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Wilson County History

A historic Texas gunfight

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The author of this entry is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
Gene Maeckel
Historic Moments
December 19, 2012 | 3,961 views | Post a comment

Albuquerque was a small community in Wilson County located on the old San Antonio-Gonzales Road near Union Valley. This historic fight occurred on May 17, 1873, at the local blacksmith shop, between John Jack Helm and John Wesley Hardin. Both men were known to be hardened gunfighters and killers. Helm was considered to be the leader of the Sutton group in the Sutton-Taylor feud. Hardin, due to his family relationship with the Taylors, was appointed as their lead spokesman.

John Wesley Hardin was born and raised during the American Civil War period and the following Reconstruction era. He had a restless and swaggering attitude and the Reconstruction period, with a lack of law enforcement, led him to seek trouble. By the age of 9 he was deadly accurate with a pistol and had killed 27 persons within the next nine years. Prior to the Albuquerque incident, he had already killed two of the Texas State Policemen who were attempting to arrest him.

John Jack Helm was born in Missouri as the eldest son of George W. Helm, a very prominent slaveholder who traced his family heritage back to Virginia. John Jack Helm moved to Tennessee, then to Missouri, and finally settled in Texas in 1839. His personal temperament earned him notoriety as being a braggart with his conversations being mostly directed to himself. His education was limited and he demonstrated an immense vanity about himself. He had deserted from the Confederate Army because of several criminal indictments against him. Helm did have a technical inclination which he continued to develop during his lifetime. This is perhaps why he was at the blacksmith shop on this fateful day. He was trying to develop a farm implement that would knock the cotton boll weevil worms from the bushes to the ground. The machine went between the cotton rows and crushed them beneath a following wheel.

John Jack Helm was one of the first four captains appointed by the governor to the newly organized Texas State Police. Most Texans had a real problem with this group as it was created by the Reconstruction government. Within two months they are said to have killed 21 people and only brought 10 supposed offenders to the local law-enforcement officials. Jack Helm was one of the worst members of this special police force. His actions were so bad that within six months of service he resigned his position because of the outcry of public dislike of his ruthless enforcement of the law. He was then appointed sheriff of DeWitt County by the governor and acted in this position until his death.

In DeWitt County, conflict was developing between former confederates and the newly present Union troops. The Taylor group was part of the Confederate sympathizers who developed feelings of hostility toward the Union soldiers. The Sutton group associated themselves with the Union troops and the Reconstruction Government. These two groups evolved into the famed Sutton-Taylor feud. The first trouble began between Union troops and a group of men led by sons of Creed Taylor and Pitkin Taylor. The Taylor clan was involved in killing a black soldier at a saloon and a black sergeant at the home of his relatives. To escape criminal prosecution by the local court, the Taylor group relocated to Mason County where they became involved in killing two more Union soldiers. After this, the Taylor clan relocated to Creed Taylor’s ranch in Karnes County. For the Taylors, this feud had now evolved on two fronts. In addition to the Sutton conflict, they were also being pursued by the soldiers of the Reconstruction Government of the state.

Soon after Helm became sheriff of DeWitt County, he led a series of raids against Taylor followers, thus killing at least 21 persons and turning 10 others over to the civilian authorities.

Helm also continued his alignment with the Sutton clan in the feud with the Taylors, who now had John Wesley Hardin as one of their members and its appointed leader.

Sometime in April 1873, Sheriff Helm and John Wesley Hardin met to discuss a resolution to the feud. Helm was asking Hardin to switch sides in exchange for dismissing criminal charges against him. Hardin refused but later agreed to a second meeting in Albuquerque.

On May 17, 1873, John Wesley Hardin and Jim Taylor went to Albuquerque to meet Helms for the prearranged meeting. Helm was working on his invention to destroy boll weevils when they arrived. Helm didn’t have a weapon on him at the time, since he had left them in his room in the local boarding house. He did however, have a large knife. Once he saw Taylor, he advanced toward him, asking him to hold up his hands as he advanced toward him with his large knife. At that moment someone in the area shouted, “Shoot the scoundrel.” As Helm was advancing on Taylor, Hardin fired at Helm with his shotgun and shattered Helm’s arm. As he turned to go into the blacksmith shop, Taylor followed and shot Helm with his pistol, thus ending his life. All this action happened in the middle of the gathering of local citizens who just watched in amazement. After the shooting, John Wesley Hardin and Jim Taylor mounted their horses and rode out of town with no action taken by the local citizens to restrain them.

Helm’s body was taken to the nearby McCracken Cemetery and buried in a shallow grave so his heirs could move him if they chose. A rock was placed on the grave as a marker. In 1973 a government marker was placed on the grave, but in all its irony it is a Confederate Army Memorial.

According to John Wesley Hardin, he received many letters of thanks from the widows of men who had been killed by Helm. He also received many congratulations from the citizens of Gonzales and DeWitt counties because of his actions in Albuquerque.

Compiled by Gene Maeckel from the files of the Wilson County Historical Archives.
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