John Middleton – One of the Regulators


Lincoln County Ranch Hands

Lincoln County Ranch Hands

John Middleton was one of the Regulators, who fought along side Billy the Kid in the Lincoln County War of New Mexico.

Born around 1854, Middleton arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico from Texas in the mid-1870s. Described as a heavyset, swarthy man with black hair and eyes and a large handlebar mustache, Middleton was known as a first-rate cowboy as well an excellent fistfighter and pistol marksman.

Upon his arrival in New Mexico, he went to work as a cowboy for John Tunstall. When Tunstall, along with Alexander McSween, got into a feud with the Dolan-Murphy faction of Lincoln, New Mexico, Middleton obviously sided with Tunstall. After Tunstall was killed, Richard Brewer was appointed as town constable and put together a group known as “The Regulators,” which included not only Middleton, but also Billy the Kid and other deputies.

As the Lincoln County War erupted, Middleton utilized his excellent shooting skills to participate in many of the battles. On April 4, 1878, he was seriously wounded in the chest during a gunfight with Buckshot Roberts at Blazer’s Mill. When the “war” was finally over, the Regulators split up.

Where he went is in dispute. Some say that he remained in the area, dying of smallpox on November 18, 1882. Other accounts say he moved to Kansas, where he married and worked as a cowboy, dying in 1885. However, popular evidence shows that he wound up getting involved with his cousin Jim Reed and his wife Belle Starr, getting in further trouble with the law before being found face down in the mud of the Poteau River close to the Arkansas border in May of 1885. 


Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.

Also See:

Lincoln County War

Alexander McSween

John Tunstall

Billy the Kid

Old West (main page)

2 thoughts on “John Middleton – One of the Regulators”

  1. John Middleton real name was John D Shepherd aka John D Riley, Doc Middleton’s brother and he came from Nebraska after going on a cattle drive from Texas. He did not care for Nebraska and went to New Mexico to meet with his friend Billy the Kid. He was born in 1846 Texas and died in 1949 in Oklahoma. He was my great great grandfather and had the gunshot wound to his chest that family told me about. He also made trips back to NM. I guess to see old friends. You can read about this in Loren L. Avey’s Book The Pole Creek Crossing.

  2. He could not have become involved with Reed because Reed was killed in Paris Texas in 1874. Middleton, not his real name, was still married and in Texas at the time.

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