William E. “Billy” Sutton – Rancher and Gunfighter

Range War

Range War

William E. “Billy” Sutton was a Texas lawman and rancher involved in the Sutton-Taylor Feud that lasted longer, covered more territory, and was the bloodiest feud in Texas history.

William Sutton was born to James and Cynthia E. Shults Sutton on October 20, 1846, in Fayette County, Texas. When he grew up, he served in the Confederate army in the Civil War and moved his family to Clinton, Texas, where he ranched and soon came into conflict with the Taylor Clan.

He also served as a Deputy Sheriff, and on March 25, 1868, he shot and killed Charley Taylor when he tried to arrest him for horse theft. Later that year, on Christmas Eve, Sutton killed another of the clan — Buck Taylor and another man named Dick Chisholm in a saloon in Clinton, Texas, after they argued about the sale of some horses. These killings spawned the Sutton-Taylor feud, one of the longest and bloodiest feuds in Texas history.

Making matters worse for the Taylor faction was when Sutton was appointed to the State Police Force under Captain Jack Helm. The Police Force and Union soldiers were tasked with enforcing “Reconstruction,” much to the chagrin of many Southern sympathizers. Sutton led a band of “Regulators” that numbered as many as 200 men, including frontier characters such as cattle baron Shanghai Pierce, Indian fighter Joe Tumlinson, and tough-as-nails lawman Jack Helm. For six years, Sutton led the Regulators in terrorizing the region, killing dozens of men, until finally Sutton was shot down by Jim and Billy Taylor on March 11, 1874. When Sutton tried to escape by boarding a New Orleans-bound steamer out of Indianola, the Taylor boys opened fire on him, dropping him to the deck in front of his horrified wife.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated December 2022.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West

Feuds of the Old West

Gunfighters of the Old West

Sutton-Taylor Feud