|John Tunstall from
John Henry Tunstall (March 6, 1853 Ė February 18, 1878)
was a New Mexican rancher and prominent figure in the Lincoln County War.
Born in Hackney, London, England. Tunstall emigrated to
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 1872 where he spent his time working
at Turner, Beeton & Tunstall, a store in which his father was a partner.
Tunstall left Canada for the United States in February 1876. He spent six
months investigating the possibility of becoming a sheep rancher in California,
but decided instead to try New Mexico, where land was cheaper and more
abundant for ranching. Soon after his arrival in Santa Fe he met a lawyer,
Alexander McSween, who persuaded him that there were potentially big profits
to be made in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Tunstall bought a ranch on the
Rio Feliz, some 30 miles (48 km) nearly due south of the town of Lincoln,
and went into business as a cattleman. In the town he also set up a mercantile
store and bank that was just down the road from the Murphy & Dolan
mercantile and banking operation established a few years earlier by James
Dolan, Lawrence Murphy and John H. Riley. The Murphy-Dolan store was known
colloquially as "The House." Tunstall and McSween were supported by John
Chisum, the owner of a large ranch and over 100,000 head of cattle.
Murphy and Jimmy Dolan ran the town and surrounding county
of Lincoln by money and pistol as though the area was their fiefdom. Any
business transaction of consequence in the county passed through them.
They controlled the court. The Sheriff of Lincoln, William J. Brady, was
their sheriff. Hardly anyone at the time who was not in the direct pay
of Murphy and Dolan spoke well of them. Writing about the two gangster
storekeepers, one Lincoln resident stated, "They intimidated, oppressed,
and crushed people who were obliged to deal with them." Tunstall was eager
to make money in Lincoln County, too, but when he set up his store in Lincoln
town and offered at least decent prices and reasonable dealings, the locals
flocked to do business with him and to get out from under Murphy and Dolan.
Tunstallís mercantile decisions didnít just pit him against
two local, lethal Irishmen. It put him in conflict with the ownership of
the entire political, economic, and judicial structure that ruled New Mexico
Territory. This corrupt group of men was known as the Santa Fe Ring.
Ring members included Thomas Catron (1840-1921), the boss,
who was the attorney general of New Mexico. Catron owned 3,000,000 acres
(12,000 km2) of land, one of the largest land holders everóalong with Ted
Turneróin the history of the United States. Catron numbered among his colleagues
the following men. William Rynerson, a district attorney, who had assassinated
John P. Slough, the Chief Justice of New Mexico, and gotten away with it.
Samuel Beach Axtell, the Territorial governor, who was fired by Rutherford
B. Hayes, the U.S. President, for corruption. Warren Bristol, a territorial
judge, who lied on the record to protect Catron. Catronís commercial dealings
included holding the mortgage on "The House." So when the residents of
Lincoln switched their business to Tunstallís store, and Murphy-Dolan began
a slide into bankruptcy, this put pressure on Catronís bottom line.
Alarmed and enraged by Tunstall's plans, Murphy &
Dolan attempted to put him out of business, harassing him legally and,
when that did not work, trying to goad Tunstall into a gunfight, using
hired gunmen, most of whom were members of the Jesse Evans Gang, aka "The
Boys." Tunstall recruited half a dozen local small ranchers and cowboys,
who had the usual reasons to dislike Murphy and Dolan. These men worked
his ranch and protected him while he tried to settle his mercantile conflict
with Murphy and Dolan. One of Tunstall's employees was the 18-year-old
William Bonney (aka Henry McCarty, and William Henry Antrim, 1859 [?]-
1881), who would later be dubbed by the newspapers as Billy the Kid.
On 18 February 1878, Tunstall and several of his ranch
hands, including William Bonney, were driving nine horses from Tunstall's
ranch on the Rio Feliz to Lincoln. A posse deputized by Lincoln Sheriff
William Brady went to Tunstall's ranch on the Feliz to attach his cattle
on a warrant that had been issued against Tunstall's business partner,
McSween. Finding Tunstall, his hands, and the horses gone, a sub-posse
broke from the main posse and went in pursuit, although the horses were
not part of any legal action. One of the sub-posse deputies, William "Billy"
Morton is recorded as having said, "Hurry up boys, my knife is sharp and
I feel like scalping someone." Two of the other sub-posse deputies, Evans
and Tom Hill, had recently broken out of jail.
Four of the sub-posse members, Evans, Hill, Morton (and
probably Frank Baker) rode ahead after Tunstall. Baker's horse apparently
flagged from the hard ride and he fell back. Evans, Morton, and Hill, all
members of Evans's gang, and who also worked for Jimmy Dolan, caught Tunstall
and his men a few miles from Lincoln in a hilly area covered with scrub
timber. Tunstall, the nine horses, and his hands were spread out along
the narrow trail when Evans and the other two caught up with them. Bonney,
who was riding drag, alerted the others. The deputies began firing without
warning. Tunstall's hands galloped off through the brush to a hilltop overlooking
the trail. Inexplicably, Tunstall stayed with his horses, then rode way
from the animals, but was pursued by the three deputies until they caught
up with him.
