The Reeses and the Townsends got crossways over politics.
U.S. Senator Mark Townsend, the Boss Tweed of Columbus, Texas, withdrew his support from incumbent sheriff Sam Reese and threw his considerable political clout behind Reese’s former deputy, Larkin Hope, instead. When Hope ended up on the wrong end of a broad daylight assassination in downtown Columbus, Reese was the most likely suspect, though no evidence surfaced.
Townsend’s handpicked replacement still defeated Reese in the election.
Perturbed by the unanticipated turn of events, Reese picked a gunfight with a Townsend supporter, thereby moving out of politics and into a casket. The former sheriff’s family vowed to avenge him, provoking five shootouts in Columbus over the following six years. Four combatants died, including Sam Reese’s brother, Dick.
Body count: six.
(Image: A plantation house in Columbus, Texas, ca. 1840)
Only Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War, which took the lives of twenty to fifty men between 1887 and 1892, outstripped the Lee-Peacock feud of northeast Texas. The fandango grew out of lingering animosity over the Civil War.
Confederate veteran Bob Lee butted heads with an organization of Union supporters. In response Lewis Peacock, the leader of the Union bunch, rounded up a posse to arrest Lee for alleged war crimes. To “settle the charges,” Peacock seized Lee’s valuables and exacted a promissory note for $2,000.
Lee won a subsequent lawsuit, earning an assassination attempt along with the money. His doctor was murdered while Lee convalesced in the medic’s home.
Thereafter, northeast Texas fractured along Union-Confederacy lines and bands of armed men proceeded to track down and do away with their ideological opponents. The Fourth United States Cavalry’s arrival to end the fracas only made things worse: Although a house-to-house search failed to turn up Lee, it sparked several more gun battles.
Lee was betrayed by one of his own men in 1869 and died during the cavalry’s attempt to arrest him. Fighting continued until Peacock’s shooting death in 1871.
Body count: about fifty.
Image: Fighting Over a Stolen Herd, Frederic Remington, 1895
Wealthy ranchers John Beal Sneed and Albert Boyce, Jr. came to blows over Sneed’s wife. After more than a decade of marriage and two children, in 1911 Lena Sneed admitted to having an affair with Boyce and asked for a divorce. Sneed straightaway had her committed to an asylum. Boyce rescued the damsel in distress, and the couple ran off to Canada.
Incensed when kidnapping charges were dropped, Sneed upped the ante: In early 1912, he murdered Boyce’s unarmed father in the lobby of a Fort Worth hotel. Widely publicized court proceedings ended in a mistrial, spurring a mob of Boyce supporters to storm the courthouse and kill four men. Sneed’s father was the next to go, in an alleged murder-suicide.
Although John and Lena Sneed reconciled in mid-1912, he could not let the insult go: Wearing a disguise, he shot and killed Boyce in broad daylight on a Fort Worth street and then surrendered at the county courthouse. Juries later acquitted Sneed of all charges, calling the killings justifiable homicide. Body count: eight.
Click the image below to read the New York Times report from 1912. You don’t see reporting like that anymore!
Dewitt County Deputy Sheriff William Sutton set off the longest-lasting and most widespread feud in Texas history when, in three separate 1866 incidents, he shot and killed three members of former Texas Ranger Creed Taylor’s family. In 1867, two more Taylors died while Sutton was attempting to arrest them on a minor charge.
After adopting the motto “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall,” the Taylors retaliated by killing two Sutton allies. Mob violence, ambushes, prison breaks, and lynchings ensued. Sutton himself was gunned down while attempting to board a steamboat and high-tail it out of the area.
Numerous attempts at peacemaking failed until Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly and his Special Force put a stop to the violence. Body count: at least 35.
The image is Creed Taylor, ca. 1890. He lived a long life.