THE TAYLOR-SUTTON FEUD
From Hunter’s Frontier Times, November, 1924
Did you ever hear of Jim Taylor? Not any Jim Taylor, but the Jim Taylor who, although only 18 years of age, was conceded to be the quickest man with a gun that ever ranged the prairies between the Panhandle and the Gulf, rounding up unbranded steers. Did you ever hear of the Taylor-Sutton feud, which for more than fifteen years tore DeWitt, Victoria and Calhoun counties? Of the unnumbered single combats and pitched battles to which it led? Of the shootings, the hanging and sudden deaths? And, finally, of the dramatic escape of the principal figures which moved through the stirring scenes of the fend? If not, it is safe to say that you have never visited Cuero, Victoria or Port Lavaca.
The feud started just after the close of the civil war, how, nobody remembers exactly. But then the cattle country was not fenced, the herds had increased during the four years of strife, and when their owners returned from the frontiers of war nearly one-half the cattle upon the ranges were unbranded. Naturally their division afforded any number of chances for disagreement, and disagreement in those days was a dangerous thing.
In DeWitt county there was a family by the name of Taylor, and another by the name of Sutton. Both were in the cattle business and both employed a large number of cowboys. They were the first to fall out. Everything would probably would have blown over with only a few minor shooting affrays among cowpunchers had not some of the Suttons, or their irresponsible sympathizers, in revenge for some real or fancied wrong, determined to cast the balance upon the credit side of the hook once for all. They loaded their six-shooters and one evening about dusk crept into the cornfield that lay just behind the Taylor homestead. They had brought a cow-bell with them and as they crept among the corn they rang at appropriate intervals. An old man of about 60, the grandfather of the boys who afterwards were to become the actors in a real sanguinary drama of revenge, heard it and, thinking that the cows had gotten into the field, went down to drive them out. He was shot and killed, probably before those in ambush recognized the fact that he was the hoary-haired sire, and not their enemies themselves. But after the shooting DeWitt county was aflame. Every man who had not already taken sides promptly did so or was forced to now, and the feud was on in earnest.
This happened when Jim Taylor, several years the junior of the other two brothers, Bill and Bob, was still a mere child. But the next fifteen years of his life was passed amid scenes of the utmost violence. The older inhabitants of Cuero will tell you that in the days just prior to 1875 not a week passed without its killing. Some will mention the pitched battle that occurred in the streets of the town immediately after the shooting of "Old Man" Taylor, the father of the three boys. Others, whose sympathies perhaps are still with the other side, will recall how a doctor by the name of Brazell, and his son, were haled from their beds one dark night by a mysterious party of horsemen, and were murdered in cold blood. Some still say they were shot; others that their bodies were found the next morning hanging from the limbs of a live oak tree.
But for the names of those who perpetrated the deed they will one and all refer you to the Bexar county criminal records. They will tell you that three of the six had been condemned to hang, that happened to be denied, and that the scaffold—the scaffold that was used in the Bexar county jail until the time it was remodeled several years ago—had been built, when an exceedingly resourceful lawyer—and one who afterwards became governor of the state,—discovered that the indictment closed with the words "against the peace and dignity of the statute," whereas it should have read "against the peace and dignity of the state," and how, upon this technicality. all of the culprits got off scot free.
In those day Indianola was the chief port of Texas. The town does not exist today; it was wiped out in 1875 by a storm similar to the one that struck Galveston in 1900. One might wander along the coast between Alamo Beach and Port O'Connor—might pass and repass over the sand-strewn site of the prosperous seaport—and never know that it was once the shipping point for the greatest cattle country in the world, that it had railroads and banks and warehouses and long piers where the curious old-fashioned side wheel steamers of the first Morgan line used to berth. But as it was the shipping point the Taylors and the Suttons were familiar figures upon the streets. It is said that every time they drove a herd of cattle down, as soon as Dan Sullivan, who is now a well known banker of San Antonio, had made out the bills of lading, they would proceed to get drunk and shoot up the town in great style. Jim Taylor always accompanied his older brothers on these trips.
But, although before he was only 18 the boy had "killed his man" more than once, he was not of the rowdy type. Those who knew him describe him as mild-mannered, with a calm and thoughtful expression but with steady, steel-grey "gimlet" eyes that seemed to bore their way into one's very mind. They say, too, that he had never forgiven the death of his father or of his grandfather, but that he seemed always to be nursing his revenge. And it was not long until his opportunity came.
In the latter part of 1874 the head of the Sutton family, a man of about 35, yielding to the importunities of a relative, whose name was Slaughter, decided to sell out his interests in DeWitt county and to return to Georgia. which was originally his home. Everything had been arranged, the money paid, and the two men with their wives had made the journey from Cuero to Indianola in safety. Passage to New Orleans had been booked on the old side wheeler St. Mary and the day of sailing had arrived. A few minutes before the boat was to leave the pier the party went aboard. The luggage had been taken up the gangplank, the men had handed the women from the main deck through the narrow passage into the salon. Those who were present say that the boat had cast off and that the two men were standing in the entrance to the passage through which the women had just disappeared, when three horsemen galloped down the pier, dropped their lines, sprang from their mounts and opened fire with their long barrelled Colts revolvers. Both Sutton 'and Slaughter fell mortally wounded, while Jim Taylor and the two men who were with him mounted their horses and rode out of town, stopping on the way, however at a saloon, where, over their drinks, they calmly told those assembled that the Taylor-Sutton feud was at an end.
Of the trio only Jim Taylor was captured. There were exciting times in Indianola when he was brought there and lodged in the county jail. Feeling ran high and once it was rumored that a train load of armed men were coming from Cuero to release the prisoner. The train did come, but when the posse descended the steps they found themselves looking down the barrels of a score of shotguns. People were getting tired of the "two-gun" men. Jim Taylor was sent to Galveston for safe keeping.
His trial was set for September and when it came up a special squad of the old Washington Guard of Galveston was detailed to take him back to guard him during the trial. They held the boy in the courthouse: they ware afraid to keep him in jail. Some say that the defense had finished its argument, others that the jury had gone out and that the betting in the saloons of Indianola was 9 to 1 for the conviction of this young man who had taken the law into his own hands, when--
That morning the wind was blowing from the northwest. By noon it had increased to such fury that the waters of Matagorda bay were two feet deep in the main street of the city. By four in the afternoon some of the more poorly built shanties had collapsed and been swept away, and still the storm showed no signs of abating. All during the afternoon the guards stuck valiantly to their posts, and Jim Taylor sat quietly on his cot in the courtroom listening to the elements without. At dusk, the wind seemed to increase in violence. Dwellings and stores began to crumble: the waters rose and the courthouse itself seemed in imminent danger of falling about their ears before the men from Galveston left their charge to assist those who were struggling in the streets.
During the night of horror that followed, families were annihilated: homes and fortunes were swept' away -- a city was destroyed and during the storm Jim Taylor disappeared.
It was long thought that he was drowned along with the hundreds of others that perished, until years afterwards, some who had known him before the storm saw him in San Antonio.
Then again he disappeared. Many think that he is still alive, but where, they do not venture to say.