The Sutton-Taylor Feud

The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas
By Chuck Parsons

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2009 Chuck Parsons
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57441-257-4

Chapter One

The Taylors and the Suttons-Texas Pioneers

"Mrs. Susan Taylor.... and her husband, the late Pitkin Taylor, were among the earliest settlers of the county, and were exposed to many dangers from the frequent incursions of Indians in those early days." -Cuero Star, October 30, 1885

During the tumultuous days following the Civil War, Reconstruction and its aftermath, and into the decade of the 1870s, some considered the Taylors as outlaws, but although several were fugitives from the law, the Taylors in truth were Texas pioneers. Grassroots historian C. L. "Doc" Sonnichsen depicted them accurately as "a large tribe" living in DeWitt County. He described the sons and grandsons of patriarch Josiah Taylor Sr. as "American pioneers," men who "had small opportunity to acquire refinement and culture, but they were much respected by Indian war parties who had occasion to test their shooting ability." The Taylors "did not have the reputation of being interested in other people's cattle when such distinction was rare." They were without a doubt "clannish and quick to resent a wrong to any member of the tribe." Further, Sonnichsen says, the Taylors "were Southern to the core and too high-spirited to stay out of trouble with the Yankee army of occupation after the surrender." What Doc Sonnichsen wrote was not only true for the Taylors, but numerous others in that area of the state as well.

Today there are numerous state historical markers recording the family's accomplishments, providing a solid record that they contributed significantly to the settlement of Texas. After enduring the transition from the dangerous wilderness of pre-Republic to settled statehood, the offspring of Josiah and Hephzibeth Luker Taylor became involved in what has become known as the Sutton-Taylor Feud, a conflict that drew family members against family members, as well as numerous outsiders.

Josiah Taylor and Hephzibeth Luker were married on October 6, 1807, in the Mars Hill Baptist Church at Clarke County, Georgia, by itinerant Minister of the Gospel Isaac Settles. Josiah was described as an "educated man of quiet and gentle disposition with light hair and beard, fair complexion and blue grey eyes." His wife Hephzibeth was "a woman of resolute will and independence ... of a very charitable nature. She was [of] very dark complexion, black hair and eyes, and boasted of being 1/8 Cherokee Indian blood." Josiah and Hephzibeth Taylor gave six sons and three daughters to the world. Their sons and grandsons and extended family members were most affected by the turmoil following the Civil War; they lived, and some died, fighting for their lives and livelihood. The Taylor children, in order of their birth, were William Riley, born February 16, 1811; daughter Hardinia, born 1814; Johanna, born 1817; Creed, born April 10, 1820; Josiah Jr., born circa 1821; Pitkin B., born 1822; Rufus P., born November 10, 1824; James, born 1825; and Mary Jane, born July 31, 1826. William, Hardinia, and Johanna were Georgia-born, but typical of pioneers the family moved often. Josiah Jr. was born in Tennessee, while sons Creed, Pitkin, and Rufus were born in Alabama. Son James and daughter Mary Jane were both born in Texas.

Years later, Creed recalled that he and his father left Alabama in 1824 when he was four years old. He perhaps meant that he and the entire family moved, traveling together and settling below Liberty on the Trinity River (present-day Liberty County). Another move placed them at Taylor's Bayou, then another placed them in DeWitt County. Green DeWitt was successful and acquired a land grant from the Mexican government in April 1825, which allowed him to bring in four hundred Anglo-Americans on the Guadalupe River to settle, in the area now including and surrounding DeWitt County. The opportunity was there and Josiah Taylor took advantage of it. He immediately attended to the legal requirements to assure that the land would remain his, and that would be his last move. On February 1, 1829, Josiah registered his brand and the marks of Hephzibeth as well as marks and brands of Johanna, Creed, and Josiah Taylor Jr., who were minors. Green DeWitt himself witnessed the registration. The family settled on the banks of the Guadalupe River, near where the present Taylor-Bennett Cemetery is located, just south of Cuero.

Patriarch Josiah Taylor was a soldier. In 1811-1812 he was in Texas; in 1812 he became involved in the Guti��rrez-Magee Expedition, an abortive attempt by various Americans to free Mexico from Spanish rule. Made a captain, Taylor and his company were on more than one occasion in the brunt of the fighting during this expedition. He engaged the enemy at the battles of La Bah��a, Alaz��n, Rosales, and Medina which cost the filibusters dearly. Captain Taylor was one of about three hundred who survived out of the original force of nearly fourteen hundred. He was wounded seven times during this period.

Josiah Taylor died in 1830; his widow survived him until about 1841. The family placed their remains in what is now the Taylor-Bennett Cemetery. In 1973 the DeWitt County Historical Commission erected historical markers at Josiah Taylor's grave. The commission honored Hephzibeth Taylor as well, but with a separate marker that identifies her nine children by Josiah and the one son by her second husband, Patrick Dowlearn, whom she married by bond on July 20, 1830.

