Henry was never the brightest bulb in the box, but he was probably typical of young men in the Old West. He was born in Missouri but was orphaned early in his life, raised by his uncle Jasper Richardson until he reached the age of 17. Again, more, or less typical, Henry drifted west working as a cowhand in Texas and Colorado. We don’t know this for a fact, but some suggest that he relocated to Colorado on account of killing a hombre in Texas. He may not have been yet 20 years old.
In 1877, Henry was living in the New Mexico Territory at the time of and participated in, the Lincoln County War.
On 18 February 1878, John Tunstall, William Bonney, Richard Brewer, John Middleton, Robert Widenmann, Fred Waite, and Henry Brown drove horses from Tunstall’s Rio Feliz Ranch into Lincoln, New Mexico. Also on that day, the corrupt Sheriff William J. Brady formed a posse and proceeded to the Tunstall Ranch to serve Mr. Tunstall with a court-ordered lien on his cattle, part of a lawsuit.
When Brady and his deputies (actually, members of the Jesse Evans outlaw gang) arrived at the Rio Feliz Ranch, they discovered that Tunstall was out on the range. Evans and several gang members broke off and went in search of Tunstall. They caught up with Tunstall a few miles outside Lincoln. William Bonney and Henry Brown, riding drag, spotted the Evans gang approaching. Bonney fired a warning shot into the air. Evans may have thought that Bonney was shooting at him and returned fire. Tunstall’s other ranch hands heard the firing and rode to the top of a hill to observe the goings-on; Tunstall remained with his horses.
Realizing that Tunstall was unprotected, Jesse Evans and his men surrounded Tunstall and murdered him in cold blood. After killing Tunstall, gang members arranged his body to make it look as if he resisted arrest. Jesse Evans may have been the dullest knife in the drawer because one of his gang had shot Tunstall in the back of the head. Beyond that, every one of Tunstall’s ranch hands witnessed the murder.
At the time of his murder, John Tunstall was 24 years old. It was this murder that ignited the Lincoln County War. William Bonney (who I believe has been wrongly maligned by history writers), was devastated by Tunstall’s murder because the two young men had become close friends.
Bonney and ten of Tunstall’s ranch hands reported the murder to Lincoln Justice of the Peace Squire John Wilson and gave testimony to what they saw. Wilson accepted the complaint and deputized the men as “special constables.” Wilson ordered them to arrest Tunstall’s killers. Dick Brewer, Tunstall’s ranch foreman, served as Chief Constable. Henry Brown was one of these constables, the group became known as “Lincoln County Regulators.”
On 1 April, Henry Newton Brown, William Bonney, Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, and Fred Waite ambushed and killed Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady. Believing that Andrew L. Roberts (also known as Buckshot Roberts) took part in Tunstall’s murder, Regulators engaged Roberts at Blazer’s Mill three days later.
Like many civil war veterans, circumstances after the war forced Roberts to make a living as a buffalo hunter. He may have hunted with Buffalo Bill Cody, and some say he also served as a Texas Ranger under the name Bill Williams. Buckshot earned that nickname after receiving serious wounds from a shotgun blast. The wound restricted the movement of his right arm, and this required that he develop an unorthodox shooting style.
Roberts may have been typical of his generation. He was a quiet man, someone who kept to himself and was one of those fellows whom a prudent man would never intentionally annoy. Roberts worked for James Dolan in Lincoln, which placed him at odds with the Regulators. Roberts wanted nothing to do with the dustup between Dolan/Brady and the Regulators and made plans to sell his ranch and move away. On 4 April 1878, Roberts rode to Blazer’s Mill, a local trade store, looking for the arrival of his payment for his ranch. Instead of a check, Roberts found the entire group of regulators eating a meal in an adjacent building.
Regulator Frank Coe, a gun hand of some repute, approached Roberts and spoke to him about surrendering his weapon to the Regulators —for his own safety. Roberts, believing that he would be assassinated out of hand, refused to give up his weapons. Suspecting that Roberts may have played a role in Tunstall’s murder, Dick Brewer sent a few men to Blazer’s store to arrest Roberts. Roberts saw the armed men approaching and took up his Winchester repeating rifle. Charlie Bowdre drew his weapon and he and Roberts fired at the same time. Roberts was hit in the stomach but retreated to the doorway of Blazer’s Mill while firing at the Regulators. His bullets hit John Middleton, Doc Scurlock, William Bonney, and George Coe (Frank’s brother).
Barricading himself inside Blazer’s Mill, Roberts ignored his wound and the Regulator’s gunshots. Since none of the Regulators wanted to approach the trading post, they called out for Roberts to surrender. Roberts declined, prompting Dick Brewer to go to the side of the building where he could get a clear shot. Brewer fired into the building but missed Roberts. Roberts returned fire and didn’t miss. Demoralized, the Regulators left town but sent a doctor to see to Roberts, who died the next day. Roberts and Brewer were buried near Blazer’s Mill.
