DEADLIEST FEUD IN TEXAS

It’s called the Sutton-Taylor Feud, but William Sutton was the only Sutton involved in this fight. He had a lot of friends, including some members of Governor E. J. Davis’ State Police. The Taylor faction consisted of the sons, nephews, in-laws, and friends of two

brothers––Creed and Pitkin Taylor. The tale gets more complicated: Creed Taylor, who had fought in every major Texas battle from the “Come and Take It” skirmish at Gonzales through the Mexican-American War, did not join the feud. His brother Pitkin was an old man in 1872 when the feud was well underway. Sutton supporters lured him out of his house one night by ringing a cowbell in his cornfield. Shot and severely wounded, he lived only six months. At his funeral, his son and several relatives vowed to avenge the killing. “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall” became their mantra.

Lawlessness ran rampant in Texas after the Civil War and resentments flared with the arrival of black Union soldiers assigned to keep order and Carpetbaggers—Northerners, some of whom took advantage of the impoverished conditions by paying back taxes on land to acquire farms belonging to Confederate soldiers.

Evidence of the building tensions appeared in 1866 when Buck Taylor shot a black sergeant who came to a dance at the home of Taylor’s uncle. Then Hays Taylor killed a black soldier in an Indianola saloon. The following year, Hays Taylor and his brother Doby killed two Yankee soldiers in Mason. No arrests were made in any of the cases.

William Sutton’s first foray into the “troubles,” began in 1868 while he served as Clinton deputy sheriff. In an attempt to arrest horse thieves, Sutton killed Charley Taylor and arrested James Sharp. When Sharp “tried to escape,” a recurrent problem with prisoners during that period, Sutton shot Sharp in the back.

A few months later, Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm accused Sutton of dishonesty over the sale of some horses. They settled the matter with guns, which resulted in the death of both Taylor and Chisholm.

Then William Sutton did the unthinkable by joining the hated State Police force under Captain Jack Helm. Historians believe not all of the State Police were corrupt or politically motivated, however, the faction working under Jack Helm apparently used “Reconstruction,” as an excuse to terrorize large sections of South Central Texas. For example, Helm’s men arrested sons-in-law of Pitkin Taylor on a trivial charge, took them a short distance from home, and killed them while one of their wives watched from hiding.

After several incidents came to light regarding Jack Helm’s misconduct, the State Police dismissed him. To the chagrin of many in the area, Helm continued serving as DeWitt County Sheriff. It was not long before Jim Taylor and John Wesley Hardin, the notorious murderer, killed Jack Helm.

With Helm gone, William Sutton became the leader of the group. After old Pitkin Taylor, mentioned above, was lured out and killed, his son Jim and several relatives caught William Sutton in a saloon; they fired through the saloon door, but only wounded him. After a second unsuccessful attempt to kill Sutton, they settled for killing a member of Sutton’s group.

The murders continued to terrify the countryside. Residents of the region were forced to take sides and lived in constant fear of being pursued or ensnared in a trap. No one felt safe from the rampage. Finally, William Sutton moved to Victoria and got married. When his wife was expecting a child, he decided they should leave the country.  Gabriel Slaughter accompanied them on the train to Indianola. On March 11, 1874, Sutton, his wife, and Slaughter were boarding a ship when Jim and Bill Taylor shot and killed both men.

In retaliation, the Sutton faction arrested three Taylors on charges of “cattle theft,” and put them in the Clinton jail. Despite probable innocence, they were taken out of jail on the night of June 20, 1874, and hanged.

In September 1875, Bill Taylor went on trial in Indianola for murdering Sutton and Slaughter. Huge crowds from all over the state––eager to witness the trial of a member of the notorious feud––converged on Indianola. Instead of a trial, they witnessed a devastating hurricane with winds of 110 miles an hour. When water began filling the jail, Bill Taylor and the other prisoners were released.

The murders continued when John Wesley Hardin killed the new leader of the Suttons. A gunfight the following month, left Jim Taylor and two of his friends, dead. When masked men executed four prominent citizens, the Texas Rangers finally stepped in and arrested eight suspects. No one dared testify. The trial ended with only one conviction and that man, after twenty years of legal maneuvering, received a pardon.

