The Feud That Wasn’t
The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas
Texas History - Western History
6 x 9, 256 pp.
13 b&w photos., 6 maps.
Pub Date: 02/05/2008
Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce
Price:        $29.95

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2009 Most Significant Scholarly Book Award, presented by the Texas Institute of Letters
2008 Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize, presented by the Texas State Historical Association
2008 Ottis Lock Award for Superior Publication in East Texas History, presented by the East Texas Historical Association

The Feud That Wasn’t

The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas

By James M. Smallwood

Marauding outlaws, or violent rebels still bent on fighting the Civil War? For decades, the so-called “Taylor-Sutton feud” has been seen as a bloody vendetta between two opposing gangs of Texas gunfighters. However, historian James M. Smallwood here shows 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. Between the 1850s and 1880, almost 200 men rode at one time or another with Creed Taylor and his family through a forty-five-county area of Texas, stealing and killing almost at will, despite heated and often violent opposition from pro-Union law enforcement officials, often led by William Sutton. From 1871 until his eventual arrest, notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin served as enforcer for the Taylors. In 1874 in the streets of Comanche, Texas, on his twenty-first birthday, Hardin and two other members of the Taylor ring gunned down Brown County Deputy Charlie Webb. This cold-blooded killing—one among many—marked the beginning of the end for the Taylor ring, and Hardin eventually went to the penitentiary as a result. The Feud That Wasn’t reinforces the interpretation that Reconstruction was actually just a continuation of the Civil War in another guise, a thesis Smallwood has advanced in other books and articles. He chronicles in vivid detail the cattle rustling, horse thieving, killing sprees, and attacks on law officials perpetrated by the loosely knit Taylor ring, drawing a composite picture of a group of anti-Reconstruction hoodlums who at various times banded together for criminal purposes. Western historians and those interested in gunfighters and lawmen will heartily enjoy this colorful and meticulously researched narrative.

JAMES M. SMALLWOOD is an emeritus professor of history at Oklahoma State University. He coauthored Murder and Mayhem: The War of Reconstruction in Texas, published by Texas A&M University Press. Smallwood’s The Indian Texans was part of a five-book series that won the 2006 Texas Reference Source Award from the Texas Library Association Reference Round Table. He lives in Gainesville, Texas.

What Readers Are Saying:

". . . an excellent book. . . The book will interest anyone interested in Texas history."

"With potent scholarship and spirited writing  this volume revisits the famed Taylor-Sutton affray in Reconstruction-era South Texas. . . Smallwood offers an impressive reinterpretation of a critical era in Reconstruction Texas and the South."

"Smallwood offers an impressive reinterpretation of a critical era in Reconstruction Texas and the South."

"James Smallwood has written a compelling and interesting monograph on the fabled 'Sutton-Taylor Feud'. . .The strengths of Smallwood's work emerge in his ability to contextualize the outbreak of violence in post-Civil War Texas within the national atmosphere of the Reconstruction Era. . . the book should find a receptive audience, both scholarly and commercial, as popular culture reorients itself with a rebirthing of the violent West in recent films, television, and comic book portrayals."

“This is a well-researched and entertaining story describing what much of Texas was really like in the decade following the Civil War.” --WWA

“This is a fascinating story about a violent era in Texas’s past.” --The Facts

“This is no Western shoot ‘em-up. It’s a scholarly and detailed account of a horrible time of lawlessness in Texas history, and it’s a must for the serious collector of Texas history . . . . Any die-hard naturalist will want this in his or her library.” --Bryan-College Station Eagle

“James Smallwood has performed a valuable service by placing the Sutton-Taylor feud within the proper context of Reconstruction history. Clearly identifying the key members of the Creed Taylor gang, he reveals how they wrapped themselves in the Confederate flag; postured as heroic defenders of the Old South; and voiced praises for the “Lost Cause” while engaging in a wave of crime that was unsurpassed in South Texas during the nineteenth century. Furthermore, the author deftly illustrates how the Democratic Party manipulated members of the Taylor gang, using them as a paramilitary force in the wider War of Reconstruction. Students of violence in Reconstruction Texas will find much to enjoy and learn in this book.” --Kenneth W. Howell, Prairie View A&M University

“A must read book for anyone who has the slightest interest in Reconstruction Texas. Dr. James Smallwood’s work is a major addition to revisionist literature of the era and will undoubtedly produce a stimulating intellectual debate.” --Charles D. Spurlin, Professor Emeritus, Victoria College

“The Feud That Wasn’t, based on extensive new research and a broader perspective, presents a more complex understanding of post-Civil War violence in Texas that challenges popular myths and folklore. It is a valuable addition to reconstruction history.” --Alwyn Barr, professor of History, Texas Tech University


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