Precisely what happened next remains uncertain because
only the three deputies survived the confrontation with Tunstall. Most
historians tend to agree that Tunstall likely surrendered. What the pathological
evidence proves is that one of the posse members, probably Morton, shot
Tunstall through the breast with a rifle. Another, probably Hill, dismounted
and administered a coup de grace, shooting the Englishmen through the back
of the head (the revolver bullet exited above Tunstall's left eye). After
they had murdered Tunstall in cold blood, the posse faked the crime scene.
One of the slayers removed the victimís holstered pistol and discharged
it into the air. He then arranged the gun near Tunstallís body. An illusion
was thereby created that Tunstall had tried to resist arrest by firing
at the posse; thus giving the deputies a rationale to return fire and commit
justifiable homicide. This scrap of counterfeit was a common gambit in
the Wild West. No one of the Tunstall group believed the "resisting arrest"
account, and a third party, who was not present at the murder but heard
it from another posse member, testified to this account of summary murder.
One historian, Robert Utley, casts the event in a slightly
more problematic light, saying that Tunstall may have tried to defend himself
with his pistol because he was aggressively cornered by Morton, Hill, and
Evans. Another historian, Joel Jacobsen, points out that Tunstall died
some hundred yards from his horses, so if it was the horses the posse wanted,
why did they pursue the Englishmen, except to kill him. Other evidence
and testimony also damaged the official story given by the three deputies
and embraced by the Murphy-Dolan faction.
No matter the exact circumstances under which Tunstall
was killed, his murder ignited the Lincoln County War. Bonney was especially
affected by this wanton killing because Tunstall had treated him well.
Bonney is alleged to have stated that Tunstall "was the only man that ever
treated me like I was a free-born and white", and also swore, "I'll get
every son-of-a-bitch who helped kill John if it's the last thing I do."
Knowing that Brady and his deputies would hardly arrest
themselves for Tunstall's murder, Bonney, Richard Brewer, Doc Scurlock,
Charlie Bowdre, George Coe, Frank Coe, Jim French, Frank McNab and other
employees and friends of Tunstall's went to the Lincoln Justice of the
Peace, "Squire" John Wilson. He proved sympathetic to their cause and swore
them all in as special constables to bring in Tunstall's killers. It is
important to keep in mind when reviewing the events of the war that this
posse was legal and that Richard "Dick" Brewer, a well-respected ranch
owner who had been Tunstall's foreman, was its leader, not Bonney. These
newly minted peace officers, calling themselves Regulators, went after
Evans, Morton, Hill, and Baker and the others implicated in Tunstall's
death. There were now, in effect, two legally deputized posses in Lincoln
at war with each other.
The Regulators tracked down and captured Morton and Baker
on March 6. The two men met violent ends before the Regulators delivered
them to the Lincoln jail. The Regulators' story was that Morton and Baker
had tried to escape and were killed during their flight on March 9. This
is possible. It is also possible that the posse realized that to turn the
men over to Sheriff Brady in Lincoln would result in their immediate release,
so they gave the two men a chance to run for it, however small that chance
might have been. Regulator William McCloskey, who was a friend of Morton's,
apparently tried to convince the other Regulators not to kill him. Brewer
and Bonney and the others may also have believed McCloskey to have been
spying for the Murphy-Dolan faction. In any event, McCloskey, too, was
killed along with Morton and Baker. The Regulators claimed that Morton
shot McCloskey during the escape attempt. There is no way to be certain
about these events, although historians tend to favour a narrative in which
the three deaths were a sort of practical execution by the Regulators.
Several other killings, committed by both the Regulators
and the gunmen hired by Murphy-Dolan, followed those of Morton, Baker,
and McCloskey. On April Fool's Day, 1878, William Brady, the sheriff of
Lincoln who had deputized the posse that killed Tunstall, was ambushed
and shot down in the middle of the Lincoln road along with his deputy,
George Hindemann. Half a dozen Regulators, including Bonney, Jim French,
and Frank McNab committed these reprisal slayings. It is notable that Dick
Brewer was not present at this ambush. The Regulators also killed Buckshot
Robertsówho had been a member of the larger Brady posse that killed Tunstallóat
Blazer's Mills, southwest of Lincoln in what is now the Mescalero Apache
Reservation. Richard Brewer, too, was killed in this famous Wild West shootout.
Brewer's death was unfortunate because his passing removed some restraint
on The Regulators' actions.
