of the Lincoln County Wars
1877, an Englishman named John Tunstall came to town to create competition
for the local monopoly that owned the main store and had a corner on the
lucrative contracts to deliver cattle to the military.
has revealed in his letters home that he planned to put his competition
out of business and then create a monopoly of his own. Tunstall never
had the opportunity, since he grossly underestimated the ruthlessness
of the lawless West.
prominent partner in the competing Murphy store, Lawrence Murphy, and
his most ambitious young partner, Jim Dolan, had Tunstall killed on February
18, 1878. Tunstall's employees who had escaped Tunstall's fate wanted
revenge. The most notable of these was a youth of sunny disposition that
would become known as Billy the Kid.
death set into motion the Lincoln County War that caused as much as
a quarter of the population of Lincoln to be murdered over the next
5 months. This conflict came to a head over four days in the middle
of July, when the two warring factions barricaded themselves in local
houses and stores and shot it out. There was actually very little
blood shed, until the US Army showed up and took sides with the ex-army
cronies of the Murphy/Dolan camp.
Tunstall's death, a young lawyer named Alexander McSween led what became
known as the Regulators. When the US Army showed up, the Regulators were
hold up in McSween's adobe house. The house was slowly burning from being
At this point, a dispirited McSween gave up all hope and an enthusiastic
Billy the Kid took charge. Billy and a group of volunteers created a diversion
to allow the others hold up in the house to escape. Although successful
in creating a diversion, the others waited too long. They finally did
make a run for it, and they were all shot. Only a badly wounded 15-year-old
managed to escape. Only one of Billy's group died, a young law student
who had ironically come out west for his health.
shoot out basically ended the Lincoln County Wars; both sides ended up
losing. There was tremendous bloodshed on both sides, Tunstall was dead,
and Dolan was bankrupt. The citizens of Lincoln put down their arms and
made peace with each other.