A story about America’s most corrupt state.
Between 1845 and 1850, a devastating fungus destroyed Ireland’s potato crop. During these years, over a million Irishmen died from starvation and related diseases; twice that number immigrated to other lands, around 500,000 went to the United States where they accounted for half of all immigrants in the 1840s. Although the potato blight receded in 1850, the effects of the famine continued to spur Irish immigration to the United States well into the twentieth century. Between 1850 and 1855, another 250,000 Irish entered the United States where many re-united with their families.
One of these immigrants was Lawrence Gustav Murphy, born sometime in 1831. Like many single male immigrants, Murphy struggled to find worthwhile employment which led him to enlist in the U. S. Army in 1851 where he remained for ten years. After his discharge in 1861, Murphy journeyed to Santa Fe, New Mexico. When the Civil War broke out, he reenlisted in the Union Army and served for the duration of the war, mustering out in 1866 at Fort Stanton.
After Murphy’s discharge, he joined the Grand Army of the Republic [Note 1]. A “networking” opportunity, Murphy established and maintained relationships with well-connected GAR members, which led him to Emil Fritz, with whom he went into business. Murphy’s GAR contacts opened the door to military contracts supplying beef, vegetables, and other materials to Apache reservations. The military contacts were good, but (apparently) insufficient, which led Murphy and Fritz to land fraud schemes selling land to they didn’t own to westward migrants.
Eventually, Murphy and Fritz moved their operations to Lincoln County, New Mexico and, in 1869, established L. G. Murphy & Company — a general store and bank. Murphy and Fritz began referring to their business operation as “The House” [Note 2]. As an enterprise, The House did quite well. The business model included the purchase of beef from cattle rustlers, which lowered operating costs, and in Lincoln County, Murphy & Company had no competition. Murphy and Fritz could get away with charging outlandish prices for their goods and services. In 1873, Murphy and Fritz hired another Irishman named James Dolan to help manage their monopoly.
When Emil Fritz died in 1874, James Dolan became Murphy’s business partner. Murphy, knowing that Fritz had a life insurance policy, claimed that Fritz owed the company a considerable sum of money. Murphy submitted his claim to the executors of Fritz’ estate. The lawyer these executors hired to file the insurance claim was attorney Alexander McSween [Note 3]. Once the insurance policy claim had been paid, however, McSween refused to release the money to the executors because he believed Murphy and these executors were attempting to defraud the Fritz Estate. In his refusal to release the life insurance money, McSween became an enemy of Murphy & Company.
Meanwhile, county ranchers and farmers, having tired of Murphy’s monopoly, formed their own mercantile operation — one headed by a newly arrived local rancher named John Tunstall and his attorney, Alexander McSween.
In 1878, Murphy filed suit against McSween for unlawfully withholding the money from Fritz’ estate. The judge in this case (who may have been part of the Santa Fe Ring) ordered seizure of all McSween’s assets, but mistakenly (or perhaps intentionally) included property that belonged to Tunstall. Eventually, the lawsuit was dismissed — but not before County Sheriff Brady [Note 4] sent deputies to execute the court’s order.
The predominant belief among Lincoln County’s ranchers unaffiliated with Murphy was that Sheriff Brady was on the payroll of L. G. Murphy & Company. This was likely true.
John Henry Tunstall (1853-1878) was an Englishman from an upper-middle-class family. His father was a British businessman with interests in Canada. Nineteen-year-old John emigrated to Victoria, British Columbia in 1872 to work at one of his father’s stores. With available investment capital, Tunstall began looking for ways to acquire a ranch suitable for raising cattle. While visiting Santa Fe, Tunstall met Alexander McSween who dissuaded him from purchasing land in California because land in New Mexico was cheaper and more abundant for cattle ranching. McSween told Tunstall that Lincoln County offered the potential for large profits because the county was in the midst of rapid settlement of people from back east. As his exemplar, he told Tunstall about famed rancher John Chisum, whose herd exceeded 100,000 head of cattle. It was from this early meeting that Tunstall and McSween formed a business partnership, whose efforts John Chisum supported.