The war essentially ended in the July 15 through July
19, 1878 Battle of Lincoln. Known as "The Five-Day Battle," this conflict
resulted in the defeat of the Regulators' forces when the U.S. Army stationed
at nearby Fort Stanton, under the inept command of the alcoholic Colonel
Nathan Dudley, intervened in the fight despite a new Congressional law
forbidding the army to interfere in civilian matters. Dudley was partial
to the Murphy-Dolan faction in the war, so he brought his troops to town
during the battle and threatened the Regulators while the Dolanites strutted
Lincoln's street with impunity. Dudley was later subject to a Court of
Inquiry for his transgression. His actions were whitewashed by his fellow
After their loss to the Dolan forces in the Five-Day Battle,
the Regulators and the people who had fought with them got of town in a
hurry. Bonney could have gone to California, Oregon, or Canada, changed
his name, and disappeared into history. Instead, he remained in New Mexico
despite the fact that he had an outstanding indictment against him for
his involvement in the reprisal killing of Sheriff Brady. He did have the
good sense to make himself scarce by moving to Fort Sumner, New Mexico
way up on the border of the Texas Panhandle near the Pecos River, a place
so remote and difficult to reach at the time that it became a haven for
desperadoes of all sorts who had good reason to be absent from genteel
communes. Bonney managed to stay alive until July 14, 1881, when he was
shot and killed at Fort Sumner by Pat Garrett, a man with whom he had once
gambled regularly but who had subsequently become the new Sheriff of Lincoln
with a mandate to get rid of Billy and his friends.
Despite the many deaths and outrages perpetrated by the
Dolan faction, and others by the Tunstall-McSween faction, Bonney was the
only person ever tried and sentenced for a crime committed during the Lincoln
John Tunstall lived in Lincoln for about a year-and-a-half
before Morton, Hill, and Evans killed him. During his time in New Mexico,
he was a regular and voluminous correspondent to his family back home in
London. Frederick Nolan collected these letters into The Life and Death
of John Henry Tunstall, a bedrock work in the historiography of the Lincoln
County War. Tunstall's letters reflect his ambition, biases, and youthful
arrogance and high-spiritedness. They are also an invaluable record of
the economic, cultural, social, and political realities of the time and
Tunstall's gun is located at the Royal Armouries Museum
in Leeds, UK (website www.royalarmouries.org). Tunstall, who was blind
in one eye, owned a horse of which he spoke very highly. This horse was
Tunstall was portrayed in the 1988 film Young Guns by
English actor Terence Stamp, in the 1970 film Chisum by veteran English
actor Patric Knowles and in the 1958 film The Left Handed Gun by English
actor Colin Keith-Johnston. Intriguingly, Stamp was 50, Knowles 58, and
Keith-Johnston 62 years old when cast as Tunstall, who was only 24 at the
time of his death.
|Lawrence Murphy from Wikipedia
What would become known as the Murphy-Dolan
faction charged local farmers and ranchers high prices for their goods,
making them hated among much of the local population. To counter them,
rancher John Tunstall and former Murphy-Dolan employee Alexander McSween
opened a rival business in 1876, called "J. H. Tunstall & Co". The
Tunstall-McSween faction had the support of powerful rancher John Chisum,
and the business enraged James Dolan. With Murphy's support, Dolan hired
gunmen to try and goad Tunstall into a fight, employing the Seven Rivers
Warriors, Jessie Evans Gang, and the John Kinney Gang.
|Lawrence Murphy (1831 - October
20, 1878) was an Irish-American businessman of the Old West, and a main
instigator of the Lincoln County War.
Murphy was born in Wexford, Ireland,
and as an adult moved to the United States, soon after serving in the US
Army starting in 1851 through 1855, re-enlisting in 1856. Discharged in
1861, he ventured to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and enlisted in the Union Army,
serving the duration of the Civil War. Seeing little to no combat during
the war, he mustered out at Fort Stanton in 1866, soon after going into
business with Emil Fritz. The partners immediately began receiving military
contracts due to Murphy's connections, to supply beef, vegetables and other
supplies to the Apache Reservation. They then became involved in land schemes
of selling land they didn't actually own to aspiring farmers.
Murphy eventually moved to Lincoln
County, New Mexico, and in 1869 he started "L. G. Murphy & Co." By
1873 he had hired James Dolan, who by 1874 had become a business partner
in a profitable mercantile and banking operation. The business saw success
mainly due to there being no competition. Murphy also became influential
within law enforcement circles, controlling the local sheriff, William
Lincoln County War
The gangs began rustling Tunstall's
herds, or dispersing them, prompting Tunstall to employ several gunmen
of his own, to include Dick Brewer, Doc Scurlock, Billy the Kid, and Charlie
Bowdre. On February 18, 1878, while Tunstall was alone, he was shot and
killed by Jessie Evans, William Morton, Frank Baker and Tom Hill, likely
under the orders of James Dolan. This event sparked the Lincoln County
War, one of the best known range wars.
To counter Sheriff Brady's lack
of action on the murder, Alex McSween organized the Lincoln County Regulators,
having them legally deputized, and tasked with the apprehension of the
murderers. On March 6 the Regulators captured Morton and Baker, and on
March 9 the Regulators executed both men, in addition to fellow Regulator
William McCloskey, a suspected traitor. On April 1, 1878, the Regulators
killed Sheriff Brady and Deputy George W. Hindman, with several other killings
following that were committed by both the Regulators and the gunmen employed
by Murphy-Dolan. The range war culminated in the Battle of Lincoln on July
15 through July 19, 1878.
By that time, however, Lawrence
Murphy was in poor health, suffering from cancer. He was, by this time,
having little to do with the day to day activities of his businesses or
the gunmen under his employ. Although he would see the end of the range
war, he died on October 20th, 1878.