|Lincoln County War from
The Lincoln County War was a 19th
century range war between two factions in America's western frontier. The
"war" was notable for the large number of semi mythical figures from 19th
century America, including legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, county Sheriffs
William J. Brady and Pat Garrett, cattle rancher John Chisum, lawyer and
businessman Alexander McSween, and general store owner L.G. Murphy.
The conflict pitted two factions
against each other, over the control of dry goods trade in the county.
The older, established faction was led by Murphy and his business partner
James Dolan who had a dry goods monopoly run through Murphy's general store.
Young newcomers to the county, English-born John Tunstall and his business
partner Alexander McSween, with backing from established cattleman John
Chisum, opened a competing store in 1876. The two sides gathered lawmen,
businessmen, and criminal gangs to their sides. The Murphy-Dolan faction
were allied with the Lincoln County Sheriff, William J. Brady, and supported
by the Jessie Evans Gang. The Tunstall-McSween faction organized their
own posse of armed men, known as the Lincoln County Regulators, to defend
their position, and had their own lawman, town constable Dick Brewer.
The "war" was marked by back-and-forth
revenge killings, starting with the killing of Tunstall by members of the
Jessie Evans Gang. In revenge for this and other killings, Sheriff Brady
was killed by the Regulators. Further killings continued unabated for several
months, climaxing in the Battle of Lincoln, a four day gunfight and siege
which resulted in the death of McSween and the scattering of the Regulators.
It would finally be brought to an end when Pat Garrett was named County
Sheriff in 1880. Garrett would hunt down the remaining Regulators, including
Billy the Kid, whom historians agree was killed by Garrett in July, 1881.
The Lincoln County War begins
In November 1876, a wealthy Englishman
named John Tunstall arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico hoping to set
up a profitable cattle ranch, store, and bank in partnership with young
attorney Alexander McSween and cattleman John Chisum. However, he soon
discovered that Lincoln County was controlled both economically and politically
by Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, the proprietors of LG Murphy and Co.,
the only store in the county. LG Murphy and Co. was loaning thousands of
dollars to the Territorial Governor, and the Territorial Attorney General
would eventually hold the mortgage on the firm. Tunstall would also soon
learn that Murphy and Dolan, who bought much of their cattle from rustlers,
also had beef contracts from the United States government. These government
contracts and contacts, along with their monopoly on merchandise and financing
for farms and ranches, allowed Murphy, Dolan and their partner Riley to
run Lincoln County as their own personal fiefdom.
Murphy and Dolan chose not to give
up their monopoly lightly. In February 1878 in a sham court case that was
eventually dismissed, they obtained a court order to seize all of McSween's
assets but mistakenly included all of Tunstall's assets as McSween's. The
county sheriff, William J. Brady, formed a posse to attach Tunstall's remaining
assets at his ranch some 70 miles from Lincoln. Since very few local citizens
would join Brady's posse, the posse contained many members of a gang of
outlaws known as the Jessie Evans Gang. Murphy-Dolan also enlisted the
John Kinney Gang.
On February 18, 1878, members of
the Sheriff's posse caught up to Tunstall, who was herding his last 9 horses
back to Lincoln. It was later determined by Frank Warner Angel, a special
investigator for the Secretary of the Interior, that Tunstall was shot
in "cold blood" by Jesse Evans, William Morton, and Tom Hill. Tunstall's
murder was witnessed from a distance by several of his men, including Richard
Brewer and William Henry McCarty (Billy the Kid). Tunstall's murder is
considered the event that officially marked the beginning of the Lincoln
Tunstall's cowhands and other local
citizens formed a group known as the Regulators to avenge his murder since
the entire criminal justice system in the Territory was controlled by allies
of Murphy, Dolan & Co. While the Regulators at various times consisted
of dozens of American and Mexican cowboys, the main dozen or so members
were known as the "iron clad." They included William Henry McCarty (Billy
the Kid), Richard Brewer, Frank McNab, Doc Scurlock, Jim French, John Middleton,
George Coe and Frank Coe, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Charlie Bowdre, Tom O'Folliard,
Fred Waite, and Henry Brown.