Of the children of Josiah and Hephzibeth Taylor none had such an adventurous career nor lived as long as did Creed. When father Josiah died, widow Hephzibeth sent Creed to Gonzales to receive an education. He boarded at the home of Almaron Dickinson who was later to die in the Alamo. In 1835, Creed and other Gonzales citizens fought Mexican dragoons to maintain possession of a cannon used to defend themselves against raiding parties. Their defiance is considered the first act of the Texas Revolution. "Come and take it" became their battle cry, and Creed was one of the colonists defending it. Later, as a soldier under the command of Captain John J. Tumlinson Jr., Taylor participated in the battle of Concepci��n, then took part in the "Grass Fight" and the siege of Bexar. Creed then returned to Gonzales, thus being absent from the Alamo. He was with his mother and other families, ready to depart Gonzales if necessary. Creed participated in the "Runaway Scrape," that retreat from the burning of Gonzales when the settlers feared they would be overtaken and massacred as the defenders of the Alamo had been. Creed then returned to action and, although not attached to any particular company of General Sam Houston's army, participated in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Taylor again became a fighter in 1840. Comanches had descended from the Hill Country and attacked the coastal cities of Linnville and Victoria. As they retreated back to the Hill Country with their plunder, settlers attacked them near Plum Creek in present-day Caldwell County. Taylor was in the company of Captain Daniel B. Friar in this engagement and "killed several Indians in personal combat" according to early historian A. J. Sowell. Later, he joined the company of Captain John Coffee "Jack" Hays and fought Indians again at the Battle of Bandera Pass in 1843, and perhaps here Creed Taylor learned the effectiveness of the Colt revolver at close range, as it was that weapon that assured victory against the Comanches. Creed survived all his battles and many wounds and left the DeWitt County area strong enough to eventually establish a ranch near present-day Junction in Kimble County.

Creed married Nancy Goodbread on March 30, 1840, and they had two sons: John Hays, born in 1842 and named after Captain Jack Hays and Phillip Goodbread, born in 1843. They also had one daughter, Caroline Hephzibeth. The boys were usually known by their middle or nicknames, Hays and Doboy (a play on his middle name, suggesting "Doughboy"). Creed's first wife, Nancy, died on June 15, 1857. Creed married Lavinia Spencer on February 18, 1873, and they had five children. Years later Taylor dictated his memoirs to James T. DeShields and they were published in 1935 under the title Tall Men with Long Rifles. Creed died on December 27, 1906, and is buried in the Noxville Cemetery, near Junction. In 1936 the State Historical Commission dedicated a marker in his memory. That same year the Commission erected a marker in Cuero, which mentions him twice, both as a soldier in the Texas army in 1836 and as a soldier at the Battle of Salado in 1842. Another historical marker, erected near Junction in 1967, marks the site of his original native stone ranch home, built in 1869-1871.

Creed Taylor's sister Johanna, born in Clarke County, Georgia, in 1817, married Joseph Tumlinson on April 2, 1834. Joseph's sister Elizabeth had married William Riley Taylor in Gonzales County on March 14, 1830.15 Thus the Tumlinson and Taylor families became related by double marriages. One may be tempted to make of this double marriage a scenario where the children of two feuding families were torn as "star-crossed lovers," in the fashion of Romeo and Juliet, but such is not the case. The actual animosities between the Tumlinson and Taylor families and William E. Sutton would not blossom for several decades.

Johanna's husband, Joseph Tumlinson, experienced adventures as a young man as well, although his did not rival those of Creed Taylor. Born in Tennessee on February 16, 1811, the son of John Jackson and Elizabeth Plemmons Tumlinson, he arrived in Texas in 1829 and received title to 1/4 sitio of land (about 1,100 acres) in 1831. Joseph and older brother John Jackson Jr., with other settlers, pursued the Indians who killed their father, but they never recovered his body. Joseph Tumlinson and Johanna Taylor signed their marriage bond on April 2, 1834, stating in part that the couple was "held and firmly bound ... in the penal sum" of $10,000 lawful money of the Mexican United States. Each claimed residence of the Mexican State of Coahuila of Texas and DeWitt's Colony. With no church or legally established ecclesiastical authority in the colony by means of which a couple could be legally united, both parties agreed to be lawfully married, until such time as they could appear before a minister of the gospel. One of the sureties was Richard H. Chisholm, who married Creed Taylor's older sister Hardinia, thus linking together another family who would become involved in the lengthy blood feud of the future.

Johanna Taylor Tumlinson died in the late 1830s, hardly out of her teens. "Captain Joe" as he was frequently called, then married Elizabeth Newman in 1840. Captain Joe passed away from natural causes in late 1874; widow Elizabeth survived him many years, dying in 1906. There were no children from the first marriage but several from Joseph's union with Elizabeth Newman.

William Riley Taylor, Creed's older brother and the first born of Josiah and Hephzibeth Taylor, was born in Clarke County, Georgia. He arrived in DeWitt's Colony in 1828 and on March 14, 1830, married by bond in Gonzales County Elizabeth Tumlinson, sister of Joseph Tumlinson. In October 1848, settlers commanded by Captain John York fought back against a raiding party of Lipan Apaches. The group consisted of William Riley Taylor and his brother Rufus, Richard H. Chisholm, John and Joseph Tumlinson, Henderson McBride Pridgen and Newton Porter, and others, thirty-two men in all. Captain John York, his son in law James Bell, and James Sykes were killed in this engagement; Joseph Tumlinson, James York, son of Captain York, and Hugh R. Young were wounded. It was the last Indian raid in the area, fought on the Escondida, west of the San Antonio River and near the mouth of the Cibolo.

