Lincoln County, NM War

Lincoln County, NM War

            In 19th century, a New Mexico territory was involved in a fracas involving cattle barons. The war, later known as the Lincoln County War resulted in the death of nearly ¼ of the county’s population (PBS, 2008)

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            It all began when John Tunstall, a young, rich Englishman  and Alexander McSween, a lawyer, established the H.H. Tunstall & Company in response to the tension caused by Murphy and Dolan Mercantile Banking, the store monopolizing Lincoln County (Weiser, 2008).  The store controlled trading in the county,  inevitably earning the ire of small ranchers and farmers (2008). Tunstall’s entry did not sit well with Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, the owners of Murphy and Dylan Mercantile Banking. What happened next was inexcusable- Murphy and Dolan challenged Tunstall to a gunfight (2008).  Tunstall declined but sought the services of Patrick Henry McCarty, otherwise known as Billy the Kid, a teenage outlaw, to act as “cattle guard” (2008).  When Tunstall refused to give up his horses following a court order started by Dolan and Murphy on an unpaid debt, Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady led an arrest, which left Tunstall dead (2008).

That opened the gates to the Lincoln County War.  Billy the Kid sought to avenge Tunstall’s death, which according to rumors, was ordered by Murphy and Dolan. After getting out of jail, Billy the Kid, who had then formed a group called the Regulators [together with Dick Brewer, Tunstall’s foreman), began hunting for William Morton, Tunstall’s killer (2008).  Morton had already surrendered but on his way to the prison, was killed by the Regulators (2008).  Sheriff Brady was also killed.  Sheriff George Peppin, who replaced Brady, blocked McSween’s house in an effort to arrest him and the Regulators but Billy the Kid escaped (2008). McSween’s house was even set on fire.

            Finally, on October 13, 1878, New Mexico’s governor Lew Wallace  issued an amnesty  for those involved with the Lincoln County War. However, these not include Billy the Kid (Weiser, 2008). Billy the Kid was finally captured in 1881


PBS. (2008). Start of the Lincoln County Wars.  Retrieved November 3, 2008

            from PBS Web site:

Weiser, K. (2008). New Mexico’s Lincoln County War. Retrieved November 3, 2008

            from  Legends of America Web site:


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