The Johnson-Sims Feud: Romeo and Juliet, West Texas Style

Front Cover
University of North Texas Press, 2010 - History - 208 pages
Bill O'Neal uses the tried and true approach of C.L. Sonnichsen, but his in-depth understanding of the family dynamics involved in the story gives the finished product greater than usual strength. The book also contains interesting insights into the life of the important Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer."---T. Lindsay Baker, professor of history, Tarleton State University

"Bill O'Neal, prolific author and historian, has added to his long list of well-researched and informative books a new account of a little-known feud bitterly fought in West Texas during the early years of the twentieth century. Texans and others interested in the rich history of Texas will find it fascinating reding."---Robert K. DeArment, author of Bat Masterson and editory of Life of the Marlows

"Raw and brutal, the Johnson-Sims feud is captured for the first time by an author who truly portrays the savage emotions, naked hatred, and stark realities of the feud. This is a gripping tale well told by a skillful historian."---David Johnson, author of John Ringa and The Mason County "Hoo Doo" War

"Literature relating to feuds in Texas during the trwntieth century is extremely scarce, so this work will be of great significance. Since much of the material relates of families associated with the development of the ranching industry of West Texas, the book has much to contribute to that field of interest."---Donaly Brice, Texas State Archives

The Johnson and Sims families were pioneer ranchers, settling in the same region---Lam-pasas and Burnet counties---in the dangerous years just before the Civil War. After the war two couples from the next generation, Billy and Nannie Johnson and Dave and Laura Belle Sims, established large ranches---forty or more sections each---in adjoining counties, Scurry and Kent, in West Texas.

Just after the turn of the century, the two families united in a marriage of fourteen-year-old Gladys Johnson to twenty-one-year-old Ed Sims. Billy Johnson set up Gladys and Ed on a ranch, and the young couple had two daughters, Helen and Beverly. But Gladys was headstrong and willful, and Ed drank too much, and both sought affection outside their marriage. A nasty divorce ensued, featuring a gun-wielding Gladys prior to court proceedings. Gladys moved with her girls to her father's luxurious ranch house, where she soon fell in love with famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

Ed's custody rights proved troublesome. When Ed tried to take his daughters for a prearranged Christmas visit in 1916, Gladys shot him twice on the Sny-der square teeming with shoppers. The wounds were not fatal, but one of Gladys's brothers, Sid, bolted out of their father's bank and finished off Ed with a shotgun blast.

One of the best lawyers in West Texas, Judge Cullen Higgins (son of the old feudist Pink Higgins) managed to win acquittal for both Gladys and Sid. In the tradition of Texas feudists since the 1840s, the Sims' family sought revenge. A former sheriff and Sims' son-in-law, Gee McMeans, led an attack in Sweetwater and shot Billy Johnson's bodyguard, Frank Hamer, twice, while Gladys---by now Mrs. Hamer---fired at another assassin. Hamer shot back, killed McMeans, and was no-billed on the spot by a grand jury watching the shootout through a window. An attempt against Billy Johnson failed, but a three-man team shotgunned the widely respected Cullen Higgins. Texas Rangers and other lawmen caught one of the assassins, extracted a confession, and then prompted his "suicide" in a Sweetwater jail cell.

Bill O'Neal first wrote about the Johnson-Sims Feud in the closing chapters of his biography of Pink Higgins. Although assuming---incorrectly---that he had exhausted the subject, O'Neal soon began to receive fresh information from descendants of the feudists. Interviews with first-and second-generation descendants produced a wealth of new materials. A meeting with nonagenarian Beverly Sims Benson, who was present when her father was slain and who knew all of the principals, made it clear that the conflict cried out to be fully explored---the story of the last traditional family feud in Texas

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - HighCountry - LibraryThing

Excellent look at the people and culture of West Texas in the early 1900s. Read full review


1 Introduction to a Blood Feud
2 Billy Johnson Cattle Baron
3 Dave Sims Cattle Baron
4 Gladys and Ed
5 E C Sims vs Gladys Sims
6 Storm Clouds
7 Tragedy in Snyder
8 The Search for Revenge
9 Assassination and Retribution
10 Aftermath and Redemption
Rest in Peace

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

BILL O'NEAL is a prolific author of western history, the "Best Living Nonfiction Writer" as selected by True West magazine in 2007. He speaks frequently to historical groups and has appeared in documentaries on TBS, History Channel, Discovery Channel, TNN, and A&E. O'Neal is the author of more than thirty books, including The Johnson County War (2005 NOLA Book of the Year), The Regulator-Moderator War, Historic Ranches of the Old West, Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, and Cheyenne, 1867-1903. He is retired from teaching at Panola College.

Bibliographic information