‘You Take that Back!’ — Texas Feuds

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The notorious Hatfield clan, 1897

Although lesser known than the notorious Hatfield-McCoy fracas that claimed about a dozen lives along the West Virginia-Kentucky state line between 1865 and 1888, six and a half of the ten bloodiest American feuds took place in Texas.

Yes, six and a half. Just hold your horses and I’ll explain.

Two of Texas’s feuds were deadlier than the quarrel between the Hatfields and McCoys, and most of them erupted over a bigger insult than laying claim to a wayward pig.

In ascending order of body count, the feuds were…

Early vs. Hasley, 1865-69

Sam Hasley did not take it well when he returned from fighting for the Confederacy to discover his elderly father had been roughed up by a member of the Union occupation force sent to keep order in Texas during Reconstruction. Hasley vowed vengeance not only upon the culprit, John Early, but also on every other Federal in Bell County. He and the friends and family who gathered around him openly defied the authorities, leading the Early faction to accuse Hasley’s group of any crime of any kind anywhere in the vicinity. Yankee soldiers ambushed and killed one of the Hasley contingent in mid-1869, effectively disbanding the gang. One rogue member, however, pursued one of Early’s friends into Arkansas and killed him later that year. Sam Hasley went on to become a deputy sheriff. In 1889, drunk on duty, he was shot and killed by a deputy city marshal while resisting arrest in Temple, Texas. Body count: two.

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A plantation house in Columbus, Texas, ca. 1840

Reese vs. Townsend, 1898-1907

The Reeses and the Townsends got crossways over politics. U.S. Senator Mark Townsend, the Boss Tweed of Columbus, Texas, withdrew his support from incumbent sheriff Sam Reese and threw his considerable political clout behind former deputy Larkin Hope instead. When Hope ended up on the wrong end of a broad daylight assassination in downtown Columbus, Reese was the most likely suspect, though no evidence surfaced. Townsend’s handpicked replacement won the election. Perturbed by the unanticipated turn of events, Reese picked a gunfight with a Townsend supporter, thereby moving out of politics and into a casket. The former sheriff’s family vowed to avenge him, provoking five shootouts in Columbus over the following six years. Four combatants died, including Sam Reese’s brother Dick. Body count: six.

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Lampasas, Texas, ca. 1882

Horrell vs. Higgins, 1874-1877

When the five Horrell brothers—Ben, Mart, Tom, Merritt, and Sam—took it on the lam to Lincoln County, New Mexico, in order to avoid a murder rap in Texas, they probably didn’t plan to leave one of their number under six feet of dirt before scrambling back to Lampasas barely ahead of a posse. They fared no better in their hometown, running afoul of former friend and neighbor John “Pink” Higgins right away. Higgins accused the high-spirited Horrell boys of rustling cattle…and that’s when the trouble started. A jury acquitted the Horrells of all charges, but continuing ill will led to Merritt Horrell’s death at Higgins’s hand during a saloon fight. Folks lined up behind both families, swore to wipe the opposing faction from the face of the planet, and set about their task with admirable devotion. By the time the Texas Rangers put an end to the running gun battles in June 1877, four men were dead, dozens more were injured, and the three remaining Horrell brothers were behind bars. Although they were released in short order, two of the three were arrested on suspicion of murdering a shopkeeper less than a year later. A vigilante gang shot them to death in their jail cells. The feud ended when both sides signed a written promise to leave one another alone. Amazingly, they kept their word. Body count: seven.

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1912 New York Times report about the Boyce-Sneed disagreement. (Click to read.)

