The Johnson-Sims Feud: Romeo and Juliet,West Texas Style
by Bill O’Neal, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2010, $24.95.
Taking up where his biography of Pink Higgins left off, Bill O’Neal has researched and unfolded a parallel study of two prosperous West Texas ranch families whose paths intersected in marriage and subsequently diverged from a bitter divorce that led to Texas’ last traditional feud. The Johnson-Sims Feud provides a wealth of documented detail, some courtesy of the surviving parties. This mixture of a love-turned-to-hate story with a paucity of faith in the legal system and an ample stock of firearms guarantees one thing— there will be blood.What makes this variation exceptional is that it ignited on December 16, 1916, at a time when the United States was making an uneasy transition from an age of prosperity to involvement in World War I. It was no happenstance that this residual throwback to the sort of vengeance-driven family and faction conflicts that occurred throughout the American West would flare up in Texas. As the author points out, that state saw more blood feuds, over a longer period of time, resulting in a higher overall body count, than any other state or territory in the Union.Texas feuds dated back to its days as a republic—and World War I ended before this last Lone Star conflict did.
Among the many interesting characters in this sordid saga is legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who married one of the aggrieved parties, Gladys Johnson Sims—after she had divorced her husband, Ed Sims, shot him four times during an argument over their daughters and then saw him finished off by a shotgun blast courtesy of her brother Sidney. Caught up in the feud, Hamer ended up doing his share of killing, though he did make a scrupulous point of not shooting anyone in the back —not even a fleeing would-be assassin who had wounded him. Hamer survived to complete the book’s transition from one era to another when he came out of retirement long enough to run down and gun down Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in 1934. An odd juxtaposition of old values uncomfortably adjusting to a new world— not unlike that embodied in Sam Peckinpah’s film The Wild Bunch—The Johnson-Sims Feud makes an interesting addition to the Western buff’s library.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.