THE BUSH KNOB MASSACRE
By Trent McKnight and Geneva Rodgers
John Larn had said time and again “that dead men tell no tales” (DeArment, 2002: 40), and it
seems that is what the noted outlaw intended in the fall of 1873 at a brushy knoll on a fork of
Elm Creek between Ft. Griffin and Ft. Belknap known as Bush Knob (Hudson, 2007). John Larn
had the reputation of a polite, yet smooth-talking and dangerous cattle rustler. He was
confronted many times by area ranchers for burning out brands and replacing them with his own;
but no formal charges were ever raised against him and no smart rancher ever attempted to
reconcile terms with the notorious ace. Yet in the summer of 1873, Bill Hayes, area rancher and
trail herder, had enough. Hayes had just returned to Ft. Griffin from a trail drive in Colorado to
find that his Clear Fork herd had completely disappeared and had been “integrated” into the Larn
herd by the magic of a branding iron. “Financially ruined, Hayes was furious, but not so angry
that he was ready to confront the man he knew to be an extremely dangerous gunman. He bided
his time and waited for an opportunity to get even” (DeArment, 2002: 43).
That opportunity came when he agreed to deliver a herd of cattle to reservation agents at Ft. Sill
in Indian Territory in November of that year. Hayes hired a motley crew of cowboys and
outlaws to quietly gather the cattle to drive north. John and Bill Hayes, George Snow, Bill Bush,
and three or four unverified drovers gathered over 1000 head of cattle around the Clear Fork of
the Brazos and set north for Indian Territory. Hayes told the boys to “not be too careful with
regard to the brands, and definitely throw in any animals carrying the Larn brand and markings”
(DeArment, 2002: 44).
When John Larn caught wind of the scheme, he went to local rancher and recently deputized
constable, G. Riley Carter (Gober, 1994). Larn and Carter secured a warrant for Hayes arrest
and called upon Colonel G. P. Buell, commander of Ft. Griffin, and requested the help of the
military in their pursuit of the Hayes outfit. The assembled posse included Carter, Larn, John
Selman (noted outlaw who later killed John Wesley Hardin), a cattle inspector named Beard, and
seventeen black Buffalo Soldiers under the command of 2nd Lt. Edward P. Turner, Troop D, 10th
Cavalry. While in pursuit of the herd and Hayes’ outfit, Larn and his entourage met a young
cowboy, Drew Kirksey Taylor, who, unknowing of the men’s intentions, directed them to the
Hayes camp along the banks of Bush Knob Creek.
“With Taylor’s unwitting help, Larn and Turner were able to approach the Hayes camp
stealthily. They had their men dismount some distance away and, using the banks of Bush Knob
Creek as cover, follow the stream to the campsite” (DeArment, 2002: 45) Lt. Turner’s official
report to his superiors states that four men in the Hayes camp, noticing the stalking posse men,
“grabbed their weapons and opened fire. In the answering barrage, two were killed instantly and
the other two were shot down as they tried to escape” (DeArment, 2002: 45-46). The young
cowboy, Drew Taylor, said the posse men ambushed the camp, murdering Bill and John Hayes,
Bill Bush and George Snow. It was believed that Larn killed Bush first as he was considered the
most dangerous one (Holden, 1982: 133).
With his cold blooded deed accomplished at camp, Larn set out for the other four men and
arrested them. Larn’s men took possession of the herd and headed back to the Clear Fork. That
night in camp, the other four drovers were killed. According to Lt. Turner they were killed
trying to escape but few believed his story. Many claimed the men were murdered in cold blood
and presumably while asleep rather than during a fight. Their saddles were burned, “a good
indication that they were shot in the head while sleeping cowboy fashion, with their heads on the
saddles” (DeArment, 2002: 47).
Eight men were dead and the civilian and military authorities paid it no mind. John Larn turned
the story of a cold bloody massacre into a tale of heroism carried out for the benefit of the region.
After the herd was driven back in the vicinity of Ft. Griffin, the herd was held for inspection by
ranchers including Larn who claimed Hayes had stolen from them. No inquiry was ever
John Larn was later lynched by a vigilante mob in Shackleford County in 1878.
Clayton and Farmer, editors. Tracks Along the Clear Fork. McWhiney Foundation Press:
Abilene, Texas, 2000, p. 166.
DeArment, Robert K. Bravo of the Brazos John Larn of Ft. Griffin, Texas. University of
Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2002, pp. 40-49.*
Gober, Lonzo. Throckmorton Tribune: “Bush Knob Morning,” Thursday, September 8, 1994,
Holden, Frances M. Lambshead Before Interwoven. Texas A&M University Press: College
Station, Texas, 1982, pp. 132-133.
Hudson, Guy. Interview with descendent of early family of Bush Knob.