Tunstall purchased land along the Rio Feliz, some thirty miles due south of Lincoln, New Mexico. But Tunstall, with some experience in business, became appalled by Murphy & Company’s price gouging. To counter The House, Tunstall and McSween opened a mercantile store and a bank in Lincoln.
The House, which then included Lawrence Murphy, James Dolan, and John H. Riley — Irishmen with similar backgrounds — not only felt challenged by Tunstall-McSween business interests, they also felt threatened politically. Murphy fancied himself as the Lincoln County Boss; he owned the law, and he was affiliated with Tom Catron’s Santa Fe Ring.
While Tunstall was profit motivated, his business operation offered goods and services at reasonable prices. Local citizens began to abandon Murphy & Company. In letters back to England, John Tunstall indicated that he intended to challenge Murphy politically and unseat him. Tunstall may not have realized that he was challenging far more than Murphy-Dolan.
Murphy & Dolan began to slide into bankruptcy — and if Murphy & Dolan was losing money, so too was Tom Catron. Murphy & Dolan at first tried to challenge Tunstall & McSween in court; when that didn’t work, Murphy tried to goad Tunstall into a gunfight. Eventually, Murphy ordered Sheriff Brady to hire gunmen affiliated with the Jesse Evans Gang [Note 5].
John Tunstall didn’t resort to hiring gun slingers, but he did ask for the support of John Chisum and a dozen or so local ranchers and cowboys who knew that Murphy-Dolan were behind cattle rustling in Lincoln County. Tunstall was in great personal danger; he may have realized it, but seemed nonchalant about the prospects of being assassinated. His friends, on the other hand, surrounded Tunstall whenever he left this ranch for any reason, to protect him from the possibility of a suicide while on the trail. As it happens, one of Tunstall’s ranch hands was a 19-year old baby-faced fellow by the name of William Bonney (also known as Henry McCarty, William Henry Antrim, and El Chivato) [Note 6].
On 18 February 1878, Tunstall, Bonney, Richard Brewer, John Middleton, Henry Brown, Robert Widenmann, and Fred Waite were driving horses from Tunstall’s ranch into Lincoln. Also on that day, a posse formed by Sheriff Brady had gone to Tunstall’s ranch to serve him with a court-ordered lien on his cattle — it was part of the lawsuit filed against Tunstall’s partner, Alexander McSween.
When these deputies arrived at the Tunstall ranch and discovered that he was not there, several of the posse members (who rode under Jesse Evans, including William Morton, Frank Baker, Tom Hill, and Dolly Graham), broke away from the main posse and went in search of Tunstall. Since Tunstall’s horses were not part of the court-ordered lien, there was no reason for the deputies to track Tunstall down — but that’s what Evans did.
Jesse Evans and his men caught up with Tunstall a few miles outside Lincoln. Bonney, who was riding drag, was the first to spot the Evans group and fired a shot into the air to give warning. Evans, who may have thought that Bonney was shooting at them, began to shoot at Bonney. Tunstall’s ranch hands heard the firing and rode to the top of a hill to observe what was going on. Tunstall remained with the horses. Unprotected, Evans and his men soon surrounded Tunstall and murdered him“execution style.” Evans attempted to arrange Tunstall’s body so that it looked as if he attempted to resist arrest. It was an incredible effort given that Tunstall was shot through the back of his head [Note 7]. John Tunstall’s murder ignited the Lincoln County War.
William Bonney, who had become friends with Tunstall, was devastated by the murder. He, along with ten other men, went to the Lincoln Justice of the Peace, “Squire” John Wilson, and filed a complaint alleging the murder of Tunstall by Jesse Evans and others. Wilson accepted the complaint and swore them all in as “special constables” to arrest John Tunstall’s killers. The constabulary posse, legally formed and led by Richard “Dick” Brewer. Brewer was a well-respected landowner who had also served as Tunstall’s ranch foreman.
Calling themselves “regulators,” [Note 8] Wilson’s constables organized themselves to bring in Evans, Morton, Hill, and Baker — but in fairness, it is likely that their motive had more to do with revenge for Tunstall’s murder. The regulators included Brewer, Bonney, Frank McNab, Jim French, John Middleton, George and Frank Coe, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Charlie Bowdrie, Tom O’Folliard, Fred Waite (an Indian), and Henry Newton Brown.
