Book Review: No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell | HistoryNet MENU

Book Review: No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell

By HistoryNet Staff
5/25/2017 • Wild West Magazine

No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell: The Stafford-Townsend Feud of Colorado County, 1871–1911, by James C. Kearney, Bill Stein and James Smallwood, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2016, $29.95

In No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell (a title inspired by verses on the tombstone of Stafford and Reese family supporter Ike Towell), James C. Kearney seeks to chronicle one of the last of the great Texas feuds, which sputtered violently over a 30-year period in Colorado County. Howard William Townsend, a distant cousin of Sheriff Light Townsend, once proposed writing the history as a term paper, only to be advised against it by his father: “You be careful what you write and what you do with it after you write it. Remember, you are playing with dynamite!” Townsend’s mother agreed, and he dropped the project. That was in 1936—a quarter-century after the last killing. But as Townsend’s mother put it, “There is still too much hot blood on both sides.”

Fortunately for posterity, Kearney found a willing ally in Bill Stein, a direct descendant of Ben Stafford on his mother’s side, who as director and archivist of the Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus, Texas, could approach the subject with scholarly detachment before his death in 2008. Adding context to the feud’s place amid the politics and race-related violence of the times was James Smallwood, professor emeritus of Oklahoma State University’s history department until his death in 2013. Kearney organized their combined efforts into the final manuscript.

Names can be deceiving, and the Stafford-Townsend feud was a case in point. The rival cattle barons were directly involved in only two feud-related killings, but the extended families and allies—with names like Reese, Hope, Clements and Burford—kept the “hot blood” flowing with one shooting after another between 1871 and 1911. More often than not the killings were over not cattle or land as the sheriff’s office and the power that position carried.

For those who have trouble keeping tally without a scorecard, the authors provide ample appendices, including biographies of all the dramatis personae and endnotes that contain plenty of drama of their own. For the Western buff looking for a new feud or wishing to know more about just what constituted one, No Hope for Heaven, No Fear of Hell delivers the goods.

—Jon Guttman

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