Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Feuds that Shaped America

From the Hatfields and the McCoys to the Suttons and the Taylors, historic disputes have long captured the public interest, becoming the focus of television shows, movies, and other elements of popular culture. Texas A&M Press distributes several titles about historic feuds in Texas history.

Not every feud has risen to national attention like the infamous Hatfield and McCoy dispute. But, Texas feuds such as the one between the Johnson and Sims families of West Texas read like a Western Romeo and Juliet love story. Bill O’Neal’s book concentrates on the families from Scurry and Kent counties in West Texas, which were united in a marriage between 14-year-old Gladys Johnson and 21-one-year-old Ed Sims. Following a nasty divorce, Ed tried to take his daughters for a prearranged Christmas visit in 1916 when Gladys and her brother Sid shot him dead. In the tradition of Texas feudists, the Sims family sought revenge. Check out O’Neal’s book: click here.

Chuck Parson’s The Sutton-Taylor Feud follows the bloodiest feud in Texas, in which William Sutton and his friends waged war against the large Taylor family. While there had been cold-blooded murders before between these two families, the killing on Christmas Eve 1868 of Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm was perhaps the final spark that turned hard feelings into fighting with bullets and knives. In this definitive study of the Sutton-Taylor Feud, Chuck Parsons demonstrates that the violence between the two sides was in the tradition of the family blood feud, similar to so many other nineteenth-century American feuds. For more on the bloodiest feud in Texas, click here.

In The Feud That Wasn’t, author and historian James Smallwood argues that there never was a Sutton-Taylor feud to begin with. There he claims that what seemed to be random lawlessness can be interpreted as a pattern of rebellion by a loose confederation of desperadoes who found common cause in their hatred of the Reconstruction government in Texas. He chronicles the cattle rustling, horse thieving, killing sprees, and attacks on law officials by the Taylor ring, drawing a picture of a group of anti-Reconstruction hoodlums who banded together for criminal purposes. For more on the feud that wasn’t, click here.

Which feud, well-known or not, interests you most?

--Paige Bukowski

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