By: C. L. Sonnichsen

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 22, 2020

Although the feuds of Texas have received far less general attention and publicity than have the Kentucky variety, they were probably even more numerous and bitter. Half a dozen of the worst ones have become fairly well known, but dozens of others, big and little, have raged in practically every county in the state. Only one important feud broke out in Texas before the Civil War— the Regulator-Moderator War, which flourished in Shelby County and adjacent regions from 1839 to 1844, involved several hundred men on each side, and caused much bloodshed and violence. Like many of the later feuds, this trouble was at first a contest between organized outlaws and a group of vigilantes. Typically, the Regulators went to such extremes in their attempts to break up the outlaws that a group of countervigilantes came into existence to "moderate" the Regulators. Typically also, both sides drew in friends, relatives, and sympathizers from many miles away, and a war of extermination would have been the inevitable result if Sam Houston and the militia had not marched in.

Great outbursts of the feuding spirit were part of the aftermath of the Civil War. Feeling against Union authorities and their local supporters touched off several explosions in the 1860s. An example of this type of disturbance was the Early-Hasley feud which occurred in Bell County from 1865 to 1869. John Early, a member of the Home Guard, abused an old man named Drew Hasley. When Hasley's son, Sam, came home after service in the Confederate Army, he took the matter up. Early had become a supporter of the Yankee officials, and they backed him. Hasley soon became the head of a party of friends and relatives, including, notably, Jim McRae, a fearless and possibly a desperate man. Early and his crowd accused the Hasley party of all sorts of thievery and depredation and brought in soldiers to clean them out. On July 30, 1869, McRae was ambushed and killed. The Hasley party broke up after that, though one of them pursued Dr. Calvin Clark, an Early supporter, into Arkansas and killed him shortly thereafter. The Lee-Peacock feud, which flourished from 1867 to 1871 in the contiguous corners of Fannin, Grayson, Collin, and Hunt counties, followed the same pattern. Bob Lee, a former Confederate officer, fell out with the Union authorities and aroused the enmity of Lewis Peacock, one of their supporters. There was killing on both sides, and Lee was waylaid and killed in Fannin County near the present town of Leonard in 1869. A systematic hunt for his friends and supporters was then begun, and several were killed. Peacock himself was shot on June 13, 1871, bringing the feud to an end. The Sutton-Taylor feud, the biggest of the feuds rooted in the war, began in 1869 and continued to cause litigation until 1899, though most of the bloodshed was over by 1876.

The 1870s saw more lawlessness and more feuding than did any other period in Texas history. Most of the disturbances were the result of depredations by outlaw bands, and the typical pattern of vigilantes and countervigilantes was repeated many times. The war had left Texas comparatively undamaged, and this fact attracted many settlers from ruined communities in the older states, while the frontier offered a refuge to lawless characters. Many good people moved to Texas at this time, but the bad ones, combining forces with homegrown scoundrels, caused an outbreak of desperadoism that was hard to put down. Capt. Leander H. McNelly's special force of Texas Rangers and Maj. John B. Jones's Frontier Battalion gradually got the situation in hand, but large groups of outraged citizens felt obliged to take the law into their own hands until life and property were comparatively safe. Many of the cattle feuds of this period occurred in such frontier outposts as Mason, Lampasas, and Shackelford counties. The Horrell-Higgins feud in Lampasas County in 1877, the Hoodoo War or Mason County War of 1875, and the trouble over the Shackelford County mob are typical. Cattle and horse stealing in Shackelford County led to the forming of a secret vigilante society that was responsible for several midnight lynchings. Former sheriff John M. Larn and his henchman John Selman eventually incurred the suspicion of this "mob," and great enmity grew up between them and some of their neighbors. Larn was surprised and arrested, but in June 1878 his enemies broke into the jail and shot him before he could be tried. Organized highway robbery and cattle theft brought on a lynching feud in Bastrop County. Not long after the Civil War a gang of thieves had gotten a foothold in the county, and by 1874 a vigilante organization was at work. There were fights and extralegal executions in 1876. On June 27, 1877, four of the supposed outlaws were taken from a dance and hanged. This did not stop the gang from killing and robbing their opponents, and on Christmas Eve, 1883, three more men thought to be in sympathy with the thieves were escorted from a store at McDade, taken out into the woods, and lynched. Friends and relatives of the dead men came to town on Christmas Day and staged a battle in the main street of McDade that resulted in three more deaths. The hanging of Pete Allen in 1884 and of Frank Renault in 1886 are supposed to have been the final acts in this feud.

The Salt War of San Elizario in El Paso County in 1877, a different sort of disturbance, involved bitter political divisions and was complicated by a desire to exploit the salt deposits at the foot of Guadalupe Peak. Unusual also was the Mitchell-Truitt trouble caused by a land dispute, which began at Granbury in Hood County in 1874. The two parties fought along the highway after their case had been called in court. Two of the Truitts were killed, and as a result white-bearded Nelson (Cooney) Mitchell, the patriarch of the clan, was hanged at Granbury on October 9, 1875. His son Bill held a grudge against James Truitt, a young minister whose testimony had sent the elder Mitchell to his death. On July 20, 1886, Truitt was shot in his home in Timpson. Mitchell was hunted for years as the killer and captured in New Mexico in 1905, but no conviction against him was obtained until 1910. He did not go to the penitentiary until 1912, and even then the state could not hold him, for he escaped after serving a little more than two years. He was not heard of again.

