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Forget the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s: The Ultimate fight was the Sutton-Taylor Feud

                In the years following the Civil War, reconstruction came to Texas and tensions ran high between the new government that controlled Texas and the local citizens who found it hard to let go of their prejudices and hatred of the Yankees, whom they saw as interlopers interfering with their homes and livelihoods.  Times were hard and money was scarce, but the cattle business was one area that seemed to be thriving, so many resorted to horse and cattle theft to make ends meet.   In this atmosphere of hardship and hostility, it didn’t take much for minor disagreements to turn into shooting fights, and that’s just what happened between the Taylors and Suttons.

Creed Taylor

                What kicked off the feud has been lost to history, but it seems likely that it had to do with land, cattle, and a lot of hard feelings brought about by reconstruction.   The Taylor family was led by Pitkin Taylor, whose brother, Creed, was a famous Texas Ranger.  William Sutton, a former Confederate soldier and rancher, headed the Sutton family.  William Sutton became a deputy sheriff of DeWitt county, and on March 25, 1868, he killed Charley Taylor while arresting him for horse theft.  On Christmas Eve of that year, Sutton killed Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm in Clinton, Texas, over the legality of some horses that were in their possession.

Sutton worked closely with the newly formed State Police Force under Jack Helm, who were tasked with enforcing reconstruction, which made them very unpopular with the locals, so Sutton’s part in the killings of these men was looked on with great suspicion.  Jack Helm and the State Police Force were seen as little more than hired guns for the Sutton family, and the seeds for a violent feud were sown.

During the early days of the “old west,” law and men to enforce the law were in short supply, so when trouble arose, it fell to each individual to seek justice for himself and his family.  When satisfaction was demanded over some dispute, entire communities sometimes were divided along family lines, and minor infractions often erupted into vicious feuds, which could last for years and lead to the deaths of many people on both sides.  This month’s blog is about such a feud that took place in South Texas during the 1860’s and 1870’s between the Taylor and Sutton families.

The State Police killed Jack Hays Taylor on August 23, 1869 on charges of cattle rustling, and then on August 26, 1870, they arrested Henry and William Kelly, sons-in-law of Pitkin Taylor, on what seemed to be trumped up charges.  However, the two men never saw the inside of a jail cell.  They were instead executed by the State Police, supposedly on orders of Jack Helm.  He was relieved of command of the force over the incident but held on to his position as Dewitt County Sheriff, leaving William Sutton as the head of the State Police.

John Wesley Hardin

In the Summer of 1872, Pitkin Taylor was lured from the safety of his home and gunned down by Sutton men, dying of his wounds six months later.  Jim Taylor swore vengeance over his father’s death and went after those he thought responsible.  He shot and wounded William Sutton on April 1, 1873, and then, with the help of John Wesley Hardin, he shot and killed Jack Helm.

William Sutton, in fear for his life and tired of the killings, tried to leave Texas by steamer on March 11, 1874, but he and close friend Gabriel Slaughter were gunned down by Jim and Billy Taylor, dying in front of their wives.  In retaliation for the murder of William, several Sutton partisans lynched three Taylor men as they were driving a herd of cattle.

On November 11, Reuben H. Brown, the new leader of the Sutton faction and marshal of Cuero, Texas was shot and killed in the Exchange Saloon by John Wesley Hardin, and then a month later, John Taylor and a friend were shot down in Clinton.

The last known killings as part of the feud occurred on September 19, 1876, when Philip Brassell, a respected doctor and friend of the Taylors and his son George, were taken from their home and executed by Sutton men.  The community was outraged by these murders and demanded that something be done to end the killings.  The newly reinstated Texas Rangers stepped in and finally negotiated a peace treaty, ending the feud for good.  The Taylor side lost a total of 22 men, while the Suttons lost 13, but as with all feuds, neither side could claim a victory, and in the end, all those who were there at the start were consumed by the flames of their own violence.