The Regulators immediately set out
to apprehend the Sheriff's posse members who had murdered Tunstall. However
after the "Regulators" were deputized and along with Constable Martinez
attempted to serve the legally issued warrant on Tunstall's murderers,
Martinez and his deputies were illegally arrested, disarmed, and jailed
by Sheriff Brady. After being finally released from jail the Regulators
then went looking for Tunstall's murderers. They found Buck Morton, Dick
Lloyd, and Frank Baker near the Rio Peñasco. Morton surrendered
after a five mile (8 km) running gunfight on the condition that Morton
and his fellow deputy sheriff, Frank Baker (who, though he had no part
in the Tunstall slaying, had been captured with Morton) would be returned
alive to Lincoln. Although Regulator captain Richard Brewer admitted he
would have preferred to kill the men, he gave the two his assurance they
would be safely transported to Lincoln. However, other members of the Regulators
insisted on doing away with their prisoners. Their efforts were resisted,
however, by one of their own, William McCloskey, who was a friend of Morton.
On March 9, 1878, the third day
of the journey back to Lincoln, in the Capitan foothills along the Blackwater
Creek, McCloskey, Morton, and Baker were all killed. The Regulators claimed
that Morton had murdered McCloskey, then tried to escape with Baker, forcing
them to kill their two prisoners. Few believed the story, finding the idea
that Morton would have killed his only friend in the group implausible.
Additionally, the fact that the bodies of Morton and Baker each bore eleven
bullet holes, one for each Regulator, reaffirmed suspicions that they had
been deliberately murdered by their captors, and that McCloskey had lost
his life for opposing it. However, other evidence seems to directly contradict
Utley's assertion and says that there were ten bullets in Morton and five
in Baker. Coincidentally, on that same day Tunstall's other two killers,
Tom Hill and Jesse Evans, were also brought to justice while trying to
rob a sheep drover near Tularosa, New Mexico. In the gun battle that ensued
when they were discovered, Hill was killed and Evans severely wounded.
While Evans was in Fort Stanton for medical treatment, he was arrested
on an old federal warrant for stealing stock from an Indian reservation.
Killing of Sheriff Brady, Gunfight
of Blazer's Mill
Sheriff Brady requested assistance
from the Territorial Attorney General, Thomas Benton Catron, to put down
this "anarchy". Catron in turn passed the buck to Territorial Governor
Samuel B. Axtell, who issued a decree of flimsy legality. He decreed that
Justice of the Peace John Wilson had been illegally appointed by the Lincoln
County Commissioners. Wilson was also the legal authority who had deputized
the Regulators and issued the warrants for Tunstall's murderers. This decree
issued by Axtell, which indicated conclusively which side he was on, also
caused all of the Regulators prior legal actions to now be illegal.
On April 1, 1878 Regulators Jim
French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, Fred Waite, Henry Brown and William
Henry McCarty ambushed Sheriff William J. Brady and his deputies on the
main street of Lincoln. Brady died of at least a dozen gunshot wounds,
and Deputy George W. Hindman was also fatally wounded. Once the shooting
ended, William Henry McCarty and Jim French broke cover and dashed to Sheriff
Brady's body, possibly to get his arrest warrant for Alexander McSween
or to recover McCarty's rifle Brady had kept from a previous arrest. A
surviving deputy, Billy Matthews, wounded both men with a rifle bullet
that passed through each of them. French's wound was so severe that he
could not ride and had to be temporarily harbored by Sam Corbet in a crawlspace
in Corbet's house.
Just three days after the murders
of Brady and Hindman, the Regulators headed southwest from the immediate
area around Lincoln, ending up at Blazer's Mills, a sawmill and trading
post that supplied beef to the Mescalero Indians. Here, they blundered
into rancher Buckshot Roberts, whose name was on their arrest warrant as
one of Tunstall's murderers. In the ensuing gunfight, known as the Gunfight
of Blazer's Mills, Roberts was mortally wounded, but not before killing
Regulator captain Dick Brewer and wounding John Middleton, Doc Scurlock,
and George Coe, along with shooting Charlie Bowdre in the gunbelt, and
grazing William Henry McCarty, the bullet not even breaking the skin.