The Sutton-Taylor Feud ground to an exhausted halt. Known as the longest and bloodiest feud in Texas history, the confirmed death toll in the Taylor faction reached twenty-two. The Sutton group lost about thirteen.

 

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Bonnie Parker, Dead at Twenty-three

She was an honor student and loved poetry, but she dropped out of school, married Roy Thornton before her sixteenth birthday and had “Roy and Bonnie” tattooed on her right knee to celebrate the union. After a stormy two years, Thornton went to prison; Bonnie never divorced him and died five years later, still wearing Thornton’s wedding ring. Those five years would make her a legend as the partner of another man.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was four in 1914 when her father died. Her mother moved her three children to “Cement City,” an industrial area of West Dallas to be near relatives and to secure work as a seamstress. That rough and tumble area was where Bonnie met and married Thornton, and it was where the four-foot-ten-inch, eighty-five pound Bonnie met Clyde Chestnut Barrow one year after Thornton went to prison.

Clyde Barrow had already made a name for himself with the Dallas police force for a series of robberies. When he was arrested again, Bonnie wrote letters pleading with him to stay out of trouble, and then she smuggled a handgun to him that he used to escape. He was captured in a week and sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. One account says that to avoid hard labor on the prison’s plantation, he had a fellow inmate chop off two of Barrow’s toes on his left foot. Another account says that before Barrow was paroled in February 1932, he beat another inmate to death for repeated sexual assaults. Whatever happened in that two-year prison experience, Clyde Barrow walked out as a hardened criminal, bent on getting revenge for the treatment he had received.

Historians believe Bonnie stayed with Barrow and his gang, which had an ever-changing list of members because she loved him. She willingly took part in the series of small robberies—stores and gas stations—with the goal of eventually launching an attack to liberate Eastham prisoners. She was arrested with one of the gang members as they tried to steal guns from a hardware store. After a few months in jail, a grand jury failed to indict her, and she was released. While Bonnie was in jail, Barrow was accused of murder because he drove the car in a robbery in which a store owner was shot and killed.

A few months later, while Bonnie was visiting her mother in Dallas, Barrow and a couple of his cronies were at a dance in Oklahoma and ended up killing a deputy and wounding a sheriff—the first time the Barrow Gang killed a lawman. Before the reign ended, they had killed nine.

The crime spree continued. In the last six months of 1932, the gang killed five men—law officers and private citizens they were attempting to rob. The following March, Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck was released from prison and the two couples—Bonnie and Clyde and Buck and his wife Blanche—moved into a garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri. Their loud drinking parties caused neighbors to grow suspicious and report them to authorities. On April 13, 1933, when five lawmen approached the apartment, the gang opened fire killing a detective and fatally wounding a constable. As the gang ran for their car, Bonnie covered their escape by firing her M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (their weapon of choice). They got away without any of their personal belongings, which included Buck’s three-weeks-old parole papers, a large

Bonnie Parker posing with cigar. Wikipedia

Bonnie Parker posing with cigar.
Wikipedia

stash of weapons, one of Bonnie’s poems, and a camera with several rolls of undeveloped film. Before the police gave the film to The Joplin Globe, Bonnie and Clyde were known primarily for their crimes in the Dallas area. But the pictures, swaggering attempts to look tough as

Bonnie and Clyde Wikipedia

Bonnie and Clyde
Wikipedia

they posed with their guns, made the Barrow Gang a front-page story across the nation.

For the next three months, they made headlines, roaming from Texas to Minnesota, robbing banks and stealing cars, killing those who got in their way and kidnapping both lawmen and robbery victims. Sometimes they released their hostages with enough money to get back home. While the public enjoyed following the increasingly violent behavior, the five members of the gang, forced to ride in one car, began to bicker according to a prison account written years later by Blanche Barrow. There was no place to hide—restaurants and motels offered the threat of exposure—forcing them to cook on campfires and bathe in cold streams.

