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Colorado County Feud

Bill Stein General

The Colorado County Feud, a series of gun battles between members of the Townsend family of Columbus, started during the 1898 Colorado County sheriff's race. The election pitted incumbent sheriff Sam Reese against his one time deputy, Larkin Hope. Former state senator Mark Townsend, who directed a political machine that had backed the winning candidate in each of the last nine sheriff's elections, dropped his backing of Reese and endorsed Hope. The move seemingly assured Hope of victory. But on August 3, 1898, Hope was killed by an unknown assailant in downtown Columbus. Immediately, suspicion centered on Jim Coleman, a close friend of Sam Reese's sons, Walter and Herbert. Townsend picked a new candidate, Will Burford, and, with feeling running high against the Reeses, Burford won the election. Less than a year later, on March 16, 1899, Sam Reese was killed in a gun battle on the street near where Hope died. Will Clements, Marion Hope, and Mark Townsend were among those shooting. Stray bullets killed Charles Boehme, a bystander, and wounded a boy named Johnny Williams. Even though the best evidence suggests that Reese had provoked the fight in which he was killed, his sons vowed to get revenge. In five more gunfights-on May 17, 1899, January 15, 1900, July 31, 1900, June 30, 1906, and May 17, 1907-five more men were killed and several others wounded. The dead included Reese's brother Dick, Burford's son Arthur, Will Clements's brother Hiram, and Jim Coleman. Also dead was another innocent bystander, Dick Gant. No one was ever convicted of any of the murders. Those accused included Mark Townsend, Jim Townsend, Step Yates, Will Clements, Walter Reese, Joe Lessing, Frank Burford, and Marion Hope. The Townsends, Reeses, Burfords, Clementses, Hopes, and Lessings were all related to each other, either directly or through marriage.

The feud had a direct effect on the economic wellbeing of Columbus. Boehme, a farmer, had been in town buying supplies when shooting erupted and he was killed. His death persuaded many area farmers to buy their supplies elsewhere. The peaceful citizens of Columbus, trying to end the feuding, asked the city council to reestablish the office of city marshal, which had been abolished some years earlier. For financial reasons, they refused. On August 7, 1906, the citizenry voted to abolish the corporation of the city of Columbus and turn the administration of the town over to the county. The town remained unincorporated for twenty years.

Many of the other participants in the feud died violent, early deaths. Marion Hope was killed in an accident in Gonzales County in 1911. That same year, Will Clements was shot from ambush in Matagorda County by a man with whom he had had an altercation a few days earlier. Jim Townsend was also killed in 1911, in a gun battle with a saloon keeper in Louise. Herbert Reese was killed in 1912, when a gun he was cleaning in his Columbus home accidentally discharged. Walter Reese died as the result of injuries received in an automobile accident in El Paso in 1919.

Houston Post, March 17, 1899, January 17, August 1, 1900. John Walter and Lillian Estelle Reese, Flaming Feuds of Colorado County (Salado, Texas: Anson Jones Press, 1962). C. L. Sonnichsen, I'll Die Before I'll Run-The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas (New York: Harper, 1951; 2d. ed, New York: Devin-Adair, 1962).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Feuds

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Bill Stein, “Colorado County Feud,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.