At their core, communities are built on laws and those that enforce them, and the Taylor-Sutton Feud shows the worst of what can happen in the absence of law and order.  Thank you for joining me for another stroll through Texas history.  Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©04/01/2019

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Richard King: The King of Texas Cattle

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Richard King; King Ranch; Cattle; Texas; old west;
Richard King

When you think about the “Old West,” what comes to mind?  For a lot of us it conjures images of gunfights, saloon brawls, cowboys, cattle drives, and runaway stage coaches.  Those are all obviously important western elements, but to me, the most fundamental part of the “Old West” is the spirit of rugged individualism.  The image of the lone homesteader or rancher defending their home and property from marauding rustlers or Indians is as much an indelible part of the west as the Colt Peacemaker or the cowboy and his horse.  No where was this spirit more alive than on the King Ranch.

The man who would one day become known as “Captain King, the King of Texas cattle,” was born in New York City in 1825, not exactly the origin one would think of for a future cattle king.  He learned at an early age that he must make his own way in the world, when at a very young age, he was sent from his home and apprenticed to a jeweler.  With no patience for the tedious monotony of the jewelry trade, at the age of eleven, Richard King stowed away on a ship and spent the next decade working on steamboats in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was on these ships that he learned the trade which would allow him to build his fortune.

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King Ranch

In 1841, during the Seminole Wars, King served on an army steamboat in Florida, and it was there that he met Mifflin Kenedy, the man who would be his business partner and best friend for the rest of his life.  When Kenedy went to Texas in 1846, he wrote to King and told him that because of the war with Mexico, there was a need for experienced steamboat pilots, so with nothing to lose, he eagerly headed for the Lone Star State.  For the remainder of the war, King piloted steamboats for the U.S. Army, and learned all the ins and outs of navigating the Rio Grande.  This knowledge allowed him to go into business for himself, hauling freight and passengers on the river using an army surplus steamboat he bought after the war.

 

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King Ranch

On a trip to Corpus Christi in 1852, King crossed the Wild Horse Desert, where he saw a vast patch of green grass dotted with trees and fed by the Santa Gertrudis Creek.  He bought 15,500 acres in 1853 for around 2 cents an acre, and the next year, he bought a 53,000 acre tract for around 3 cents an acre, but purchasing the land was the easy part, holding it would prove to be another.   He fought Comanche, Mexican bandits, and droughts.  A lesser man would have given up and found an easier way to make a living, but Richard King had a vision, and he was far too tough and stubborn to give up.  One thing that he had going for him in those early days was that he knew nothing about cattle ranching, so the thought that the odds were against him never entered his mind.

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Henrietta Chamberlain King

King might not have known anything about cattle, but he knew the experts to learn from, the Mexican Vaqueros, and he hired them to work his cattle.  In 1854, he traveled to a Mexican village and persuaded the men to follow him back to the United States and work at the Santa Gertrudis.  With the men came their wives and children, along with all their livestock and earthly possessions.  The descendants of that same village still work the King Ranch today.  Richard King learned quickly and established not only what became the proven way to operate a cattle outfit, but he built an empire in the process.

 

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King Ranch House

In December 1854, King married Henrietta Chamberlain and took his new bride to the Santa Gertrudis.  What her impression was when she first saw the small adobe structure that was to be her home has been lost to history, but I imagine she must have wondered what in the world she had gotten herself in to.  Today, the King Ranch is far from even the smallest city, but in the 1850’s, it was in the middle of a brutal untamed wilderness, and Henrietta was probably one of the first white women to see that untouched land.  Whatever misgivings she might have had, she proved to be tough enough to tame the land, and she made it her home for the next seventy years.

 

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King Ranch Cattle

King made a fortune during the Civil War by selling beef and supplies to the Confederate Army, as well as using his ranch as a depot for the South to sell cotton to Europe.  One of the things that allowed King to thrive when so many others did not, is that King demanded payment from the army in gold instead of Confederate dollars.

 

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King Ranch horses

During the 1870’s, at the start of the Industrial Revolution, the demand for beef in the north reached an all time high, and the King Ranch was poised to fill the need.  This was the time of the great cattle drives, and no ranch moved more cows north than did Richard King.  Over the next ten years, he made yet another fortune filling the need for beef to the northern markets.

Over the years, the King Ranch has been the site of many firsts; one of the first to use the cattle drive, the first to introduce new cattle breeds to Texas, and the first to breed champion thoroughbreds.  Today, the ranch is over 825,00 acres which is larger than the state of Rhode Island and has interests in cattle, farming, gas and oil, and recreational hunting.  The secret to Richard King’s success was being tougher than his circumstances and an unyielding determination to see his vision come to life, but the secret to the ranch’s longevity is a willingness to change with the times when needed, while holding fast to the time-tested principles of the past.  It is this same formula that built this great state that I love.

