respected as a
vigilante in the lawless settlement of
John M. Larn was elected sheriff, a mistake the town's population would not soon forget.
Born in Mobile, Alabama on March 1, 1849, Larn traveled to
Colorado as a
teenager where he found work as a ranch hand. However, after an argument
with his boss over a horse around 1869, he shot and killed him. Soon he
where he killed a local sheriff who he thought was trailing him.
Continuing on into to
he settled in Fort Griffin,
where in 1871 he worked as a trail boss for a local rancher named Bill
Hays. While on a cattle drive to Trinidad,
he allegedly killed two Mexicans and a sheep herder. Somewhere along the
line, Larn married Mary Jane Matthews from the noted Matthews family and became a well known citizen
of Shackelford County.
However, by 1873,
allegations began to surface that Larn was involved in cattle
rustling. Ironically, that same year, he got a warrant for the arrest of
every member of Bill Hays' cattle outfit for rustling.
accompanied a posse of thirteen soldiers from Fort Griffin, the men ambushed and killed every member of the outfit
near Bush Knob,
In 1874 he joined the
Tin Hat Brigade in Fort Griffin, a vigilante group that worked swiftly bringing "justice"
to many a horse thief who was left hanging from a tree near the river.
As a member of the
Tin Hat Brigade, he gained so much respect, he was elected sheriff
of Fort Griffin in
April, 1876. That same month, the
Tin Hat Brigade
caught a man in the act of stealing a horse
and promptly hanged him to a pecan tree.
Leaving his body hanging there for all to see, they also left a pick
and shovel below his gruesome remains for anyone who might have wished
to remove the thief and bury him. In the next three months the Fort
Griffin vigilantes shot two more horse thieves and hanged six others.
Shortly after taking the sheriff's
position, Larn entered into a private contract with the local
territorial garrison to deliver three steers of cattle per day.
However, Larn had different ideas and began to plan with longtime
friend and recently deputized
John Selman, to simply rustle the cattle from neighboring ranchers
rather than having to provide his own. Before long, he and
Selman, instead of controlling the area crime, were
rustling even more cattle and otherwise terrorizing the county.
However, suspicions were soon raised as a number of ranchers noticed
that while their herds were slowly shrinking, Larn's remained
unaffected. Obviously profitable, Larn soon built a house at
Camp Cooper Ranch on the Cedar Fork in Lambshead,
After serving less than a year, Larn resigned as sheriff on March 7, 1877 and was replaced by
William Cruger, a month later. Moving on to outright cattle
rustling, he and
continued to profit and in March, 1877 were appointed as deputy hide
inspectors for Shackelford County. Opportune positions for the cattle
thieves, they were to inspect all cattle
herds entering and leaving the county, as well as supervising the
butchers. Larn also continued to supply
Fort Griffin with its beef and
as more and more cattle went missing, the complaints grew louder and
louder. A number of violent acts were also being reported as a
band of men, allegedly led by Larn and
Selman, were bushwhacking area ranchers, driving off their cattle,
shooting horses, and firing potshots at the homes of terrified
Finally, in February, 1878, a group of civilians secured a warrant to
search the river behind Larn's house. Looking for hides that didn't belong
to him, six were recovered from the river with brands other than Larn's
own. Though Larn was arrested, he was later released and violence
However, in June, 1878 a local rancher named Treadwell, who
had reportedly uncovered the cattle rustling, was wounded by Larn and the
Albany court issued a warrant for his arrest.
Sheriff William Cruger was then tasked with arresting his former boss,
which he did on June 22, 1878. After placing him in the jail, Cruger had
the local blacksmith shackle Larn to the floor of the cell to prevent a
breakout by Larn's supporters.
Instead, the next night, the
Tin Hat Brigade, stormed the jail intending to hang Larn. When they
found they couldn't lynch the shackled man, they shot him in his cell. Afterwards, his body was returned to Camp
Cooper Ranch where he was buried beside his infant son.