Following their appointment as deputies, Constable Martinez almost immediately began looking for Evans, Morton, Baker, Hill, and Graham. On 20 February, Martinez, Brewer, and Bonney proceeded to the Sheriff’s office to serve their warrants. Sheriff Brady promptly arrested them in defiance of their status as lawful deputies. Three days later, Deputy United States Marshall John Widenmann led a detachment of soldiers against Brady’s jailhouse, captured the deputies, and released Martinez, Brewer, and Bonney.
After gaining release, Widenmann deputized the regulators and they continued their search for the men named in their warrants. Regulators discovered Buck Morton, Dick Lloyd, and Frank Baker near Rio Peñasco. Morton conditionally surrendered after a five-mile running gunfight. The condition was that he and Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Baker would be returned alive to Lincoln. Frank Baker had no part in the murder of John Tunstall, so Brewer gave Morton his assurance of safety. Other regulators objected, however, insisting on a vengeance killing. One of the regulators, William McCloskey, a friend of Morton, resisted the idea by vowing to protect the prisoners.
On 9 March 1878, the third day of their journey back to Lincoln, the regulators killed McCloskey, Mortan, and Baker near Blackwater Creek — claiming that Morton killed McCloskey and then tried to escape with Baker, which gave the regulators no other choice but to kill the two escaping prisoners. It was an extraordinary story because no one believed Morton would kill his only friend in the group of regulators. Moreover, the bodies of Morton and Baker bore eleven bullet wounds — and unless some of these wounds were self-inflicted, there was one bullet wound for each constable.
On that same day, Tunstall’s other two killers, Jesse Evans and Tom Hill, were shot while trying to rob a drover near Tularosa. Hill died from gunshot wounds, But Evans survived his wounds. While undergoing medical treatment, Deputy US Marshal Widenmann arrested Evans for stealing livestock from an Indian reservation.
Sheriff Brady telegraphed the Attorney General (Tom Catron) and asked for assistance to end the “anarchy” in Lincoln County. Catron referred the matter to Governor Samuel Axtell, who decreed that Squire John Wilson had been illegally appointed as Justice of the Peace, which effectively nullified Wilson’s authority as Justice of the Peace and, at the same time, invalidated the actions of Wilson’s constables. Governor Axtell also called upon US Marshal John Sherman of the Territory of New Mexico to revoke Widenmann commission — which he did, but Widenmann was reappointed 21 days later.
On 1 April 1878, regulators Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, Fred Waite, Henry Brown, and William Bonney readied themselves in the corral behind Tunstall’s store. In a few more moments, they would assault Brady and his deputies on Lincoln’s main street. Deputy George Hindman would succumb to his gunshot wounds; Brady was shot by a dozen bullets. Bonney and French broke cover during the gunfight — some say to retrieve Bonney’s rifle, which Brady had confiscated from his prior arrest. A surviving deputy, Billy Matthews, wounded Bonney and French. French’s wound was severe and he was incapacitated for some time at Sam Corbet’s place. Deputy US Marshal Widenmann was also in the corral that morning, but it is not known whether he participated in the ambush.
Three days later, the regulators rode southwest from Lincoln to Blazer’s Mill, a trading post and saw mill that supplied beef to the Mescalero Apache. En route, they came upon Andrew “Buckshot” Roberts, who was named on their arrest warrants as one of John Tunstall’s murderers. In the exchange of gunfire regulator Dick Brewer was killed; Middleton, Scurlock, Coe, and Bonney were wounded. Roberts didn’t survive his wounds.
After Brewer’s death, the regulators elected Frank McNab as their captain. On 29 April, Sheriff George Peppin [Note 9] led a posse that included several members of the Jesse Evans Gang and the so-called Seven Rivers Warriors [Note 10]. Peppin engaged Frank McNab, Ab Saunders, and Frank Coe in a shootout at the Fritz ranch. McNab was killed, Saunders was wounded, and Coe was captured. The next day, Seven Rivers Gang members Tom Green, Charles Marshall, Jim Patterson, and John Galvin were shot to death in Lincoln; it was never conclusively proven that the regulators had anything to do with these murders and the matter is complicated because at the time, an intra-gang feud was well underway. Frank Coe escaped from jail, supposedly with the assistance of Wallace Olinger, who Coe claimed gave him a pistol.