By the mid-1880s the worst of the feuding was over, and only a handful of fresh disturbances occurred. One of these was the trouble at Graham, Young County, in 1888. A family of brothers named Marlow was accused of mishandling cattle and horses, though the brothers contended that they were victims of the desire of the big cattlemen to own everything. They killed Sheriff Marion D. Wallace when he tried to arrest them. Boone Marlow got away, but Alfred, George, Epp, and Charley were jailed. They broke jail once, were recaptured, and stood off an attempt by a local mob to kill them in their cell. The mob tried again the next day when the prisoners were being moved to Weatherford. The Marlows, though chained, seized guns from their guards and killed three of the mob before the others ran away. Alf and Epp Marlow were killed; Charley and George, each chained to a dead brother, cut off the feet of the corpses with pocketknives and got away. Boone Marlow was later killed in Oklahoma, and the feud subsided into litigation, which was finally dropped. Mob trouble was also at the root of the killings in San Saba County, where organized stealing became unbearable in the late 1880s. A vigilante group led by some religious people began to function, and there were hangings and ambushings. In 1893 a young man named Jim Brown was killed by a mob as he was going home from church. In 1896 there were two more mob executions. Public sentiment turned against this sort of Klan-like work, and District Attorney Linden joined forces with ranger sergeant W. J. L. Sullivan to work up a case that broke the power of the mob and sent its leaders into exile, though the last suits were not dismissed until 1903. The worst of the troubles of the period was the Jaybird-Woodpecker War of 1889 at Richmond, Fort Bend County. The control of the Black vote was the main issue. Family divisions helped to bring on a terrible fight in front of the courthouse on August 16. In the 1950s the Jaybird Democratic Association still existed. Another political feud was the clash between the Botas and Guaraches at Laredo, which ended in a street riot on April 7, 1886, during which the Guaraches used an old cannon, the only documented case in which Texas feudists made use of artillery.

During the 1890s feuds again grew numerous, but they were neither so big nor so bloody as the feuds of the 1870s. The killing of Sheriff Andrew Jackson Royal at Fort Stockton on November 21, 1894, was the result of a small but bitter feud. Jim Miller and Sheriff Bud Frazer fell out at Pecos, and several people lost their lives. Frazer was shot in a saloon at Toyah on September 13, 1896. Somewhat bigger than these disturbances was the Broocks-Border-Wall feud in San Augustine just before and after 1900. The Wall boys were enemies from boyhood of Curg (Lycurgus) Border, a relative of the powerful Broocks family. The Walls themselves had numerous kin with plenty of backbone. In April 1900 Border shot and killed Sheriff George Wall on the streets of San Augustine. Eugene Wall retaliated by killing Ben Broocks on June 2. On June 4 a battle around the courthouse resulted in the deaths of Sid and Felix Roberts. Later two more of the Wall boys were ambushed, and many of their friends and supporters left the country. The feud was not really ended until Sheriff Sneed Nobles killed Curg Border. As bitter as any other were the feuds at Columbus, Colorado County. Two great clans of cattlemen, the Staffords and the Townsends, had trouble that culminated in the killing of R. E. and John Stafford in front of a Columbus saloon on July 7, 1888. Larkin and Marion Hope, nephews of Sheriff Light Townsend, were accused of the deed. In the 1890s the Townsend family divided against itself. Former Sheriff Sam Reese, who had married a Townsend, grew bitter against the local political machine led by lawyer Marcus Townsend and Sheriff Light Townsend (the uncle of Marcus Townsend). On August 3, 1894, Marcus Townsend's follower Larkin Hope was murdered. Reese himself was assassinated in a street battle on March 16, 1899. Numerous engagements and killings followed, the last being another general shooting on June 30, 1906.

Probably a hundred smaller feuds could be listed. A book could be written on the political feuds in the lower Rio Grande valley between the Reds and Blues in such places as Brownsville and Rio Grande City. There were three small feuds at Hallettsville in the 1890s. The death of William Cowper Brann, the "Great Iconoclast," at Waco in 1898 was the result of a feud-like action. Even after 1900 feuding went on. Trouble between a ranger detachment and the Mexican-American population of Brownsville in 1902 assumed the proportions of a feud. In 1905 two flare-ups over prohibition, one at Groveton and the other at Hempstead, brought feud motives into play. The Black, Johnson, and Echols families feuded at Coahoma in 1910. The Boyce-Sneed feud at Amarillo in 1912 and the Johnson-Sims unpleasantness at Snyder in 1916 were brief but bloody feuds. As late as the 1940s Texas papers carried items that reminded one of episodes that cropped up more frequently fifty years before.

C. L. Douglas, Famous Texas Feuds (Dallas: Turner, 1936). James B. Gillett, Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1921; rpt., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976). Albert Bigelow Paine, Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger (New York: Little and Ives, 1909). Gladys Bright Ray, Murder at the Corners (San Antonio: Naylor Company, 1957). 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). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Feuds
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

C. L. Sonnichsen, “Feuds,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/feuds.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 22, 2020