Outlaw John Larn 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, pleasantJohn Larn, Image via legendsofamerica.com 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.  John SelmanSelman 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


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  1. Panhandle Poet Says:

    I’ve been researching the year 1880 in the Texas Panhandle and surrounding environs. It’s difficult to get to a lot of the history because it was such a wild-and-wooly place. There are plenty of families still residing in the area that decended from some of the questionable characters who first occupied this lawless land of that time. I noticed the same thing as you about the same names popping up over and again in the various towns such as Fort Griffin, Mobeetie, Dodge City, Tascosa, Las Vegas, NM, Trinidad, Colorado, Fort Sumner, etc. It was a vast country but a small world.

  2. ramblingbob Says:

    to the Pandddhandel poet: I will eventually get into the Indian Territory, and some of the people who made it wild. Thanks for stopping by and your comments ramblingbob

  3. mark neely Says:

    I am the great great grandson of benjamin franklin reynolds. I grew up in Throckmorton (just a stones throw from ft. griffin). My grandmother and her sisters said they always asked grampa about the killing and the vigalence commitee, but he never spoke a word about it. His brother Joe, not long after this episode, moved to Globe Arizona as sheriff and was killed by the apache kid. It is safe to assume he left because of his part in the episode. BF Reynolds was the marksman of the brothers and certainly would have played a big part.

  4. ramblingbob Says:

    Mark thanks so much for you comment. It is always good to hear from someone connected to one whom I have written about. So much history is being left in our past it is almost a sin to let it all fade away. I have family history that my daughter is not really interested in and she is the last in line on my branch of the story. I can only hope there are other branches of the tree that I have never met who will keep it alive. Thanks again.

  5. Judy Edsall McClymont Says:

    Ramblingbob, your article about John Larn was most interesting to me because Benjamin Franklin Reynolds was my great-grandfather, and as Mark Neely said, he may well have played a part in the final episode of Larn’s life. I have an unidentified picture, which I found among my late grandmother’s belongings, and after seeing your picture of John Larn, I wonder if there is a possibility it could be the same person, since it was found among other relatives and acquaintances of the Reynolds family around Fort Griffin. Would it be possible for me to e-mail the picture to you for your opinion on the similarities or the lack thereof?
    Thank you.

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  9. Delinda Says:

    I just was camping at the historic Ft.Griffin and went to the ” campfire tales and it was my first time to hear about John Larn. Very interesting and now I will read more about the wild west on your site!

  10. Texas Researcher Says:

    Great story. I am researching my family from Texas, including the panhandle, where I still have lots of family living there, descendants of the time period you talked of. This past week I have been working on John Poe, thought it interesting that you mentioned him. I’ll have to find the rest of your stories, this is the first I’ve found, I am trying to find some of the more obscure and also the most active panhandle outlaws. Thank you very much for your stories.

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