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Lincoln County War by Hough - Page 4

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Governor Samuel B. AxtellIn the meantime, the other party were not thus to be surpassed. In June, 1878, Governor Axtell appointed George W. Peppin  as sheriff of Lincoln County. Peppin qualified at Mesilla, came back to Lincoln, and demanded of Copeland the warrants in his possession. He had, on his part, twelve warrants for the arrest of members of the Regulators. Little lacked now to add confusion in this bloody coil. The country was split into two factions. Each had a sheriff as a figurehead! What and where was the law?


Peppin had to get fighting men to serve his warrants, and he could not always be particular about the social standing of his posses. He had a thankless and dangerous position as the "Murphy sheriff." Most of his posses were recruited from among the small ranchers and cowboys of the lower Pecos. Peppin was sheriff only a few months, and threw up the job $2,800 in debt.


The men of both parties were now scouting about for each other here and there over a district more than a hundred miles square; but presently the war was to take on the dignity of a pitched battle.


Early in July, 1878, the Kid and his gang rounded up at the McSween house. There were a dozen white desperadoes in their party. There were about forty Mexicans also identified with the McSween faction. These were quartered in the Montana and Ellis residences, well down the street.


The Murphy forces now surrounded the McSween house, and at once a pitched battle began. The McSween men started the firing from the windows and loopholes of their fortress. The Peppin men replied. The town, divided against itself, held under cover. For three days the two little armies lay here, separated by the distance of the street, perhaps sixty men in all on the McSween side, perhaps thirty or forty in all on the Murphy-Peppin side, of whom nineteen were Americans.


To keep the McSween men inside their fortifications, Peppin had three men posted on the mountain side, whence they could look down directly upon the top of the houses, as the mountain here rises up sharply back of the narrow line of adobe buildings. These pickets were Charlie Crawford, Lucillo Montoye, and another Mexican, and with their long-range buffalo guns they threw a good many heavy slugs of lead into the McSween house. At last, one Fernando Herrera, a McSween Mexican, standing in the back door of the Montana house, fired, at a distance of about nine hundred yards, at Charlie Crawford. The shot cut Crawford down, and he lay, with his back broken, behind a rock on the mountain side in the hot sun nearly all day. Crawford was later brought down to the street. Medical attendance there was none, and few dared to offer sympathy, but Captain Saturnino Baca carried Crawford a drink of water.


The death of Crawford ended the second day's fighting. Peppin's party now numbered sixteen men from the Seven Rivers country, or twenty-eight in all. The McSween men besieged in the adobe were Billy the Kid, Harvey Norris (killed), Tom O'Folliard, Ighenio Salazar (wounded and left for dead), Ignacio Gonzales, José Semora (killed), Francisco Romero (killed), and Alexander McSween, leader of the faction (killed). Doc Scurlock, John Middleton, and Charlie Bowdre were in the adjoining store building.


At about noon of the third day, old Andy Boyle, ex-soldier of the British army, said, "We'll have to get a cannon and blow in the doors. I'll go up to the fort and steal a cannon." Half-way up to the fort, he found his cannon—two Gatlin guns and a troop of colored cavalry—already on the road to stop what had been reported as firing on women and children. The detachment was under charge of the commanding officer of Fort Stanton, Colonel Dudley, who marched his men past the beleaguered house and drew them up below the place. Colonel Dudley was besought by Mrs. McSween, who came out under fire, to save her husband's life; but he refused to interfere or take side in the matter, saying that the sheriff of the county was there and in charge of his own posse. Mrs. McSween refused to accept protection and go up to the post, but returned to her husband for what she knew must soon be the end.




Ighenio Salazar was shot and left for dead, Alexander A. McSween was

 the leader a faction in the Lincoln County War and Captain Baca

carried the news of the big street fight to Fort Stanton.


McSween, ex-minister, lawyer, honest or dishonest instigator, innocent or malicious cause—and one may choose his adjectives in this matter—of all these bloody scenes, now sat in the house, his head bowed in his hands, the picture of foreboding despair. His nerve was absolutely gone. No one paid any attention to him. His wife, the actual leader, was far braver than he. The Kid was the commander. "They'd kill us all if we surrendered," he said. "We'll shoot it out!"


Old Andy Boyle got some sticks and some coal oil, and, under protection of rifles, started a fire against a street door of the house. Jack Long and two others also fired the house in the rear. A keg of powder had been concealed under the floor. The flames reached this powder, and there was an explosion which did more than anything else toward ending the siege.


At about dusk, Bob Beckwith, old man Pierce, and one other man, ran around toward the rear of the house. Beckwith called out to the inmates to surrender. They demanded that the sheriff come for a parley. "I'm a deputy sheriff," replied Beckwith. It was dark or nearly so. Several figures burst out of the rear door of the burning house, among these the unfortunate McSween. Around him, and ahead of him, ran Billy the Kid, Scurlock, French, O'Folliard, Bowdre, and a few others. The flashing of six-shooters at close range ended the three days' battle. McSween, still unarmed, dropped dead. He was found, half sitting, leaning against the corral wall. Bob Beckwith, of the Peppin forces, fell almost at the same time, killed by Billy the Kid. Near McSween's body lay those of Romero and Semora and of Harvey Norris. The latter was a young Kansan, newly arrived in that country, of whom little was known.


With the McSween party, there was one game Mexican, Ighenio Salazar, who is alive to-day, by miracle. In the rush from the house, Salazar was shot down, being struck by two bullets. He feigned death. Old Andy Boyle stood over him with his gun cocked. "I guess he's dead," said Andy. "If I thought he wasn't, I shoot him some more." They then jumped on Salazar's body to assure themselves. In the darkness, Salazar rolled over into a ditch, later made his escape, stopped his wounds with some corn husks, and found concealment in a Mexican house until he subsequently recovered.



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