Killing of Frank McNab, Regulator
After Brewer's death, Frank McNab
was elected captain of the Regulators. On April 29, 1878, a posse including
the Jesse Evans Gang and the Seven Rivers Warriors, under the direction
of Sheriff Peppin, engaged Regulators Frank McNab, Ab Saunders, and Frank
Coe in a shootout at the Fritz Ranch. McNab was killed in a hail of gunfire,
with Saunders being badly wounded, and Frank Coe captured. On April 30,
1878, Seven Rivers members Tom Green, Charles Marshall, Jim Patterson and
John Galvin were killed in Lincoln, and although the Regulators were blamed,
that was never proven, and there were feuds going on inside the Seven Rivers
Warriors at that time. Frank Coe escaped custody some time after his capture,
although it is not clear exactly when, allegedly with the assistance of
Deputy Sheriff Wallace Olinger, who also gave him a pistol.
What is known about the morning
following McNab's death is that the Regulator "iron clad" took up defensive
positions in the town of Lincoln, trading shots with Dolan men as well
as U.S. cavalrymen. The only casualty was Dutch Charley Kruling, a Dolan
man wounded by a rifle slug fired by George Coe at a distance of 440 yards
(400 m). By shooting at government troops, the Regulators gained their
animosity and a whole new set of enemies. On May 15, the Regulators tracked
down and captured Seven Rivers gang member Manuel Segovia, who is believed
to have shot McNab. Segovia was shot while allegedly trying to escape.
Around the time of Segovia's death, the Regulator "iron clad" gained a
new member, a young Texas cowpoke named Tom O'Folliard, who would become
William Henry McCarty's best friend and constant sidekick.
The Battle of Lincoln
Into the summer, the large confrontation
between the two forces materialized on the afternoon of July 15, 1878,
when the Regulators were surrounded in Lincoln in two different positions;
the McSween house and the Ellis store. Facing them were the Dolan/Murphy/Seven
Rivers cowboys. In the Ellis store were Doc Scurlock, Charlie Bowdre, John
Middleton, Frank Coe, and several others. About twenty Mexican Regulators,
led by Josefita Chavez, were also positioned around town. In the McSween
house were Alex McSween and his wife Susan, William Henry McCarty, Henry
Brown, Jim French, Tom O'Folliard, Jose Chavez y Chavez, George Coe, and
a dozen Mexican cowboys.
Over the next three days, shots
and shouts were exchanged but nothing approached an all-out fight. One
fatality was one of the McSween defenders, Tom Cullens, killed by a stray
bullet. Another was Dolan cowboy Charlie Crawford, shot at a distance of
500 yards (460 m) by Doc Scurlock's father-in-law, Fernando Herrera. Around
this time, Henry Brown, George Coe, and Joe Smith slipped out of the McSween
house to the Tunstall store, where they chased two Dolan men into an outhouse
with rifle fire and forced them to dive into the bottom to escape.
The impasse remained until the arrival
of U.S. troops under the command of Colonel Nathan Dudley. When these troops
pointed cannons at the Ellis store and other positions, Doc Scurlock and
his men broke from their positions, as did Josefita Chavez's cowboys, leaving
those left in the McSween house to their fate.
On the afternoon of July 19, the
house was set afire. As the flames spread and night fell, Susan McSween
and the other woman and five children were granted safe passage out of
the house while the men inside continued to fight the fire. By 9 o'clock,
those left inside got set to break out the back door of the burning house.
Jim French went out first, followed by William Henry McCarty, Tom O'Folliard,
and Jose Chavez y Chavez. The Dolan men saw the running men and opened
fire, killing Carson Morris, McSween's law partner. Some troopers moved
into the back yard to take those left into custody when a close-order gunfight
erupted. Alex McSween was killed, as was Seven Rivers cowboy Bob Beckwith.
Francisco Zamora and Vicente Romero were killed as well, and Yginio Salazar
was shot in the back, while three other Mexican Regulators got away in
the confusion, to rendezvous with the iron clad members yards away.
Ultimately, the Lincoln County War
accomplished little other than to foster distrust and animosity in the
area and to make fugitives out of the surviving Regulators, most notably
William Henry McCarty. Gradually, his fellow gunmen scattered to their
various fates, and he was left with Charlie Bowdre, Tom O'Folliard, Dave
Rudabaugh, and a few other friends with whom he rustled cattle and committed
Eventually Pat Garrett and his posse
tracked down and killed Tom O'Folliard, Charlie Bowdre, and later William
Henry McCarty himself in July 1881. All three were buried in Fort Sumner,