The Lincoln County War    Jerome A. TrujilloProfessor Warren M.A., J.D.       History 517    November 16, 2010            ...
Introduction       The Lincoln County War was one of the most volatile conflicts in the history of theAmerican West and ha...
was a building in Lincoln that resembled its name sake and it was in this place that theyconducted their business. The Mur...
after Tunstall’s cattle and in the ensuing chase to confiscate them, John Tunstall was killed or assome would say, murdere...
hired by Murphy as one of his store clerks (47). Within a few short years Murphy sold hisbusiness to James Dolan who renam...
regulators, Dick Brewer took over the organization. After the killing of Tunstall, Dick Brewerwent to the local Justice of...
Wilson and revocation of all warrants and other processes that he may have awarded (223).Furthermore, the revocation of Wi...
Of all the tasks that the governor performed, the one that bears the most controversy was   finding an eye witness to the ...
Billy the Kid saga, Governor Bill Richardson is considering holding a hearing to determine if heshould pardon William Bonn...
Works CitedCoe, George W. Frontier Fighter: The Autobiography of George W. Coe. Chicago:      Lakeside Press, 1984.Fulton,...
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Origins Of Lincoln County War

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An overview of the conflict that created Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett

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Origins Of Lincoln County War

  1. 1. The Lincoln County War Jerome A. TrujilloProfessor Warren M.A., J.D. History 517 November 16, 2010 1
  2. 2. Introduction The Lincoln County War was one of the most volatile conflicts in the history of theAmerican West and has been the subject of much debate and entertainment. The War itself hasbeen the subject of fact and fiction since its conclusion, for as cinema became more prevalent,Hollywood got in on the action by producing many films on the subject that distorted the truth(Nolan 3). At its finale, The Lincoln County War did not have any true victors and in the end thetown of Lincoln faded in prominence. The intent of this paper is to look at the origins of theconflict as well as the roles that L.G. Murphy, James Dolan, Alexander McSween, John Tunstalland the Regulators played. In addition, this analysis will focus on the attitude of the territorialgovernment as well as impact on modern day New Mexico. For the sake of time and space, thispaper will not focus exclusively on William Bonney and Pat Garrett. Origins of the Lincoln County War The Lincoln County War is one of the most intriguing and tragic wars in the history ofAmerican West, for more than 15 participants were killed in the town of Lincoln alone (65). TheLincoln County War was brought about by two factions competing for the finite resources ofSoutheastern New Mexico such as cattle contracts, the mercantile business and banking. Prior tothe start of hostilities, the James Dolan and Lawrence Murphy faction controlled most of theinterests in Lincoln, NM; on the other hand, when John Tunstall came into town he alignedhimself with Alexander McSween and John Chisum and threatened the entrenched Murphy-Dolan faction’s hold on the county (www.wikipedia.org/Lincoln County War). By the mid 1870’s Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan had moved to Lincoln, NewMexico with the intent establishing a dry goods monopoly in the territory and controlling allcommerce in the area. The Murphy-Dolan faction ran their business out of the “house”, which 2
  3. 3. was a building in Lincoln that resembled its name sake and it was in this place that theyconducted their business. The Murphy-Dolan faction did many dishonest things such as stealingcattle from other ranches and in turn selling it to the U.S. Government (www.jcs-group.com/oldwest/war/lincoln.html 1). What is most troubling about the Murphy-Dolan factionis that they forced local farmers to sell their produce at marked down prices and if they did not,they would be run out of the county (Fulton 51). The expansion and growth of the west brought people from all walks of life to the regionseeking their fame and fortune. One such person was John Henry Tunstall and when he came toLincoln, New Mexico he brought with him a style of business that would upset the Murphy-Dolan faction. In the case of Tunstall that style of business was learned in the tough businessclimate of London; and because of that the Murphy Dolan bunch was taken by surprise. Inaddition, he found an ally in Alexander McSween and with him by his side, also established abank that gave local citizens choices and better rates for food and other items (Keleher 40). When John Tunstall allied himself with Alexander McSween, he upped the anti becauseMcSween had been angling for a share of the Murphy-Dolan monopoly. The tipping point in thewar may have centered on proceeds from a life insurance policy that McSween negotiated onbehalf of the Fritz family who were part of the original Murphy-Dolan faction. According toJames Dolan, McSween refused to release the negotiated insurance settlement to the Fritz familyuntil he could collect his fee. Through Dolan’s encouragement, the family of the deceasedpressed charges of embezzlement on McSween and as result the judge confiscated all of his andTunstall’s property. Sheriff William Brady went to Tunstall’s store and began confiscating allstore items and inventory (Utley 39). Tragedy struck when a group of Sheriff Brady’s men went 3