On June 10, 1933, Clyde missed a construction sign and flipped their car into a ravine. Bonnie received third-degree burns on her right leg, either from a fire or acid in the car’s battery. While they waited in a tourist court near Fort Smith, Arkansas, for Bonnie’s leg to heal, other gang members botched a robbery and killed the town marshal of Alma, Arkansas. Despite the serious condition of Bonnie’s leg, they were forced to flee. It was July 18 when they checked into a tourist court near Kansas City, Missouri, and began a series of stunts that drew immediate attention. Blanche Barrow, while wearing jodhpur riding breeches—clothing unfamiliar to women in that area—registered for three guests, and five people openly stepped from the car. She paid with coins instead of bills for the lodging and for meals at the neighboring restaurant that was a favorite hangout for Missouri highway patrolmen. When Clyde went to a drugstore to purchase bandages and ointment for Bonnie’s leg, the pharmacist became suspicious and notified authorities who were on the lookout for strangers shopping for such supplies.

Ironically the ensuing gunfight resulted in a bullet hitting the horn on the lawmen’s armored car and caused them to think it was a cease-fire signal. Although they got away, both Blanche and Buck Barrow were severely injured. Clyde Barrow was so sure his brother would die from his injuries that Clyde dug his grave. Again, they drew attention to themselves by tossing out bloody bandages. When the authorities arrived, Bonnie and Clyde escaped on foot; Buck was shot and died later, and Blanche was taken into custody.

For six weeks the remaining three members of the gang moved from Colorado to Minnesota and south to Mississippi, committing small robberies and trying to replenish their arsenal. They returned in September to Dallas where their families tended to Bonnie’s leg injuries, which never healed properly and caused her to spend the rest of her life hopping on one foot or being carried by Clyde. He stayed busy pulling off minor robberies until November 22, 1933, when the Dallas sheriff almost caught the pair as they headed to a family meeting. Clyde sensed that something was wrong and drove quickly away amid police machine gunfire that struck both he and Bonnie in the legs.

The next week, a Dallas grand jury indicted Bonnie and Clyde for the 1933 murder of the Tarrant County deputy—the first murder warrant issued for Bonnie Parker. On January 16, 1934, Clyde Barrow succeeded in reaching his goal of revenge on the Texas Department of Corrections by leading an escape of former gang members and other prisoners from the Eastham Prison. One of the escapees shot a prison officer, which focused the full power of state and federal authorities on the capture of Bonnie and Clyde.

Retired Texas Ranger Captain Frank A. Hamer was employed to get the Barrow Gang. A tenacious hunter, Hamer had the reputation for getting his man—during his career he suffered seventeen personal wounds and killed fifty-three criminals. For over two months Hamer stalked the gang—always one or two towns behind. On April 1, 1934, Barrow and another gang member killed two Texas highway patrolmen. A witness, who was later discredited, claimed to have seen Bonnie laugh at the way the patrolman’s “head bounced like a rubber ball.” The story was picked up in the papers and fueled the public outcry against Bonnie Parker. The Highway Patrol offered $1,000 for “the dead bodies,” and Governor Ma Ferguson put up another $500 for each of the killers.

Bonnie closed the door on any possible claim for clemency a few days later when Clyde and another gang member killed a sixty-year-old Oklahoma constable and took the police chief as a hostage. Before they gave the chief a clean shirt and let him go, Bonnie asked him to spread the word that she did not smoke cigars, an image she had acquired after posing with a cigar in her mouth in the confiscated photos. She chain-smoked Camels. The arrest warrant named Clyde, a John Doe, and Bonnie as the killers of the constable.

Frank Hamer studied the movements of the gang and saw that they visited family, moving in a circle along the edge of five midwestern states, enabling them to escape without law enforcement being able to follow them across the state line. He estimated when it would be time to visit a gang family member in Louisiana. Hamer amassed an armor-piercing arsenal, a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers and lay in wait on a rural road near Arcadia, Louisiana. The father of one of the former gang members, who later claimed that he was forced to cooperate, flagged down the speeding Ford carrying only Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow at 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934. The posse opened fire, hitting the stolen vehicle with 167 bullets. Reports said that Bonnie’s bullet-riddled body was found holding a machine gun, a sandwich, and a pack of cigarettes. Clyde, whose body was barely recognizable, was still clutching a revolver.