William Riley Taylor died January 12, 1850, in DeWitt County, but he left widow Elizabeth financially comfortable; she continued as head of household and never remarried. Widowed at the age of thirty-six, she lived another thirty-six years. When the feud began she "was moved to Junction to distance her from its cruelties." There she lived out her remaining days on the edge of Junction in Kimble County near the North Llano River.

Josiah Jr. was born October 1, 1821, and also fought in wars. He enrolled on May 8, 1836, in the Texas Army and served until December 25, 1838. He later served as a captain in the 36th Cavalry, Company G, Texas Troops, CSA. Josiah Taylor Jr. died March 23, 1864 and is buried in a small family cemetery near Yorktown, DeWitt County.

Pitkin Barnes Taylor was born in Alabama in 1822 and experienced violence at an early age. As a thirteen-year-old he participated in the Texas Revolution, playing his part in the battle of Salado Creek and the Grass Fight. He married Susan Cochrum on December 13, 1846, their marriage being the first in the newly created DeWitt County. He served as a county commissioner, proving the citizens had confidence in his leadership abilities. He and Susan were parents of two children who would experience tragedy in their lives due to the feud: daughter Amanda Jane, born August 1, 1848; and son James Creed, "Jim," born January 15, 1851. Amanda married Henry Kelly, who became an early victim in the feud; her brother Jim married Mary Elizabeth "Mollie" Kelly, sister of Henry Kelly.

Rufus Taylor was born in Alabama on November 10, 1824, and was also in Texas early. On July 1, 1842, he appeared before Gonzales County Clerk Ezekiel Williams and applied for a marriage license. On the Fourth of July of the same year he and Miss Elizabeth Lowe were united in matrimony in Gonzales County. As a Texas Ranger he served under Captain Jack Hays from March 1, 1844, to June 1, 1844. Rufus Taylor Sr. died October 31, 1854, and is buried in the Taylor-Bennett Cemetery. The feud claimed two of his sons: Rufus Jr., known as "Scrap," and Martin Luther.

James, the youngest son of Josiah Sr., was born in Texas about 1825. Little is known of his life, but one newspaper reporter described him as "a young man of prepossessing personal appearance [who] followed gambling for a living." He joined the rush for California gold and in Stockton, on Sunday, September 5, 1852, was killed in what is known simply-at least in Texas-as a "difficulty" with a man named William Turner.

The sons of Josiah and Hephzibeth Taylor were men who were not afraid to fight for what they believed in. As Texas Rangers, farmers, ranchers, Indian fighters, they embodied the pioneer spirit of heads of households who traveled west to locate better opportunities for themselves and their families. When called to fight they were always ready, whether the enemy was an Indian, Mexican, or an Anglo. The "warrior tradition" would continue throughout the decades of the sixties and seventies.

Opposing the Taylors, at least in the informal nomenclature of feuding terminology, was a member of the Sutton family. William E. Sutton had no uncles or brothers involved in the feud; his one brother, James, married young and removed himself and his wife from the difficulties of the feud and lived a long life elsewhere. James Sutton proved it was possible to avoid the conflict, but only by leaving the immediate area and living out his years in Wilson County, not far from the center of the feud. James T. Johnson, a fellow cattleman, recalled that in the early seventies he "experienced quite a lot of difficulty trying to play neutral in the Taylor, Sutton and Tumlinson feuds," as his "sole desire was to work for wages and not get mixed up with either side." That the troubles amounted to a genuine family feud was accepted by all who lived in the area.

William E. Sutton, whose surname will be forever linked with that of Taylor, was the second-born son of John S. "Jack" and Cynthia Shults Sutton. Jack Sutton, the eldest of twelve children, was born in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Jack gathered up his wife, Elizabeth Turner Sutton, and the children and moved to Tennessee, but in 1840 the Suttons were in Texas. In 1842 widower Jack Sutton married Cynthia Shults in Fayette County. The couple had two sons: James, born October 10, 1844, and William E., born October 20, 1846. No one today knows what the middle initial "E." stood for, but when asked, William jokingly explained that his initials represented "watermelon, eggs and sugar." By 1850, the Sutton boys had lost their father; then the widow Sutton and her sons Jim and Bill moved in with her parents, C. W. and Mary Shults, along with her brothers Martin and Joseph. In 1856 Mrs. Sutton married William J. McDonald of DeWitt County. McDonald was a well-to-do stock raiser with real estate valued at $1000 and personal estate valued at $9500 in 1860. William J. McDonald had two daughters of his own: Lucy Charlotte and Sarah J. McDonald.


Excerpted from The Sutton-Taylor Feudby Chuck Parsons Copyright © 2009 by Chuck Parsons. Excerpted by permission.
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