The Sutton-Taylor Feud: The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas

by Chuck Parsons, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2009, $24.95.

The longest, bloodiest feud in the history of the West was very much a product of time and place—Reconstruction-era Texas. The warring factions had both fought on the Confederate side, so the political motives were incidental. Nor was it exactly a family feud, as William E. Sutton was the only man of his faction to kill any Taylors—although he killed plenty. Sutton managed to draw supporters who ostensibly represented the law, perpetuating the bloodshed long after the Taylors finally fulfilled their family motto (“Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must all die”) by cutting down Bill Sutton on March 11, 1874. The Taylors’ failure to enlist any nominal authorities to their cause—although they did have the formidable backing of John Wesley Hardin—has led to their being popularly regarded as outlaws. However, Captain Leander H. McNelly, whose Texas Rangers seemed the only ones capable of subduing the violence whenever they intervened, more fairly attributed the Taylors’ attitude to simply being “long accustomed to doing as they pleased.”

Author Chuck Parsons seeks to unravel the causes and effects of a blood feud perpetuated by vigilantism and vengeance. To do so, he sets the mise-enscène of a post–Civil War Texas in which Reconstruction and the Southern social order it replaced had both broken down, leaving matters to be settled by the gun and the rope. He also presents the personal background of each family—in the Taylors’ case, a pedigree that predated Texan independence, a tradition of fighting all comers (Spanish, Mexican, Comanche and Yankee) and an undercurrent of Southern pride matched by that of the Suttons and their associates.

The groundwork thus laid, the families lit the fuse in 1867, their feud spilling from DeWitt into several other Texas counties and ultimately claiming 80 lives over three decades. For Western scholars curious about the realities behind every range war oater they’ve ever seen, the Sutton-Taylor Feud provides the gory goods.

 

Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here