  4. 4. after Tunstall’s cattle and in the ensuing chase to confiscate them, John Tunstall was killed or assome would say, murdered (46). It can be said that the origins of the Lincoln County War were the result of monopolisticgreed on the part of both parties; however, it was the Murphy-Dolan faction that was relentless inthe suppression of any type of financial competition. It was this relentless and aggressive greedon the part of Murphy-Dolan that gave rise to the Lincoln County War. Characters That Brought War About The Lincoln County War was such a memorable affair because it involved some of themost interesting characters as well as spawned the legend of Billy the Kid. There were well over20 characters that played a role in this conflict; however, the characters that most influenced thewar will be the focus of this section. Men such as L.G. Murphy, James Dolan, John Tunstall,John Chisum and William Bonney and the Regulators will forever have a place in the history ofthe west. One of the most influential men in this story was Lawrence Murphy and by default a manby the name of Emil Fritz, for it was their partnership that created the business enterprise knownas Murphy and Co. Lawrence Murphy and Emil Fritz like many men of the era had served in theU.S. Army and both men ended up in New Mexico. Murphy served in a variety of capacities inthe 1st New Mexico Volunteers until his separation in 1866 (Fulton 46). Murphy’s partnershipwith Emil Fritz did not last too long for Emil passed away from tuberculosis while visitingfamily in his home of Stuttgart, Germany (Fulton 47). After the death of Emil Fritz, James Dolan took a leadership role within the organization.Just like Murphy, James Dolan was also an Irish immigrant who served in the Army prior tocoming to Lincoln, New Mexico. Dolan had become a skillful negotiator and as a result was 4
  5. 5. hired by Murphy as one of his store clerks (47). Within a few short years Murphy sold hisbusiness to James Dolan who renamed the company J.J. Dolan and Co (48). As time went onboth men consolidated their hold on Lincoln running everything from cattle to banks to Indianaffairs; they even likened themselves to a mini version of the Santa Fe Ring run by GovernorAxtell (Fulton 52-53). The story of John Tunstall is one of the most interesting stories in the tragic war, for hecame to the region from London looking to make money and a name for himself. Unlike theMurphy-Dolan faction that learned that the only way to make money was to take it using anymeans, Tunstall believed in harsh business tactics where the best business man won and thecourts could be called in to settle disputes (56). What Tunstall failed to understand is that theMurphy-Dolan faction was not going to simply allow him to run them out of business; on theother hand, they would push back relentlessly to keep their stake in Lincoln intact. The man whom by far had one of the greatest impacts on the Lincoln County War wasAlexander McSween. Alexander was such a good lawyer that he came to the attention of CattleBarron John Chisum. McSween was a tough man and wanted to bring law and order to the townof Lincoln and he worked very hard to do that (55). In addition, McSween was good at makingenemies and had no problem taking on the Murphy clan even going to the extent of hagglingover the price of legal fees (56). It was McSween that advised Tunstall to open up a store anduse some of his family’s finances to set up a well stocked establishment that could compete withMurphy and Dolan. McSween managed to become one of Tunstall’s partners and handle all ofhis legal matters (63). The Regulators who were originally run by Alexander McSween acted as theenforcement arm of the Tunstall-McSween faction. After McSween released the reigns of the 5
  6. 6. regulators, Dick Brewer took over the organization. After the killing of Tunstall, Dick Brewerwent to the local Justice of the Peace and was deputized for the purpose of tracking down thekillers (Utley 54). The thing to keep in mind when discussing the regulators is that hey were notvigilantes, because there was not an absence of law. On the other hand, they were attempting towrest control of the law from the Murphy-Dolan faction (55). The most notable regulator wasJim French, George Coe and none other than William Bonney (Coe lvii). All of these larger than life characters left an indelible imprint on the state. Furthermore,the fact that these individuals were able to exasperate the problem and be under the protection ofthe law was not helpful. In addition, the actions of the Territorial government may have helpedset the climate for the terrible events to come. Attitude of Territorial Government during Lincoln County War As the Lincoln County War got underway the Territorial government struggled to findways to quell the violence and bring order to the region. For the longest time, the Territorialgovernment allowed outlaws to ride through Southeastern New Mexico with impunity and stealcattle and murder local citizens. For the duration of the War both Governors Axtell and Wallaceboth struggled with understanding the ramifications of the conflict and its affect on the state(Nolan 151). During the opening stages of the war Governor Samuel Axtell decided to get a first handview of the war by visiting Lincoln. The Governor’s visit was a good thing; however, theproblem was that the Governor spent only three hours in the town prior to leaving and all of histime was spent in the company of Murphy and Dolan. In addition, during his visit he did notmeet or attempt to confer with any members of the McSween faction (223). During the visit healso completed several acts that were questionable, such as the removal of Justice of the Peace 6