Thank you for stopping by Under the Lone Star and for your continued support. Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

 

©02/18/2019 Under the Lone Star LLC

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The Red River Wars

Up until the mid-1800’s, the Southern Plains were controlled by bands of nomadic tribes that roamed the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, following the herds of buffalo that were said to be so numerous, you could travel from horizon to horizon on their backs.  These tribes included: the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, and together they were masters of all they surveyed for over two hundred and fifty years.

By the 1850’s, the western progression of white settlers was encroaching on the land that had historically belonged to the Plains Indians, leading to violent clashes between the two groups that left many dead on both sides.  The settlers were not only building farms and ranches, but also communities and towns, which the U.S. government saw as the economic engine that was building a great nation.  To promote and protect these settlers, the government established a line of forts along the western frontier with the goal of containing the “Indian problem”.

This solution had the desired results temporarily, but with the outbreak of the Civil War, the U.S. Army abandoned these outposts and the Plains Indians once again re-established their dominance.  After the war, the push west reached a fever pitch, and the outcry for military intervention became louder than ever, forcing the government to act.  Various treaties were attempted, but they all ended in failure, mainly because neither side understood or trusted the other.   The Indian tribes had no concept of the economic forces driving westward expansion and the government didn’t understand that the land wasn’t looked on as a commodity by the Indians, but it, along with the bison that roamed it, was a part of the people.  It wasn’t just a means to an end for them, or even just a way of life, it was their life, and they would never give it up without a fight.

The Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 was the most successful of the treaties, but it was doomed to fail just like all the others.  It called for two reservations to be set aside in Indian Territory, one for the Comanche and Kiowa and another for the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho.  The tribes were promised unlimited rights to hunt within their lands, but what no one counted on was the market for buffalo hides back east.

White buffalo hunters stalked the large herds, shooting the animals day and night, striping the hides and leaving the rest to rot where they dropped.  The Indians watched as the bison, their life’s blood, were decimated, and they realized that if they were to preserve their culture, they had to act.  Renegade bands formed and headed for Texas, determined to take back their land, or die trying.

Comanche Medicine Man Isa-Tai

As conditions on the reservation worsened, discontent among the tribes deepened, and many more braves left Indian Territory for Texas to join the renegade bands.  Among these Indians, was a spiritual leader of the Quahadi band of Comanche, called Isa-Tai, who claimed to have visions of the Indians rising up and driving the White man from Texas.  His medicine was considered to be very strong and many rallied to his side, preferring the war trail to the bleak future they faced on the reservation.

Comanche chief Quanah Parker

One of those who joined in the fight was Comanche chief Quanah Parker, who vowed to remove all of the buffalo hunters from the Staked Plains.  On June 27, 1874, Isa-Tai, Quanah Parker, and three hundred Indians attacked the Adobe Walls outpost, where 28 buffalo hunters were holed up.  The Indians laid siege to the outpost, trapping the hunters inside.  Although the Indians vastly outnumbered the buffalo hunters, their strength was of little use against the defender’s large caliber buffalo guns and Henry repeating rifles.  At the conclusion of the battle, four of the buffalo hunters were dead, along with at least fifteen Indians.

After the Battle of Adobe Walls, the U.S. government doubled its efforts to return the renegades to the reservations, and the army spent the remainder of 1874 chasing Quanah and his warriors across the Panhandle.  They used a five-pronged attack, converging on the Panhandle from every direction, and catching the Indians in an ever tightening circle, until they had no where to run.  The U.S. army and Plains Indians fought at least twenty engagements during the Red River War, but it all came to an end in June 1875, when Quanah Parker and his band of Quahadi surrendered at Fort Sill.

The Red River War was just one series of battles in the long and tragic clash between the Native Americans and the White man, but the U.S. Army had found a strategy that worked, and they would use it great effect.  The war marked the end of a way of life for the Southern Plains Indians, but it was also the beginning of the end for all tribes who roamed freely across the American West.

I hope you are all having a great start to the new year, and I look forward to sharing many more stories of Texas as we go through 2019.  Now saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©01/15/2019