Boyce vs. Sneed, 1911-1912

Wealthy ranchers John Beal Sneed and Albert Boyce, Jr. came to blows over Sneed’s wife. After more than a decade of marriage and two children, in 1911 Lena Sneed admitted to having an affair with Boyce and asked for a divorce. Sneed straightaway had her committed to an asylum. Boyce rescued the damsel in distress, and the couple ran off to Canada. Incensed when kidnapping charges were dropped, Sneed upped the ante: In early 1912, he murdered Boyce’s unarmed father in the lobby of a Fort Worth hotel. Widely publicized court proceedings ended in a mistrial, spurring a mob of Boyce supporters to storm the courthouse and kill four men. Sneed’s father was the next to go, in an alleged murder-suicide. Although John and Lena Sneed reconciled in mid-1912, he could not let the insult go: Wearing a disguise, he shot and killed Boyce in broad daylight on a Fort Worth street and then surrendered at the county courthouse. Juries later acquitted Sneed of all charges, calling the killings justifiable homicide. Body count: eight.

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former Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, ca. 1880

Sutton vs. Taylor, 1866-1877

Dewitt County Deputy Sheriff William Sutton set off the longest-lasting and most widespread feud in Texas history when, in three separate 1866 incidents, he shot and killed three members of former Texas Ranger Creed Taylor’s family. In 1867, two more Taylors died while Sutton was attempting to arrest them on a minor charge. After adopting the motto “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall,” the Taylors retaliated by killing two Sutton allies. Mob violence, ambushes, prison breaks, and lynchings ensued. Sutton himself was gunned down while attempting to board a steamboat and high-tail it out of the area. After numerous attempts at peacemaking failed, Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly and his Special Force put a stop to the violence. Body count: at least 35.

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Fighting Over a Stolen Herd, Frederic Remington, 1895

Lee vs. Peacock, 1866-1871

Only Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War, which took the lives of twenty to fifty men between 1887 and 1892, outstripped the Lee-Peacock feud of northeast Texas. Like the Early-Hasley dustup, the Lee-Peacock fandango grew out of lingering animosity over the Civil War. Confederate veteran Bob Lee butted heads with an organization of Union supporters, leading Lewis Peacock, the leader of the Union bunch, to round up a posse and arrest Lee for alleged war crimes. To “settle the charges,” Peacock seized Lee’s valuables and exacted a promissory note for $2,000. Lee won a subsequent lawsuit, earning an assassination attempt along with the money. His doctor was murdered while Lee convalesced in the medic’s home. Thereafter, Northeast Texas fractured along Union-Confederacy lines and bands of armed men proceeded to track down and do away with their ideological opponents. The Fourth United States Cavalry’s arrival to end the fracas only made things worse: Although a house-to-house search failed to turn up Lee, it sparked several more gun battles. Lee was betrayed by one of his own men in 1869 and died during the cavalry’s attempt to arrest him. Fighting continued until Peacock’s shooting death in 1871. Body count: about fifty.

And now for the one-half Texas feud…

Brooks vs. McFarland, 1896-1902

Although most of the violence took place on Oklahoma land belonging the Creek Nation, a fatal attempt to rob a former Texas Ranger started the fight. After would-be robber Thomas Brooks was killed, family patriarch Willis Brooks accused neighbor Jim McFarland of planning the unsuccessful crime and then tipping off the Ranger. Not disposed to sit idly by and watch the family name besmirched, the McFarlands lined up behind Jim and faced off with the Brooks clan. Both sides vowed to shoot members of the other on sight. The conflict came to a head in a Spokogee, Oklahoma, gunfight in September 1902, when Willis Brooks and his son Clifton were killed along with a McFarland family ally. The survivors were arrested, but allowing them to make bail may have been a mistake: One month later, Jim McFarland died in an ambush at his home. McFarland’s death put an end to the feud.

 

Sunday Houses

MargaretBrownley-header

 

