find them first?

So what do you think of these gunslingers and lawmen of the Old West? What made some men into killers? Mental disease? Family genes? And if you’d like to find out whether Shiloh and Sydney manage to find a middle ground, I’m happy to give away one e-book copy of Shot Through the Heart to one person who comments.

And of course, the book in both paperback and eBook is available at: 


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31 thoughts on “Historical Figure John Larn and a Giveaway!”

    • I’m afraid my research didn’t take me that far, but it’s an excellent question. I recently heard of someone who discovered she was descended from some notorious outlaw–perhaps Larn’s descendants are around today.

  1. Good morning Andrea. I loved your walk through history.
    I think that just about anything could set off someone who has killing in their heart. The hard times they were going through, heartache, and I’d even say mental illness.
    Your book sounds amazing.

    • Hi Tonya, for one terrible moment I thought you were talking about the present day hard times! But yes, if you are so inclined for whatever reason, even if it’s in your genes, if you have that total lack of morality then nothing will stop you. Frightening, isn’t it?

  2. Larn was certainly busy for his short time. We have serial killers now and he would be one. Mental illness was not really recognized so that could contribute.

  3. welcome. well that is interesting. There seem to be so many men and women that I have not heard about like this. Would seem like this man would make it on the list also. hmmm Definitely a bad boy. Wonder what happened to his wife and sons. Did his sons follow dads example or did mom have more say in their lives? The medical field was not as advanced at the time, so mental disease may not have been noticed or recognized. We deal with a lot of human issues today. So I am sure it was just as prevalent back then.

    • Lori, I’m afraid I didn’t find out what happened to his wife and sons but my guess would be the widow returned to the bosom of her wealthy family and perhaps the sons turned out OK. There are several books that include Larn in them; perhaps one has the answer.

  4. I wonder what happened with his young widow and his sons who also had to be young. The rest of the story would be interesting to know!

    • Paula, I’m sort of laughing about this because a number of readers here have asked what happened to his sons, but my research didn’t find anything on that or I didn’t go far enough. There are, however, several books that include Larn in them so perhaps they answer that question.

  5. Very interesting about John Larn. It would be interesting to find what happened to his wife and children.

  6. Good morning! Thanks for stopping by. I loved your blog. I have never heard of Larn and he doesn’t really sound like he’s a dumb man but why didn’t he burn the part of the hides that had the brands. Duh. He did a lot in his short life!

    I don’t believe genes are what makes a man a killer. Just like today it usually has to do with greed and often relationships/sex related. Add in alcohol qnd/or mental issues you’ve got the recipe for a disaster! History would be rather boring without the gunslingers, vigilantes of the Wild Wesr.

    I’d love the opportunity to read your book. A giveaway is an awesome way to find a new author to add to my go to authors list.

    • Yes, I’ve wondered why he didn’t get rid of the hides; it’s almost as if he wanted to get caught. Perhaps he had some use for them but also sociopaths never think they are going to get caught, I believe. He probably just thought he was above the law.

  7. Hi Andrea, welcome back! This is so interesting. I know right where Shackleford County is and it’s kinda in a remote part of Texas. I can see someone with a lot to hide choosing to live there. Twenty-Nine was awfully young to die by violence. Wow! Texas sure had it’s share of killers. Your book sounds so interesting. I’m hooked by the title alone. Enjoy your visit.

    • Thanks so much for the welcome,Linda–certainly good to be back here. I’m thinking that Texas being so big, there’s bound to be remote areas. I was hoping to go visit the Big Bend area this year but other stuff is happening. As for the book, I’m so glad you like the title. I hope it’s a ‘pull.’

  8. Hi, thank you so much for sharing this info, you make history so much fun to learn. I guess some bad people are just born bad, it’s up to each person to make of their lives what they want. I love the sound of your book, it sounds so very intriguing and the book cover looks very intriguing also, Thank you so much for sharing about your book also. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

    • Hi Alicia, I’m so glad you find my book intriguing and, even better, the history fun–that’s very rewarding to know. You have a great weekend, too–I’m five miles from Grand Teton and the roads are opening this weekend so that’s where I’ll be.

  9. I believe you are asking the age old question. I am not sure if it is not a bit of both. It maybe mental illness that is not treated or respond to treatment, a bad temper or some kind of imbalance chemically. I am not sure what causes the attraction to a bad boy. Thank you for sharing.

    • Debra, yes, it is an age old question–is it genes, upbringing, or mental illness. For all we know, Larn may have had an awful childhood which led to his disregard for human life. Guess we’ll never know.

  10. I don’t know what makes some people cold hearted and ruthless. I don’t think it is necessarily genetic because there are families that have good children, but that one that turns out to be nothing but trouble. I am sure some of these people were sociopaths and there is nothing that can be done to stop them from developing or to rehabilitate them. The freedom of the West was good for people to reinvent themselves, correct mistakes of the past, and get a fresh start on a new life. Sadly that same freedom was used for some to indulge in their worst behavior. Bullies grew meaner and more dangerous with no one and nothing to check them. Sociopaths spread death and fear. Some were able to get away with what they did by becoming lawmen and “legally” carry out their brand of law, vendettas and illegal operations. I am sure some reformed, but for most, they tended to lie, cheat, steal, and murder for as long as they could get away with it. “Luckily” for the rest of those around them they usually met an early but violent end.

    • I think genes do play a role to an extent, Patricia; children of the same family need not be exactly alike either in mentality or appearance. But upbringing is also part of the mix, and then there’s the mental health issue–one child can be ill, the other not. But yes, put this into an environment that was basically a free-for-all, and you have quite an interesting situation! Thanks so much for sharing your views.

  11. Makes you wonder about people like him. I am like everyone else what happen to his wife and sons. Did his son become bad men also or where they good guys? It kind of makes you wonder what makes people tick in this world today.

    • Well, quilt lady, I think there’s been quite a bit of wondering along those lines recently–as to what makes people tick. I’m afraid I have no answer for that! As they say, hold that thought… 🙂

  12. I think the survival gene kicked in and did what they had to do to survive.

    • Charlene, I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. Are you saying that to survive they murdered people and rustled cattle? I think that might be a very odd survival tactic, if so, but it’s an interesting point of view.

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