Wild West Wednesday: John Beal Sneed, an Epilogue

BecauseThisIsTexasIf you missed the four-part series entitled Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday: Boyce-Sneed Feud (Because This Is Texas), you might want to read it first (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).  The story was so interesting and multi-faceted that a one-time article just wasn’t enough to cover a feud that was covered extensively in 1911-1913 in United States newspapers and even in far-flung outposts, such as Otautau, New Zealand.  In concluding the series, I wrote that John Beal Sneed lived to be eighty-two years old but he didn’t necessarily go quietly, at least in the decade or so following the murder trials.

One would think that John Sneed might just settle down with his family and live quietly the rest of his life, after being given his life back not once, but twice – he committed two murders and was twice acquitted.  For whatever reason, perhaps it was because he felt emboldened after being acquitted, he was involved in another “mini-feud” ten years after the last verdict.

After the acquittals, the Sneed family moved to Paducah, Texas where they owned ranch land and a cotton farm.  John Sneed delved into land speculation and ran afoul of the law.  In October 1922 a federal court found him guilty of bribing a juror in a trial involving one of his land deals, and he had also violated Prohibition laws for “illicit possession of intoxicating liquor”.

SneedBriberyChargeHe was sentenced to two years in prison for the bribery charges, although the El Paso Herald thought it incredulous that a man who had gotten away with murder couldn’t get away with something that had “been more or less approved in various parts of ‘cow country’.”  His attorneys announced their intention to appeal and Sneed was released on bond pending the higher court’s decision.

Less than a month later on November 10, 1922, John Sneed’s son-in-law Wood Barton was mortally wounded around 3:30 p.m. as the result of an argument.  Barton later died and the person responsible was C.B. Berry, who immediately turned himself in to the sheriff.  One source said that Berry was a grocer who was owed $28 by Barton, but I also found a reference to a dispute over a cotton crop.

Although one source indicated that his son-in-law was shot while John was incarcerated, he was still waiting for the appeals process to play out.  Nevertheless, John Sneed was obviously bent on revenge.  At 12:00 a.m. on March 7, 1923, Sneed shot C.B. Berry as he was walking down one of the main streets in Paducah.

SneedShootsBerrySneed was indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempted murder and his trial was set for April 30.  The Waco News-Tribune reported on April 18, 1923, quoting a Texas Ranger:

The prosecuting attorney, said Burton [the Texas Ranger], was a marked man in the case, which was being heard on a change of venue, and armed men were excluded from the courtroom during the progress of the year.

It was reported that day was “full of excitement”.  Relatives of the man in the prisoner’s dock (presumably Sneed) were found to be carrying brand new pistols, “and developments disclosed that the prosecuting attorney was marked whenever he took the floor to deliver his speech to the jury.”  The article also reported that part of Sneed’s defense was that he had no intention of killing Berry, but he was “merely seeking to prevent his opponent from taking his own life.”  Sneed had shot Berry in his right arm, right thigh and shot away both handles of Berry’s pistol.

Sneed’s trial for attempted murder had been delayed, as had C.B. Berry’s trial for the murder of Wood Barton.  On July 2, 1923, C.B. Berry, hidden in a small building near the First National Bank, opened fire on Sneed just as he was stepping out of his automobile.  One account reported that Berry’s first shots missed and Sneed thought he might have a tire blowout so he stepped out to check the tires.  Upon his alightment from the car, Berry continued firing from an automatic shotgun loaded with buckshot.  According to the Taylor Daily Press:

The shot took effect in Sneed’s body in 15 or 20 paces…. from the head to the knees.  Sneed was rushed to a sanitarium at Quanah, where he is said to be in serious condition, although not critical.

It was reported on July 10 that John Sneed would in fact recover from his wounds and be released soon.  That same day Berry’s defense team for the murder of Wood Barton began presenting their case.  Lena Sneed and her daughter, Wood Barton’s widow, were present that day.  Two days later, after just 25 minutes of deliberation and one ballot, the jury acquitted Berry of the murder of Wood Barton.

On July 19, The Cameron Herald provided more details of the acquittal and trial proceedings:

Few murder cases in Texas ever have been tried with the celerity as was this.  Selection of the jury, taking the evidence and arguments requiring only three days, with the exception of the closing speech, which was made this morning.  Another unusual feature of the trial was the lack of demonstrations.  The cost of the trial will not exceed $1,500.

The article continued with more details of the events leading up to the original dispute resulting in Barton’s murder:

The feud started in 1922 when Berry employed Mexican laborers in his cotton field loaned him by Sneed.  Barton claimed that Berry owed him $30 for the work and sought to collect it on various occasions.  Berry denied that he owed the money.

Witnesses testified that Barton had beaten up several persons around Paducah, that once he had knocked a Baptist preacher down with a pistol over an alleged debt of $150; that he had attacked a juror who had voted to convict him in a robbery case, and that he had beaten another man and bitten off a part of his ear.

Throughout his case, Berry maintained that he acted in self defense as he and other witnesses claimed that Barton had threatened to kill him.

John Sneed’s trial for attempted murder was repeatedly set back, but a change of venue was granted and the trial would be held in Benjamin.  Berry’s trial for attempted murder of Sneed had not yet been set, but Berry had posted bond and was free.  Late in 1922, the Sneeds had sold their ranch land in Paducah and moved to Dallas where they would remain for the rest of their lives.

Sheriffs guarded the entrance to the courthouse when John Sneed went on trial in February of 1924.  The jury was seated quickly and the trial was expected to be brief and indeed it was.  The trial began on February 25 and by the 27th, John Sneed had been acquitted yet again – the jury deliberated twenty-five minutes before delivering the verdict.  A demonstration ensued in the courtroom but was quickly subdued.

Immediately after Sneed’s case was concluded, Berry’s trial began.  On February 29, Berry testified in his own defense, admitting “Yes, I shot John Sneed”.  Again, Berry claimed self defense since he himself had been shot in the back by Sneed in March of the previous year:


Berry testified that he had tried to avoid contact with Sneed after being shot by him, but when they met in July he said Sneed reached for his gun and Berry said that he beat him to it and shot him twice with a shotgun.  Despite his candid admissions that he did indeed shoot John Sneed, C.B. Berry was also acquitted.

John Sneed had been free on bond pending appeals for his federal conviction of jury tampering and bribery.  In August of 1924 those appeals were exhausted and Sneed was finally sent to prison.  In May of 1925, he was paroled after serving nine months of his two year sentence.  On July 7, 1931, John Sneed formed Beal Sneed & Company, later becoming extremely successful and wealthy as an independent oil man in the oil fields of East Texas.

Perhaps the nine months John Sneed spent in prison tempered his volatile personality – I found no more sensational headlines.  John and Lena lived in a luxurious North Dallas home until their deaths.  John died in 1960 from cancer and Lena died of a heart attack in 1966.  By the time John Beal Sneed died, he was merely noted in one paper as a retired oil man and rancher.

JohnSneedObitAfter the events that made them internationally famous following Lena’s elopement with her lover Albert Boyce, Jr., they were buried side by side in Hillcrest Cemetery in Dallas.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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