  7. 7. Wilson and revocation of all warrants and other processes that he may have awarded (223).Furthermore, the revocation of Wilson’s warrants made unlawful the killings conducted by theRegulators and turned them into outlaws (225). To compound the issues of an inadequate territorial response, the Territory’s mediaoutlets did not help the situation. The New Mexican newspaper took on a pro Governor Axtelltinge in describing the events in Lincoln and managed to paint the anti Murphy-Dolan forces ascriminals. In addition, the papers did not perform their due diligence and ask the toughquestions to determine the extent of the conditions in Lincoln (226). By the time that Axtell’s successor, Lew Wallace, took over the territorial governorship,things were out of hand, for many settlers were leaving the area, including the post offices inSeven Rivers and Roswell, New Mexico (379). In order to bring law back to the area, GovernorWallace relived the military commander of the area, Lieutenant Colonel Dudley. In turn heplaced a Captain Carrol in charge of the battalion and the town of Lincoln. On the cover thisappeared to be a good move, but in hindsight, by focusing on the removal of Dudley as theCommander, Governor Wallace placed blame on the military and exonerated the Murphy-Dolanfaction (381). In addition, Governor Wallace attempted to gain control of the situation byaccomplishing the following tasks: 1. The governor had his staff draw up a list of charges of all men who committed murder during the war (381); 2. The governor then went after all individuals guilty of cattle rustling; 3. And found a witness to the killing of a Mr. Huston Chapman who was a member of the Tunstall-McSween faction. 7
  8. 8. Of all the tasks that the governor performed, the one that bears the most controversy was finding an eye witness to the murder of Huston Chapman. That witness turned out to be none other than William Bonney (aka Billy the Kid) and it was controversial because Governor Wallace allegedly offered amnesty to him in return for his sworn statement. In the end, William Bonney was not offered Amnesty and Governor Wallace left New Mexico and was appointed to the Ambassadorship of Turkey. By not standing by his word, the Governor may have placed William Bonney in the predicament of continuing his run as an outlaw (414). In the end it was Sherriff Patrick Garrett of Lincoln County who hunted down and ended William’s life (http://www.nytimes.com) Lincoln County War and Modern Day New Mexico At the end of the Lincoln County War there were not any real victors for by the end ofthe carnage many of the iconic individuals lay dead and Southeast New Mexico saw itspopulation decrease (Nolan 441). Prior to the start of the War, the population of Lincoln wasapproximately 450 people. By 1888, the population had grown to over 800 people and was aranching center; however, by the early 1900s all of that changed when the rail road moved toCarrizozo, New Mexico; as a result, the population declined to its current number of 75(http://www.legendsofamerica.com). In addition, what most people remember about the Lincoln County War is the legend ofWilliam Bonney or Billy the Kid. His persona of a western Robin Hood taking on the rich andhelping the poor has continued to this day. The legend is very much alive and it was only severalyears ago that the Sheriffs of Lincoln and DeBaca County attempted to exhume the body ofWilliam Bonney to determine if he really was dead (Gardner 255). To add excitement to the 8
  9. 9. Billy the Kid saga, Governor Bill Richardson is considering holding a hearing to determine if heshould pardon William Bonney for all of his crimes (http://www.abqjournal.com/abqnews). Conclusion The Lincoln County War had a minor impact on the territorial history of New Mexico. Inaddition, at the conclusion of the conflict there were not any true winners or losers and as a resultthe population of Lincoln decreased as more business moved to Carrizozo and the town becamea historical landmark. In hindsight, the war was fought for a variety of reasons both legitimateand illegitimate and in terms of long term ramifications the state recovered and the story wasimmortalized (Wallis 250). 9
  10. 10. Works CitedCoe, George W. Frontier Fighter: The Autobiography of George W. Coe. Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1984.Fulton, Maurice G. History of the Lincoln County War. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1968.Gardner, Mark Lee. To Hell on a Fast Horse: Bill the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West. New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 2009.Keleher, William A. Violence in Lincoln County: 1869-1881. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1957.Nolan, Frederick. The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.Utley, Robert M. Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.Wallis, Michael. Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.Lincoln County War. 11 November 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_County_War>The Spell of the West: Lincoln County War. 07 November 2010 <http://www.jcs-group.com/oldwest/war/lincoln.html>New Mexico Legends: New Mexico’s Lincoln County War. 07 November 2010 <http://legendsofamerica.com/nm-lincolncountywar.html>Slides, Hampton. “Not-So-Charming Billy.” New York Times on the Web 06 September 2010. 15 November 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/opinion/07Sides.html?_r=2>“NM Author Chides Gov over Possible “Billy” Pardon.” Online posting. 07 September 2010. 15 November 2010 <http://www.abqjournal.com/abqnews/abqnewseeker-maimenu-39/23752-955am-nm- author-blasts-gov-over-possible-billy-pardon.html#disqus_thread> 10

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