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SUTTON-TAYLOR FEUD. The Sutton-Taylor Feud, the longest and bloodiest in Texas, grew out of the bad times following the Civil War. The Taylors were descendants of Josiah Taylor, a Virginian who settled near Cuero in DeWitt County. His sons, Pitkin and Creed Taylor, their sons, nephews, in-laws, and friends were the mainstay of that faction. The other party, originally centering around the Texas State Police, took its name from William E. Sutton, a native of Fayette County who had moved to DeWitt County. There is a persistent legend, begun by journalists, that the two families had feuded in another state and had carried their grudges with them to Texas, but no evidence supports the story. One of the early difficulties occurred in 1866 with two killings; Buck Taylor shot a black sergeant who came to a dance at Taylor's uncle's home, and Hays Taylor killed a black soldier in an Indianola saloon. Later, brothers Hays and Doby Taylor were involved in the killing of two Yankee soldiers at Mason in November 1867. They got away and returned to their father's ranch in Karnes County. Shortly thereafter another family of Taylors got in trouble with the authorities. In March 1868 William Sutton, a deputy sheriff, led a posse from Clinton in pursuit of a gang of horse thieves, caught the men on the street in Bastrop, killed one named Charley Taylor and captured another named James Sharp, whom they shot on the return journey as he was "trying to escape." According to the first family of Taylors, from whom the feud took its name, the real beginning of the feud was the killing of Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm at Clinton on Christmas Eve, 1868. In connection with the sale of some horses, Buck charged Sutton with dishonesty and the shooting resulted. The feud tended to resolve itself into a struggle between the Taylor party and Edmund J. Davis's State Police. Capt. Jack Helm, backed by Jim Cox, Joe Tumlinson, William Sutton, and the might of the Union officials, came into sharp conflict with the strong-minded Southerners of the region. Ostensibly in pursuit of horse and cattle thieves, the State Police terrorized a large portion of Southeast Texas. On August 23, 1869, a posse laid an ambush that resulted in the death of Hays Taylor. The worst outrage was the assassination of Henry and William Kelly, sons-in-law of Pitkin Taylor, on August 26, 1870. The Kellys were arrested on a trivial charge, taken a few miles from home, and shot down, while Mrs. Henry Kelly watched from hiding. Helm was dismissed from the force when other examples of his misconduct came to light, but he continued to serve as sheriff of DeWitt County. After Helm's demotion from the State Police, Sutton began to be recognized as the leader of the party.
Typical of the methods used in carrying on the feud was the shooting of Pitkin Taylor in the summer of 1872. A party of Sutton sympathizers lured him from his house one night by ringing a cow bell in his corn field. Pitkin, an old man, was shot and severely wounded. He died six months later. At his funeral his son, Jim Taylor, and several of their relatives resolved to revenge his death. Their first attempt was made on April 1, 1873, when they caught Sutton in a saloon in Cuero, fired through the door, and wounded him. They ambushed him again in June, but he escaped without injury. In June or July they waylaid and killed Jim Cox and another member of the Sutton group. A little later Jim Taylor and John Wesley Hardin killed Jack Helm in a blacksmith shop in Wilson County. The day after Helm's death a strong force of Taylors moved on Joe Tumlinson's stronghold near Yorktown. After a brief siege the sheriff and a posse appeared and talked both parties into signing a truce, but the peace lasted only until December, when Wiley Pridgen, a Taylor sympathizer, was killed at Thomaston. Enraged by this murder, the Taylors attacked the Sutton faction, besieged them in Cuero for a day and night, and were besieged in turn when Tumlinson appeared with a larger band of Suttons.
By this time the county was in terrible confusion. Persons who wished to live in the area had to take sides. There was constant pursuing and lying in wait, and deaths were frequent. Sutton moved to Victoria in an adjoining county and finally determined to leave the country. Some say he was going away for good; others believe he was merely following a herd of cattle to a northern market. He had boarded a steamer at Indianola on March 11, 1874, when Jim and Bill Taylor rode up to the dock and killed him and his friend Gabriel Slaughter. The Suttons got even by lynching three Taylors. Kute Tuggle, Jim White, and Scrap Taylor were among a group of cowboys who had engaged to take a herd up the trail for John Wesley Hardin. At Hamilton they were arrested, charged with cattle theft, and brought back to Clinton. On the night of June 20, 1874, they were taken out of the courthouse and hanged, though they were probably innocent of any wrongdoing. Capt. Leander H. McNelly and the Texas Rangersqv were called in; they tried unsuccessfully for several months to break up the feud.
The most notable events of the next few months included Bill Taylor's escape from confinement at Indianola as a result of the great storm of September 15, 1875; the assassination of Rube Brown, the new leader of the Suttons and marshal of Cuero, and the fight in Clinton on December 27 in which Jim Taylor and two of his friends were killed. With the death of Jim Taylor the Sutton-Taylor feud proper came to an end. The Suttons, many of whom were peace officers, had things pretty much their own way. Soon, however, they became involved in difficulties that were a byproduct, if not a continuation, of the feud itself. Several of them were implicated in the murder of Dr. Philip Brassell and his son George at their home near Yorktown on the night of September 19, 1876. This deed aroused the greatest indignation, and Judge Henry Clay Pleasants asked Lt. Jesse Leigh Hall to bring in the rangers. Eight men were charged with the crime and held for trial. A series of legal maneuvers lasting over twenty years resulted in only one conviction, and that person was eventually pardoned.
Jack Hays Day, The Sutton-Taylor Feud (San Antonio: Murray, 1937). John Wesley Hardin, The Life of John Wesley Hardin As Written by Himself (Seguin, Texas: Smith and Moore, 1896; new ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961). Marjorie Burnett Hyatt, Fuel for a Feud (1987; rev. eds, 1988, 1990). Napoleon Augustus Jennings, A Texas Ranger (New York: Scribner, 1899; rev. ed., Austin and Dallas: Graphic Ideas, 1972). 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).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, C. L. Sonnichsen, "Sutton-Taylor Feud," accessed April 29, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jcs03.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on March 28, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.