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Old West Lawman/Outlaw John Larn
John M. Larn was one of those Old West characters whose professions straddled both sides of the fence when it came to the law…but, mostly on the wrong side. During his short life span (1849–1878), he worked as a cowboy, rancher, sheriff and outlaw. Larn was born in Alabama. But during his later teen years he became restless and decided to move to Colorado in 1869 where he became a ranch hand.
It was then his criminal career began in earnest. He became embroiled in an argument with his employer over a horse. Instead of working the problem out sensibly, he shot and killed him. Larn felt it was in his best interest to be somewhere else. He had heard big things about Texas so he made tracks in that direction. But apparently, Larn was the type of man who just couldn’t avoid trouble. Along the way it’s said Larn killed two Mexicans a sheepherder and a sheriff around Santa Fe before ending up at Fort Griffin.
For a while Larn seemed to disappear. The next he was heard from again was in 1871 when he hired on as a foreman for Bill Hays' cattle drive headed for Trinidad, Colorado. Obviously he must have returned to Fort Griffin and became involved with some type of law enforcement because later, in 1873, he headed a posse from Fort Griffin. Armed with a warrant charging Bill Hays' entire crew with cattle rustling the posse ambushed and killed everybody in the outfit.
Fort Griffin and the surrounding area at the time, was in dire need of some type of law enforcement and citizens were demanding it. The military decided to step in and declare martial law. However, many felt even that wouldn’t solve the problem and certain civic minded people formed a vigilante committee which became known as the famed Tin Hat Brigade.
Justice was soon being meted out quickly and efficiently. It wasn’t uncommon to see a rustler or two strung up on a tree along roads leading out of town…a grim warning to others contemplating doing the same.
Larn decided to join up with the Tin Hat Brigade in 1874. He soon became a respected member of the vigilante group, a fact that undoubtedly helped him get elected as sheriff of Fort Griffin in April, 1876. It was an act the town would later regret.
Sheriff Larn's first order of business was to find a competent deputy. That man was John Henry Selman, best known as the man who shot and killed famed gunman John Wesley Hardin. Little did the town know, they had just hired their worst nightmare. Larn and Selman teamed up and moonlighted as cattle rustlers themselves in addition to terrorizing citizens by shooting at their homes in the dead of night.
Larn and Selman must have thought the paltry sum they were making as sheriffs wasn’t worth the effort and resigned in order to concentrate on their more profitable cattle rustling operation. However, after tendering their resignations in March 1877, the pair saw an opportunity to make even more profit by becoming Shackelford County deputy inspectors. The job consisted of inspecting cow hides, cattle herds and overseeing local butchers. In their newfound positions they were able to get a contract to supply the fort and neighboring Tonkawa Indians with beef.
The contract called for three cattle to be delivered to the fort daily. Shortly afterwards ranchers began noticing their herds were diminishing while Larn’s increased. Locals also began filing reports with the newly appointed sheriff, William Cruger, about a gang, believed to be led by Larn and Selman, were bushwhacking them and stealing their cattle. Larn was arrested but released due to lack of evidence. The cattle rustling continued and soon the town’s suspicions grew to the point a warrant was issued to search Larn’s property. A posse found six hides not belonging to him.
Sheriff Cruger arrested Larn on June 22, 1878 and he was taken to the Albany jail. Selman high tailed it to Lincoln County, New Mexico and later formed the notorious outlaw gang the Selman Scouts.
Cruger, being a cautious and conscientious man, suspected some of Larn’s friends might attempt to break him out. So Cruger chained his prisoner securely to his cell floor. As expected, the Tin Hat Brigade swarmed into the jail intending to hang their once respected member.
When they found they couldn't get the shackles off of Larn, thus preventing any lynching, they simply shot and killed him. Afterwards, his body was returned to his ranch and buried.