The day following McNab’s death, the regulators assumed defensive positions in town and spent the day trading shots with Murphy men and, according to some, several members of the US Cavalry Troop. George Coe shot and wounded Dutch Charlie Kruling, but by firing their weapons at US soldiers, the regulators gained a new enemy — and one they could have easily done without.
On 15 May, regulators tracked down and captured Evans gang-member Manuel Segovia, whom the regulators believed killed McNab. After Señor Segovia was dispatched into the afterlife, a Texan named Tom O’Folliard joined the regulators; he and William Bonney became good friends.
During the afternoon of 15 July, a confrontation between the Tunstall-McSween and Murphy-Dolan factions broke out inside Lincoln town; the regulators found themselves surrounded at two separate locations: the McSween home and Ellis’ Store. Twenty Mexican regulators, led by Josefita Chavez, were also in town. The men inside Ellis’ Store include Scurlock, Bowdre, Middleton, and Frank Coe. At the McSween house were Alex McSween, his wife Susan, Bonney, Brown, French, O’Folliard, Jose Chavez, George Coe, and a dozen vaqueros.
Known as the Battle of Lincoln, opposing factions exchanged shots and insults for three days. Tom Cullens was killed by a stray bullet at the McSween house. Fernando Herrera, who was Doc Scurlock’s father-in-law, shot and killed Murphy-Dolan’s gunman Charlie Crawford [Note 11]. At five-hundred yards, it was a darn good shot. At about the same time, Henry Brown, George Coe, and Joe Smith left the McSween house and went to Tunstall’s store where, finding two of Murphy-Dolan’s men, chased them into an outhouse. With concentrated rifle fire, the regulators forced the men into the bottom to avoid being killed.
The Battle of Lincoln ended when Colonel Nathan Dudley [Note 12] led a cavalry troop and field guns into town and forced the regulators to withdraw — all except for the men in McSween’s house, who were left to their fate. Late in the afternoon of 19 July, Murphy-Dolan’s men set the house on fire as a means to flush the critters out. Susan McSween and the other women and their children were given safe passage while the men inside tried to fight the fire. By 9 p.m., Bonney and French, decided to blaze their way out of the house, followed by O’Folliard and Chavez. Harvey Morris, McSween’s law partner, was killed. When troopers advanced to take the escaped men into custody, a close-quarters gunfight broke out. Alexander McSween and Bob Beckwith were killed. Three Mexican regulators made good their escape and joined Bonney, French, O’Folliard and Chavez as they melted into the night.
The Lincoln County War accomplished nothing beyond sending a few men to meet their maker. New Mexico continued to suffer under corrupt government — and, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican (article by Steve Terrell, 11 August 2018) — New Mexico continues to hold the national title for corrupt government. After Susan McSween hired an attorney by the name of Huston Chapman to pursue charges against James Dolan, Dolan (accompanied by Jesse Evans and Billy Campbell) murdered Chapman in cold blood and at point-blank range exactly one year from the date of Tunstall’s murder. William Bonney was also present at the shooting, but took no part in it. Dolan later went to trial for Chapman’s murder but was acquitted by a jury mostly composed of friends of Murphy and Dolan.
Lawrence Gustav Murphy died from cancer on 10 October 1878, 47-years old. James Dolan, Irish immigrant, veteran of the Union Army, Republican political Boss and racketeer, businessman, gunman, thief, murderer, arsonist, and alcoholic, died at his ranch on 6 February 1898, 49-years of age. At the time of his death, Dolan owned all of John Tunstall’s former lands.
- Caffey, D. L. Chasing the Santa Fe Ring: Power and Privilege in Territorial New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, 2014.
- Caldwell, C. R. Dead Right: The Lincoln County War. Caldwell Publishing, 2008.
- Chamberlain, K. P. In the Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War. University of New Mexico Press, 2013.
- Duran, T. Francisco Chavez, Thomas B. Catron, and Organized Political Violence in Santa Fe in the 1890s. New Mexico Historical Review, 1984.