Bullet-riddled car Wikipedia

Bullet-riddled car
Wikipedia

The death scene erupted in chaos with souvenir hunters scavenging pieces of clothing, hair, and shell casings. They were not buried together as they wished but in separate Dallas cemeteries. Mobs descended on the Parker home, and a throng of 20,000 made it almost impossible for the family to reach the Dallas gravesite. Although thousands crowded both funeral homes hoping to see the bodies, the Barrow family held a private service and buried Clyde next to his brother Buck. They shared a simple granite marker with their names and the words that had been selected by Clyde: “Gone but not forgotten.”

No one will ever know the real extent of Bonnie Parker’s involvement in the crimes of the Barrow Gang. Some gang members claimed that she never killed anyone, but she was involved in eight murders, seven kidnappings, less than a dozen bank heists, many armed robberies and car thefts, and a major jailbreak. One account says that the largest haul of any of the robberies netted only $1,500.

JOHN WESLEY HARDIN, KILLER

Handsome and gentlemanly John Wesley Hardin, named for the founder of the Methodist Church, was the son of a Methodist minister and circuit rider.  Perhaps his proper upbringing caused “Wes” to view himself as a pillar of society who claimed he never killed a man who didn’t need killing.  The numbers of dead differ, as do the stories about his escapades, but John Wesley Hardin managed in his forty-two years to kill at least thirty men.  Some accounts claim forty.

Born in Bonham, Texas, in 1853, Hardin at age fourteen stabbed a fellow student in a schoolyard fight.  He might have been expelled for the incident except his father founded and ran the school.  Like many young men too young to fight in the Civil War, Hardin became the product of the hatred generated by the war.  The restrictive policies of the Reconstruction government fueled anger, which encouraged citizens, especially impressionable young men, to lash out at freed slaves and the Union army overseeing Reconstruction. A year after the stabbing, Hardin met a black man, got into an argument, and shot the man dead.

His father, sure Wes could not receive a fair trial from the Reconstruction government, encouraged his son to flee, which began a pattern of relatives and friends hiding Hardin from law officers.  Hearing three Union soldiers were headed for his hideout at his brother’s house, Wes later wrote, “I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill.  It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter.  Thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm.”

Some accounts say within a year he killed another soldier.  All stories agree Wes Hardin served at age 17 as trail boss on a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail.  One account says he got into an argument with Mexican cowboys who tried cutting their herd in front of his.  All the stories of the cattle drive agree John Wesley Hardin killed six or seven men on that trip to Abilene, Kansas.

Some say Hardin became friends with city marshal Wild Bill Hickok whom he admired.  Others say he forced Hickok to stand down.  Whatever really happened, Hardin left Abilene in a hurry.  He wrote regarding the episode, “They tell lots of lies about me.  They said I killed six or seven men for snoring.  Well, it ain’t true, I only killed one man for snoring.” The gentleman to whom he refers was sleeping in the next hotel room and Hardin shot through the wall to stop the snoring.

Hardin returned to Central Texas, married Jane Bowen a beautiful cultured girl from a respectable family who had been his childhood sweetheart.  He did not, however, settle down.  Despite constant absences as ran from the law, Jane remained loyal.  After being arrested, breaking out of jail, and taking sides in a major Central Texas feud, Hardin finally killed a deputy sheriff.  Finding himself under constant pursuit, Hardin fled with Jane and their three children to Florida where they lived for two years under an alias.  Some accounts claim he killed as many as six men while he was on the run.

Finally caught in 1877, Hardin stood trial in Austin, Texas, and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for killing the deputy.  While in prison, he made repeated escape attempts, read theology, served as superintendent of the prison Sunday school, wrote his autobiography, and studied law.  He received a pardon from the governor in 1894 and was admitted to the state bar.

After raising their three children, Jane died while Hardin served his prison term.  Upon his release, he headed to El Paso where he opened a law practice, became involved with a client’s wife, and hired several law enforcement officers to assassinate the husband.  One of the hires, Constable John Selman, possibly angry over not being paid for killing the husband, found Hardin in the Acme Saloon and shot him in the back of the head.  Hardin died instantly.  The career of one of Texas’ most notorious killers came to an end on August 19, 1895, but the legends and legacy continue to stir imaginations.