I”m writing a new series set in Two-Time, Texas (wait till you out find out why it”s called Two-Time). Like an old teabag I”ve been steeped in research since the first of the year, and just learned that not everything in Texas is huge.  Take for example Sunday houses.
A Sunday house was a small (and I do mean small) second dwelling located next to a church. These houses were built by devout German farmers and ranchers who lived in the Texas Hill boonies.
sh2Originally, German settlements were laid out as farm communities and farmers were given town lots. They were expected to live in town and drive out daily to their farms or ranches to work. It didn”t take farmers long to figure out that it was less of a hassle to live on the farms and travel to town on weekends.
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 This led to the building of Sunday houses. Every Saturday farming families traveled to town to purchase supplies, attend to business and, if necessary, receive medical treatment.
Saturday nights was a time to socialize and this generally included a dance. They would then spend the night at their Sunday houses so as to attend church the following morning. They would either return to farm or ranch on Sunday afternoon, or wait till Monday.
These wood-framed weekend houses were small and usually had only one and a half rooms. Many had gabled attics reached from an Snday houseoutside staircase where children would sleep. The pitched roofs were made from handmade cypress shingles and the windows and woodwork embellished with mill work.
The first floor had a lean-to kitchen and covered porch. A fireplace provided warmth and cooking facilities, but there was no running water.
These second dwellings fell out of favor in the 1920s. Improved roads and automobiles made Sunday houses no longer necessary. Fortunately, many of these charming houses still exist in Gillespie County and supposedly cost a bundle.
Now if I could just figure out how to work a Sunday house into my story.  Anyone seen one of these?

 

 Hot Flash: Book two in Margaret”s Undercover Ladies series

UNDERCOVER BRIDE can be ordered now (hint, hint).

Who in the name of Sam Hill was the green-eyed beauty

with the iron-like fist?-Petticoat Detective

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To order, click cover

Law Comes to the Nueces Strip

Texas always has been a rowdy place. In 1822, the original Anglo settlers began trickling into what was then Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government, which hoped American immigrants would do away with the out-of-control Comanches. Texans dispensed with the Comanches in the 1870s by foisting them off on Oklahoma, but long before that, the Texans ran off the Mexican government.

Republic_of_Texas_labeled_smallFrom 1836 to 1845, Texas looked something like the map at right. The green parts became the Republic of Texas as a result of treaties signed by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana after Sam Houston and his ragtag-but-zealous army caught the general napping at San Jacinto. The treaties set the boundary between Texas and Mexico at the Rio Grande.

This caused a bit of a fuss in the Mexican capital. No matter how embarrassing his situation, Santa Ana did not possess the authority to dispose of large chunks of land with the swipe of a pen. Mexico eventually conceded Texas could have the dark-green part of the map—bounded to the south by the Nueces River, which lies about one hundred fifty miles north of the Rio Grande—but the light-green part still belonged to Mexico.

Arguments ensued.

While Texas and Mexico were studiously avoiding one another in the disputed territory, outlaws, rustlers, and other lawless types moved into the patch between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. After all, no respectable outlaw ever lets a perfectly good blind spot on the law-enforcement radar go to waste. The area, 150 miles wide by about 400 miles long, came to be known as the Nueces Strip.

NuecesStrip_smallIn 1845, the United States annexed all of the land claimed by Texas, including the disputed territory, and came to military blows with Mexico over the insult. By the time the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 to settle once and for all (sort of) who owned what, the lawless element was firmly entrenched in the strip of cactus and scrub between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. For nearly thirty years, brigands raised havoc—robbing, looting, raping, rustling, and killing—on both sides of the border before retreating to ranchos and other hideouts in the Strip’s no-man’s land.

That began to change in 1875 when Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly was charged with bringing order to the southern part of Texas. Newly re-formed after being disbanded for about ten years during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Rangers were determined to clean up the cesspool harboring notorious toughs like King Fisher and Juan Cortina. With a company of forty handpicked men known as the Special Force, McNelly accomplished his task in two years…in some cases by behaving at least as badly as the outlaws. McNelly was known for brutal—sometimes downright illegal—tactics, including torturing information out of some prisoners and hanging others. He and his men also made a number of unauthorized border crossings in pursuit of rustlers, nearly provoking international incidents.

Nevertheless, the “Little McNellys” got the job done. By the time McNelly was relieved of command and subsequently retired in 1876, the Nueces Strip was a safer place.

McNelly died of consumption in September 1877. Though he remains controversial in some circles, the residents of South Texas raised funds and erected a monument in his honor.