- Jacobsen, J. K. An Excess of Law in Lincoln County: Thomas Catron, Samuel Axtell, and the Lincoln County War. New Mexico Historical Review, 1993.
 The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, Union Navy, U. S. Marines, and the U. S. Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. It was founded in 1866 in Springfield, Illinois, grew to include several hundred posts, and was dissolved in 1956 at the death of its last member.
 Murphy and Fritz’ Lincoln County operation was part of a larger structure of corrupt officials known as the Santa Fe Ring. At the top of this organization was Thomas Catron, the Territorial Attorney General (later, United States Attorney for the New Mexico Territory). Catron’s expertise was land law and he used his knowledge to acquire more than three million acres of New Mexico land by denying the claims of families who had been granted land under the auspices of New Spain or the Republic of Mexico — land that had been acknowledged as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican/American War. Among Catron’s cronies in the Santa Fe Ring were Samuel Axtell, the discredited and impeached former Territorial Governor, and Warren Bristol, a territorial judge formerly suspected as being complicit in the assassination of Territorial Chief Justice John P. Slough. Murphy and his new partner James Dolan had borrowed money from Catron to begin their Lincoln County operations, so Catron had financial interests in the unfolding events in Lincoln and may have been calling the shots from behind the scenes.
 Alexander McSween (-1878) was a Scot who was born and raised in Canada, possibly in Nova Scotia, who migrated to the United States to attend law school in St. Louis, Missouri. He married Susan Hummer in 1873 and subsequently moved with her to Lincoln County, New Mexico where he began working for L. G. Murphy & Company.
 Brady was also an Irish-Catholic who migrated to the United States during the potato famine, served several years in the U. S. Army with service in Texas, as was discharged in 1861 while holding the rank of sergeant. When the Civil War broke out, Brady joined the New Mexico Volunteers as a first lieutenant. He fought against the Confederates at Glorieta Pass. He afterward served as a recruiting officer in Polvadera, New Mexico, as the Commanding Officer at Fort Staunton, and led successful campaigns against Navajo and Apache hostiles. At the end of the war he served as a brevet Major. After the war, Brady settled his family at Rio Bonito, four miles east of Lincoln. He was first elected as Sheriff in 1869 and served in the New Mexico Territorial Legislature. As part of the Santa Fe Ring, Brady aligned himself with Murphy & Company against John Tunstall.
 The Jesse Evans gang included twenty gunmen who rustled cattle, robbed and pillaged small ranches and Indian reservations, and murdered small ranchers in New Mexico between 1876-1880. In 1877, Sheriff Brady hired the Evans gang and deputized them to help stamp out the so-called Tunstall-McSween faction in Lincoln County. The Evans Gang was one of several affiliated outlaw organizations operating in New Mexico — an extension of the so-called Santa Fe Ring. For a sketch of the other two outlaw gangs, see Notes 13 and 14.
 The story of Henry McCarty, while a sad tale, may have been a common one in the post-Civil War period. He was the son of Patrick and Catherine McCarty, an Irish-Catholic couple. Henry was born in New York City. After Patrick died, Catherine moved her two sons to Indianapolis, where she met William Henry Harrison Antrim. Catherine and her sons moved with Antrim to Wichita, Kansas in 1870. Catherine and Henry married in 1873 in Santa Fe, later moving to Silver City, New Mexico. It was then that Henry and Joseph began using Antrim’s name. In 1874, Catherine died from consumption and William Antrim abandoned her sons. Henry was fifteen when his mother died and he went to work for Sara Brown, who gave him room and board. His first violation of law was stealing food but ten days later he and George Schaefer robbed a Chinese laundry, stealing clothes and two pistols. Henry McCarty was arrested and jailed pending trial, but he managed to escape, and he became a “fugitive from the law.”
 A special investigator commissioned by the United States Secretary of the Interior, a man named Frank Warner Angel, later determined that Tunstall was murdered in cold blood by Jesse Evans, William Morton, and Tom Hill. Witnesses to the murder, although from a distance, included Dick Brewer and William Bonney.
