The Lincoln County War, John Chisum, John Tunstall, Alexander McSween, Murphy Dolan Mercantile, Deputies James Bell and Robert Ollinger, Pat Garrett and some fellow named William McCarty...aka William H Bonney...aka...Billy the Kid.
If you are a fan of westerns or western history these are names you will recognize. I wrote about Billy the Kid and his death last year when I visited Billy the Kids grave in Ft Sumner, NM.
While I was in Capitan, NM checking out Smokey Bears grave, the lady at the gift shop mentioned to me that the town of Lincoln, NM was not far away.
I remembered right off how this was once called "the most violent town in New Mexico" back in the late 18oo's.
Lincoln, NM today is a quiet rural town. However; in 1877 it was the sight of the Lincoln County War. A war between wealthy ranchers, led by John Chisum and the wealthy proprietors of the Murphy-Dolan Store.
In the late 1870s, a wealthy Englishman named John Tunstall arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico hoping to set up a profitable cattle ranch. However, he soon discovered that Lincoln County was controlled both economically and politically by Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, the proprietors of Murphy & Dolan Mercantile and Banking, the only store in the county.
Tunstall would also soon learn that Murphy and Dolan, who owned large cattle ranches themselves, had obtained incredibly lucrative beef contracts from the United States Army, essentially holding a monopoly on the county's beef trade. But Tunstall found others in Lincoln County who shared a dislike for Murphy and Dolan and others within in their circle, which was known as "the House."
Backed by another wealthy rancher, John Chisum, Tunstall and Alexander McSween, a lawyer, opened a rival general store, H.H. Tunstall and Company, in an attempt to break Murphy and Dolan's hold on Lincoln County.
But Murphy and Dolan chose not to give up their monopoly lightly. In February of 1878 they obtained a court order to seize some of Tunstall's horses as payment for a supposedly outstanding debt. When Tunstall refused to turn over the horses, the county sheriff, William Brady formed a posse. The posse contained many members of a gang of outlaws known as the Jessie Evans Gang, including a youthful Billy the Kid, as well as outlaw William Bresnahan, better known as Curly Bill Brocious, who would become infamous as the nemesis of lawman Wyatt Earp.
On February 18, 1878, members of the Dolan posse cornered Tunstall in rural Lincoln County. When the rancher challenged the deputies, he was shot dead by Jessie Evans, William Morton, Frank Baker and Tom Hill. Tunstall's murder was witnessed from a distance by several of his men, including Billy the Kid.
Tunstall's murder is considered the event that officially marked the beginning of the Lincoln County War.
Loving the Old West as I do, I had to go to Lincoln and walk the same streets as Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett.
It was in Lincoln where after being captured by Pat Garrett the first time, Billy the Kid shot two deputies at the Lincoln County Courthouse and escaped. The courthouse is still standing today as is the Worthington Hotel and the Torreon where Murphy's sharpshooters held out against the calvary, even the Murphy Dolan Store preserved!! I LOVE THIS SH*T!!
To be able to walk the streets of history!! [K-Mo I'm even more jealous you went to Tombstone -- you lucky bugger!!]
If you ever find yourself along NM 380 stop by for a visit with history.
In front of the Murphy Dolan Mercantile Store
This is the Torreon where Murphy's sharpshooters held off the US Calvery when they were called in to intervene in the Lincoln County War.
The Lincoln County Courthouse still stands to day.
It is here that Billy the Kid was held by Pat Garrett. When Pat Garrett left Billy with two deputies, Billy asked to go to the outhouse. Although under guard by Deputy Bell, Billy found a gun left by one of his gang in the outhouse.
This is how the events unfolded in the movie, PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID:
In actuality there is no window at the base of the stairs. Deputy Bell was shot on the stairs, leaving a big bullet hole in the wall. The window is a bit of dramatic license. Here is video of the actual place:
The interior of the courthouse.
In 2007 it had been suggested that Billy's grave be exhumed to reveal if in fact Billy was buried in Ft Sumner.
Governor Bill Richardson said no.
The tourist dollar is mightier then the truth.