After the killing of Sheriff Brady, the regulators (although themselves duly constituted lawmen) became wanted men. Knowing this, the regulators spent the next few months in hiding. On 15 July 1878, the regulators found themselves trapped in the home of Alexander McSween, one of Tunstall’s business partners. While Brady’s deputies fired into the home, Henry Brown was outside sniping at Brady’s men. Eventually, the deputies managed to set McSween’s house on fire, which allowed Brown and Bonney to escape in the resulting confusion. McSween died while trying to escape the inferno inside his home.
In the fall of that year, Brown, Bonney, and a few of the other regulators trailed a herd of stolen horses to Tascosa, Texas. After selling the horses, most of the regulators returned to their normal haunts, but Henry Brown, named in two New Mexico arrest warrants for murder, wisely decided to remain in Texas. Some historians claim that Brown became a lawman in Tascosa, but whether he served as a deputy sheriff of Oldham County, a town marshal, or a constable isn’t clear. In any case, Brown may not have been an ideal candidate for police work.
Brown drifted through Oklahoma and into Kansas, mostly working as a ranch hand. In July 1882, he settled down in Caldwell, Kansas. Caldwell was where the Chisholm Trail met the Santa Fe Railroad, and as such the town had a history of violence somewhat comparable with Dodge City and Abilene. Within a short time, Brown secured an appointment as assistant town marshal. He became Town Marshal five months later. Henry Brown, an outlaw turned lawman met up with and joined forces with Benjamin (Ben) Wheeler, a lawman who had turned outlaw. Between the two men, violence in Caldwell dropped off.
People who knew Henry Brown described him in this way: he was small in stature, not given to drink, gambling, smoking, chewing, or cussing. He regularly attended church services, was modest or somewhat shy. Despite these characteristics, he somehow managed to instill confidence in the townspeople of Caldwell. He was likable and well-received in polite society. He wasn’t necessarily handsome, but he had a square-set jaw and the appearance of firmness and was known to act on the strength of his convictions. When called upon to exercise his law enforcement duties, he was utterly fearless. At those moments, Brown went through a somewhat remarkable transformation, from the shy, well-mannered young man to someone who was aggressively confrontational. He wore two six guns around his waist, was known to be a deadly accurate shot with either hand. He was one of the west’s few fast-draws — which came in handy when confronting rowdy trail hands.
In May 1883, Henry Brown shot and killed a renegade Indian known as Spotted Horse. His second victim was a drunken gambler by the name of Newt Boyce. When Boyce wasn’t gambling, he tended bar at Moore’s Saloon. He was one of those bartenders who drank a shot of whiskey for every shot he sold to a customer. In December 1883, Boyce was on one of his benders when he became ugly and violent, wounding a few people with a knife. Deputy Marshal Ben Wheeler captured Boyce and took him to jail to “sleep it off.”
As soon as Brown released Boyce from his cell, he went straight to a gun shop where he bought a pistol and another knife and started making threats against Marshal Brown and Deputy Wheeler. Brown went looking for Boyce and found him just outside Moore’s Saloon. We don’t know what was said between them, but Boyce went for his sidearm. From what we know of Brown, Boyce’s move was ill-advised. Brown shot Boyce twice and within a few hours, the drunken gambler was dead.
The citizens of Caldwell appreciated Brown’s efforts to keep them safe and demonstrated their that gratitude by presenting him with an extensively engraved, gold, and silver-mounted Winchester rifle. Moreover, as a demonstration of how well the town folks thought of him, everyone celebrated his marriage to Alice Maude Levagood, the daughter of a prominent local brick-maker. Alice was one of America’s few women to earn a college degree.
But then, something went wrong. Henry and Ben concocted a plan to ride over to Medicine Lodge and rob the Medicine Valley Bank. They enlisted the assistance of two cowboys named William Smith and John Wesley. From every account, the plan was simple. Rob the bank, and then hightail it back to Caldwell. But even the simplest plans go awry, and this one did exactly that. During the robbery, John Wesley shot and killed bank president Wylie Payne. Wheeler and Wesley then shot and killed the bank’s chief cashier, George Geppert. Worse, Geppert sealed the cash safe before dying so none of the robbers got any money.
Brown and his accomplices fled the town under fire with a posse of twelve men hot on their trail. The chase came to an end when Brown led the outlaws into a box canyon. Placed in jail, Brown and Wheeler planned a jailbreak because the good folks of Medicine Lodge decided to string the outlaws up. The four men did make good their escape, but it was short-lived. The dopes ran into the town mob. A shotgun blast cut Brown literally in two. Wheeler, while seriously wounded, was lynched with Smith and Wesley. We don’t know what became of Alice Levagood Brown. At the time of his death, Henry Newton Brown was 27 years old.