 The men who formed the regulators were well-known to each other, had worked together or associated with one another for several years, and most either worked as ranch hands or owned small ranches in Lincoln County. History remembers William Bonney as one of these men, primarily because of the notoriety attached to his moniker “Billy the Kid,” but Bonney wasn’t the driving force behind the regulators. Others of the group, including Ab Saunders, Charlie Bowdre, Doc Scurlock, Grand and George Coe, had all been involved in hunting down and killing cattle rustlers. The two forces at work were the legally formed Sheriff’s posse under Brady, who murdered Tunstall, and the legally formed special constables under Justice Wilson — which leads us to the Lincoln County War.
 George Peppin was present during the Brady shootout but was not wounded. John Copeland was appointed County Sheriff after Brady’s death, but was dismissed shortly afterward when he refused to support Murphy-Dolan. Peppin, noted for his weak demeanor, was easily manipulated by Murphy. On Murphy’s orders, Peppin organized an armed campaign against the regulators.
 The Seven Rivers Warriors was a gang led by Henry M. “Hugh” Beckwith. It formed in opposition to John Chisum’s (and others) large cattle holdings; they aligned themselves with the Murphy-Dolan faction because the county sheriff was in Murphy’s pocket and Murphy/Brady made money from the gang’s cattle rustling activities. In addition to Hugh Beckwith, brothers John and Bob were also gang-members. Bob Beckwith and Wallace Olinger served as deputies under Brady; Wallace’s brother Bob Olinger served as a Deputy US Marshal. The Seven Rivers Warriors frequently rode with the Jesse Evans Gang.
 At the time of the Lincoln County War, Lawrence G. Murphy was suffering from cancer. He turned L. G. Murphy & Company over to James Dolan, who renamed it James Dolan & Company. Subsequently, the gunmen became known as Dolan’s men.
 Nathan Augustus Monroe Dudley (1825-1910) began his military career before the American Civil War. When war broke out, Dudley served as a captain in command of a company of the 10th US Infantry. During the war he served as aide to Major General Nathan P. Banks, commander of the XIX Corps. In January 1865, President Lincoln nominated Dudley for advancement to brevet Brigadier General, and his advancement was confirmed by the Senate the following month. After the war, he reverted to his pre-war permanent rank and resumed his duties with the 3rd US Cavalry. In time, Dudley served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th Cavalry, and Colonel commanding the 1st Cavalry. Dudley’s part in the Lincoln County War was at least controversial, but at worst despicable and incompetent — no doubt his ineptness brought on by his frequent drunkenness. As commander at Fort Stanton, Dudley received orders not to interfere in civilian matters, but he disobeyed those orders and threw his command behind the Dolan faction. In 1879, Susan McSween filed charges against Dudley for his part in the destruction of her home and the death of her husband. Dudley was acquitted at a subsequent court-martial.
 The leader of the Kinney Gang was John Kinney (1847-1919), another army veteran who, in 1873 settled in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Kinney’s gang was responsible for acts of robbery and cattle rustling. Jesse Evans was one of his earliest gang members, along with Pony Diehl whose name was later associated with events in Tombstone, Arizona. Once Evans had broken away from the gang to form his own, Kinney hired the Evans Gang to help him in the El Paso Salt War. Kinney was arrested in 1883 for cattle rustling and sentenced to prison. After his release in 1886, he did not return to crime. He served in the Army during the Spanish/American War and ran a successful mine in Arizona before retiring.
 “The Rustlers” was a gang run by John Henry Selman (1839-1896). Selman was one of those men who worked on both sides of the law — sheriff or town marshal followed by wanted posters for murder and mayhem. Many of the Rustlers were former members of the Brady/Peppin posse and the Jesse Evans Gang. They robbed stores, looted homes, murdered innocent farmers and their families, raped the women, and used children for target practice. True scum. But Selman was on the “inside” of New Mexican politics and no charges were ever filed against him or any of his men. John Selman was the man who murdered John Wesley Hardin in an El Paso saloon.
I’m trying to grasp how Dudley burning out McSween’s ranch was acceptable behavior.
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Dudley was inept, the governor was a Cocoa Puff, and besides that Dudley may have been on the take from the Santa Fe ring. Dudley was court-marshaled but acquitted, I suppose on account of the fact that the New Mexico territory was a federal show and officials could get away with almost anything. Glad you picked up on it, Ed.
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