John Larn is a little known killer from Shackelford County, Texas (this is near Abilene). He is not a subject that they care to discuss. Little remains of his history in the local area, as efforts were made to erase his memory from the printed records.
At one time he was in a important position of trust. He was many things to different people: efficient, cruel, kind, pleasant and barbaric. Other accounts show him to be a evil gun-slinging genius, who would eventually was killed in a hate filled hail of gun-smoke while locked in his own jail by his own relatives.
John Larn drifted out of Mobile, Alabama into Colorado where he was accused of the murder of a cattleman who thought Larn was doing wrong by inappropriately borrowed one of his horses with asking. A few months later he shot the sheriff who tried to arrest him.
Moving on seemed to be the best course of action so he drifted to Fort Griffin, Texas, and hired on with a trail drive to New Mexico. along the Pecos River he killed three men and “feed the Catfish” with their bodies.
Upon the return to Fort Griffin, he and the trail boss had a falling out. Leading several disgruntled drovers in his wake they went on a rampage through the trail camp resulting in the death of two men and seven wounded. It was commonly known that all were engaged in the trade of rustling no charges were ever filed.
Larn went to work for a local rancher named Joe Matthews a leading figure in the area. Just like the old western movies John stayed true to the script and married the ranchers daughter.He was a devoted husband and reportedly faithful. In his consideration of her he did not smoke, swear or drink in her presence. Oh yes he never did any of his killings in her presence either to his credit.
Larn started his own ranch along the Clear fork of the Brazos River. He established a relationship with John Selman. Selman was crude compared to Larn’s polished manners. However Selman proved to be the wiser of the two. Selman moved on to El Paso (and if you remember from one of the earlier chapters a controversial showdowns.) Larn stayed behind to eventually die.
In Schakelford County the eternal struggle between the big cowman and the smaller Ranchers and Granger’s continued to exist. the big boys claimed the smaller ones were rustling their cattle (sometimes true) and fencing in the range (completely true).
In February of 1876, when Larn was around the age of twenty-five, and unknowing had only two years to live, he ran for the office of sheriff. Elected he set out to lean up the county. On April 2 he caught a horse thief named Joe Watson, most of his gang and Watson’s wife Sally, who supplemented their income by prostitution. Sending Sally on home and telling her Joe would soon join her. Felling it was time to send a message to all wrong doer’s he hung Watson, “Redd”, “Larapie Dan” and “Doc” McBride. Pinning a note to the clothes of the latter that read “He said his name was McBride, but he was a liar as well as a thief.”
Larn persused the other two thiefs to Dodge City, with a warrant in his pocket. Catching up with them he brought them back to fort Griffin and placed them in jail. Vigilantes removed the poorly guarded prisoners from the lock-up and strung them up to nearby trees. By December of that year eleven other rustlers or accused rustlers were sent on their way to the promised land by rope. The valley of Clear forks took on the semblance of a peaceful community for a welcome change.
Things might have stayed that way but Larn and Selman started to supplement their herds by selective rustling of their own. Occasionally they even cut expenses by shooting their hired help.
Larn hired two stone masons to build a rock fence on his property. Soon they both were found floating in the river. the coroner thought the circumstances were strange but was reluctant to call it murder, as things like this did happen from time to time. Several other strange deaths occurred that could be traced back to Larn. Joe Matthews approached his son-in-law and requested him to act more responsibly and was mocked by Larn.
The final break with Larn and the vigilante committee came in the form of a shoot out involving a couple of Larn’s hired help – Bill Bland and Charlie Reed, they rode into town hell bent on trouble and fun. Reining up in front of Beehive Saloon in Fort Griffin, they dismounted and swaggered through the bat-wing doors.
The two shot out the lights and were having a merry old time, Deputy Sheriff Bill Cruger and County Attorney Jefferies tried to arrest them. When the gun-smoke cleared out Bland was dead and Reed had fled town. Jefferies and Cruger were both wounded , Jefferies seriously. An innocent bystander was dead on the floor with a bullet in his head and Lieutenant Dan Barron sat slumped in a chair, wounded and dying.
The pressure to resign was heavy on Larn so he quit and concentrated on rustling and shooting up the homes of Grangers and Ranchers alike. Things escalated to the point that the Governor sent in the Texas Rangers. However they did not achieve much because most of the time they were forced to concentrate on avoiding ambushes. They heard that Larn had hidden some hides with other ranchers brands on them in a pond near his slaughter pens. After dragging the pond enough evidence was found to bring charges against Larn.
Larn faced his chief accuser in Fort Griffin, after a conversation the man felt it prudent to leave town. With the main witness gone the case against Larn collapsed and he was freed.
The Grangers and Ranchers, in a rare show of cooperation, teamed up together and joined forces to bring Larn down. A farmer testified that Selman and Larn had chased him for miles along the river attempting to kill him. This gave the Sheriff the means to re-arrest Larn again. Riding to serve the warrant, he enlisted the aid of the Reynolds family who were related to Mrs. Larn.
John Larn stepped out of his house walking toward his barn when he noticed a group of riders approaching. Recognising members of the Reynolds family in the group he felt no alarm. While sitting on a three legged foot stool milking a cow the most dangerious gunman in Texas was arrested while his gun-belt dangled from the fence near-by.
Cruger intended to arrest Selman as well, but he had made a hasty departure from the county, failing to get word to his partner in crime. Larn was placed in a buck-board for the trip into town. Mrs Larn went along also firmly believing in John’s Innocent’s.
John Larn had too many friends in Fort Griffin so the posse took him to the county seat of Albany. Shackled hand and foot, Larn was locked in the wooden shack that served as a jail, while his wife frantically searched for an attorney to take his case.
Her efforts proved to be too late, and possibly contributed to his quick death. No one wanted Larn released on bail, no one would feel safe!
Around ten that evening vigilantes over powered the guard John Poe – who would later be with Pat Garret when he killed Billy the Kid. Poe’s reluctance to stand for Larn stemmed from the fact that he was also a member of the vigilante committee.
Larn stood and awaited his fate. A man named Reynolds said “Larn we have decided not to hang you.”
Understanding the meaning Larn smiled faintly and nine rifles sounded the end of one of the most prolific killers in Texas history.
Have you noticed how the same names and towns keep cropping up in all these stories? I assume this is because our country was as vast as it is today, it was so sparsely populated and the population was so small that these people all intermingled together.
Ok this is March 11, 2008. HBO is offering a new mini series on John Adams starting this Sunday. Of the previews it looks to be a worth-while viewing experience for those of us who have a biding interest of our history. David Morris who plays George Washington is the best looking figure I have ever seen play the part. If you have a interest in the history of our country I encourage you to watch this effort.
thanks for rambling with