One of the primary instigators of
New Mexico's Lincoln County War,
James J. Dolan was born in Galway County, Ireland, on May 2, 1848. When he
was just five years old, his family immigrated to the United States.
broke out, Dolan joined the Union Army in 1863, serving two years before
making his way to New Mexico.
There, he enlisted in the First New Mexico Volunteers and was stationed at
where he mustered out in April, 1869.
Fort Stanton he met another Irishman
named Lawrence Murphy, who had also
served at Fort Stanton and now owned a
sutler’s store called the L. G. Murphy & Co. Store.
Dolan went to work as a clerk for
and quickly picked up on Murphy's unethical and illegal business
The store, which had profited from
Murphy's military contacts, was awarded government contracts to supply
beef and other supplies to
Fort Stanton and the local Mescalero-Apache
Reservation Agency. However, much of what they supplied was gained
In May, 1873, the
hot-headed James Dolan attempted to shoot and kill a Fort Stanton Captain named James Randlett. Later that summer, in
September, L. G. Murphy & Co. was evicted from Fort Stanton, partly due to Dolan's confrontation with Captain
Randlett, but also due to accusations of price gauging and scamming
the local Mescalero-Apache
of the supplies they were supposed to be providing. Amazingly;
however, Murphy did not lose his government contracts and quickly made
plans to establish a new business in
Lincoln, New Mexico.
Dolan went with
Murphy to Lincoln, and the pair opened the new business as partners in
April 1874. Within no time, "Murphy & Dolan Mercantile and Banking”
made new contracts with Fort
Sumner and continued with their unethical
Before long, Murphy & Dolan Mercantile and Banking monopolized the trade of the
county, controlling pricing, making immense profits on their goods, and
virtually having a hand in nearly every part of the economy of the large
county. The merchants, along with their allies, who included local law
enforcement, were familiarly known as "The House.”
For obvious reasons, Murphy and his allies were disliked by the small farmers in Lincoln
County as they were forced to pay high costs for their goods, while at the
same time, accepting low prices for their cattle.
In May 1877, Dolan
murdered one of his employees, a man named Hilario Jaramillo. He claimed
that Jaramilo had threatened him with a knife and he was eventually
acquitted of the crime.
Later that summer,
Alexander McSween, a lawyer, and
John Tunstall, a wealthy 24-year old English cattleman and banker, set
up a rival business called H.H. Tunstall & Company near the one owned by
Dolan and Murphy. Supporting them was a large ranch owner named
John Chisum, who owned more than 100,000 head of cattle.
Furious at this
development, Dolan attempted to goad Tunstall into a gunfight. However,
Tunstall refused to use violence himself but soon recruited
Billy the Kid, officially, as a "cattle guard.” However, in February,
1878, Tunstall was killed, allegedly on the orders of Murphy and Dolan. The
murder started the Lincoln County War,
which would take the lives of 19 men, including an unarmed Alexander
McSween's widow hired an attorney named Huston Chapman to investigate
the Dolan faction for her husband's death, Chapman was murdered in
February, 1879. Dolan was accused of the crime but with the help of
powerful friends, the case against him was dropped.
In the meantime, Dolan
purchased the property previously owned by John Tunstall, including his
store and his ranch.