Reese-Townsend Feud

This was one of the names given to an armed conflict in Colorado County, located between Austin and Houston in south Texas. Alternatively it is referred to as the Colorado County Feud.

The conflict dates directly to the sheriff’s election of 1898, although it may have had its roots in earlier and longstanding hard feelings around the county. The candidates for sheriff were the incumbent Sam Reese and a former deputy named Larkin Secrest Hope.

The earlier conflict mentioned above involved a wealthy ranching and banking family named Stafford and some of the Townsend’s extended family members. Both the Townsends and the Staffords had been some of the earliest Anglo settlers in the area. The head of the Stafford family was Bob Stafford. While they were serving as deputies under sheriff James Light Townsend, the Hope brothers (Larkin and Marion) had arrested a son of Bob Stafford for some unknown infraction. On July 7, 1890 Bob Stafford and his brother John Stafford engaged in an argument with the Hope brothers. The argument escalated into a shooting incident in which the Stafford brothers were both fatally wounded. The Hope brothers were not convicted in the killings but it led to hard feelings that continued to simmer in the county. Sam Reese succeeded Light Townsend as sheriff in 1894. Light had been reelected in that year, but was apparently also terminally ill at the time and died soon afterward. Reese was appointed to serve out the remainder of Light Townsend’s term. Larkin Hope had left the sheriff’s department by then and was serving as constable in the area when he was appointed to run against Reese when the next election cycle came up in 1898.

Samuel Houston Reese had been born in Austin County, Texas in 1859. His family had moved to Colorado County when he was still a youth. He was married in 1876. From 1886 until shortly before his death he was a law enforcement officer, having served as constable, deputy sheriff and finally sheriff.

A former Texas senator named Mark Townsend had been influential in backing the last nine sheriffs. In this election Townsend was supporting the former deputy Larkin Hope over the incumbent Reese, who had supporters of his own. Townsend’s backing would still have been expected to influence the election in favor of Hope, but Larkin Hope was shot and killed on August 3, 1898 by an unknown assailant in downtown Columbus. One of Reese’s associates was considered a suspect in the killing of Hope, but the crime was never solved. Townsend responded by backing another candidate named Will Burford, who won the election over Reese.

Tensions were running high in the area and a gunfight broke out several months later on March 16, 1899 in Columbus involving members of both factions. Involved in the incident were Sam Reese, former senator Mark Townsend, Will Clements, Marion Hope and others. When the gunfire ended, Sam Reese and a man described as an innocent bystander named Charles Boehme, a local farmer in town to purchase supplies, were killed. A young boy was also wounded but survived. A newspaper article at the time said that Mr. Boehme had been seated in his wagon with his wife when he was shot. He immediately fell from the wagon and the team ran off until they could be stopped by another bystander.

One account of how the incident started had Reese, by then a civilian, riding up on a confrontation between a deputy named Will Clements and another individual who had just been released from jail after a grand jury had not charged him. Reese and the deputy were reportedly not on good terms. Reese involved himself for some reason in the argument and then the shooting began. As many as fifteen rounds were fired and Reese and Boehme were killed. Townsend, Marion Hope and Clements were all arrested, but there is no record of any trials and no one was convicted of any crime connected with the deaths of Reese and Boehme.

About a half dozen more sporadic incidents of violence broke out over the next ten years as the conflict continued to fester. The dead from these later gunfights included participants from both sides of the conflict as well as least one more bystander. No one was ever convicted of any of the murders, despite their various identities being well known.

There were numerous family ties that factored into the conflict, in some ways making the long running animosity easier to understand. Prior to Reese, Mark Townsend’s first cousin James Light Townsend had served as sheriff from 1880 to 1894. Brothers Larkin and Marion Hope both had served as deputies under Light Townsend. They were also first cousins of Mark and Light Townsend, their mother being an aunt of Light and Mark who was named Mary “Polly” Townsend Hope. Will Burford who was elected sheriff over Reese was a brother of Mark Townsend’s wife Annie Euphemia Burford. If that were not enough, Sheriff Sam Reese was married to Keron Blanche Townsend Reese, a distant cousin of Mark Townsend and all of his family. There may have been other connections, as well.

The feud cast a pall over the community of Columbus for many years. It is said that Boehme’s death led other citizens to avoid Columbus for their business. Texas Rangers were requested from time to time to restore order. One group came around 1900 led by Captain Bill McDonald. Another group came in 1906 led by Captain James A. Brooks. Though the town continued to decline for a time, it remained the county seat.

Mark Townsend is believed to have died of natural causes in 1915 at the age of fifty-seven and is buried in San Antonio. William Thomas “Will” Burford died of natural causes in 1908 and is buried in Columbus, Texas. W. T.’s twenty-three year old son Arthur Lee Burford had been killed in early 1900 in Bastrop, Texas at the same time Will Clements was wounded. Arthur’s death was believed to be connected to the Reese-Townsend matter. His remains were returned to a rural cemetery in Colorado County where he was buried. Marion Hope died in 1911 of apparent injuries when a horse fell on him while he was working alone on his farm. He is buried in Wharton, Texas.

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