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Lincoln County War by Hough - Page 4

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This fight cost McSween his life just at the point when he thought he had attained success. Four days before he was killed, he had word from the United States Government's commissioner  that the President had deposed Governor Axtell of New Mexico, on account of his appointment George Peppin as sheriff, and on charges that Axtell was favoring the Murphy faction. General Lew Wallace was now sent out as Governor of New Mexico, invested with "extraordinary powers." He needed them. President Hayes had issued governmental proclamation calling upon these desperate fighting men to lay down their arms, but it was not certain they would easily be persuaded. It was a long way to Washington, and a short way to a six-shooter.


General Wallace assured Mrs. McSween of protection, but he found there was no such thing as getting to the bottom of the Lincoln County War. It would have been necessary to hang the entire population of the county to execute a formal justice. Almost none of the indictments "stuck," and one by one the cases were dismissed. The thing was too big for the law.



Lincoln, New Mexico

Today, Lincoln, New Mexico maintains some  17 old structures

 in its historic district, February, 2008, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photographic prints and  downloads HERE!


The only man ever actually indicted and brought to trial for a killing during the Lincoln County War was Billy the Kid, and there is many a resident of Lincoln today who declares that the Kid was made a scapegoat; and many a man even to-day charges Governor Wallace with bad faith. Governor Wallace met the Kid by appointment at the Ellis House in Lincoln. The Kid came in fully armed, and the old soldier was surprised to see in him a bright-faced and pleasant-talking boy. In the presence of two witnesses now living, Governor Wallace asked the Kid to come in and lay down his arms, and promised to pardon him if he would stand his trial and if he should be convicted in the courts. The Kid declined. "There is no justice for me in the courts of this country now," said he. "I've gone too far." And so he went back with his little gang of outlaws, to meet a dramatic end, after further incidents in a singular and blood-stained career.


The Lincoln County War now spread wider than even the boundaries of the United States. A United States deputy, Wiederman, had been employed by the father of the murdered John Tunstall to take care of the Tunstall estates and to secure some kind of British revenge for his murder. Wiederman falsely persuaded Tunstall that he had helped kill Frank Baker and Billy Morton, and Tunstall made him rich, Wiederman going to England, where it was safer. The British legation took up the matter of Tunstall's death, and the slow-moving governmental wheels at Washington began to revolve. A United States indemnity was paid for Tunstall's life.


Mrs. McSween, meantime, kept up her work in the local courts. Some time after her husband's death, she employed a lawyer by the name of Chapman, of Las Vegas, a one-armed man, to undertake the dangerous task of aiding her in her work of revenge. By this time, most of the fighters were disposed to lay down their arms. The whole society of the country had been ruined by the war. Murphy & Co. had long ago mortgaged everything they had, and a good many things which they did not have, e. g., some of John Chisum's cattle, to Tom Catron, of Santa Fe. A big peace talk was made in the town, and it was agreed that, as there was no longer any advantage of a financial nature in keeping up the war, all parties concerned might as well quit organized fighting, and engage in individual pillage instead. Murphy & Co. were ruined. Murphy and McSween were both dead. Chisum could be depended upon to pay some of the debts to the warriors through stolen cattle, if not through signed checks. Why, then, should good, game men go on killing each other for nothing? This was the argument used.





Women of the Lincoln County War

The women in the Lincoln County War Mrs. Susan E. Barber was known

 as the "Cattle Queen of the West"


In this conference there were, on the Murphy side, Jesse Evans, James Dolan and Bill Campbell. On the other side were Billy the Kid, Tom O'Folliard and the game Mexican, Salazar. Each of these men had a .45 Colt at his belt, and a cocked Winchester in his hand. At last, however, the six men shook hands. They agreed to end the war. Then, frontier fashion, they set off for the nearest saloon.


The Las Vegas lawyer, Chapman, happened to cross the street as these desperate fighting men, used to killing, now well drunken, came out, all armed, and all swearing friendship.


"Halt, you, there!" cried Bill Campbell to Chapman; and the latter paused. "Damn you," said Campbell to Chapman; "you are the —— of a —— that has come down here to stir up trouble among us fellows. We're peaceful. It's all settled, and we're friends now. Now, damn you, just to show you're peaceable too, you dance."


"I'm a gentleman," said Chapman, "and I'll dance for no ruffian." An instant later, shot through the heart by Campbell's six-shooter, as is alleged, he lay dead in the roadway. No one dared disturb his body. He was shot at such close range that some papers in his coat pocket took fire from the powder flash, and his body was partially consumed as it lay there in the road.


For this killing, James Dolan, Billy Matthews and Bill Campbell were indicted and tried. Dolan and Matthews were acquitted. Campbell, in default of a better jail, was kept in the guard-house at Fort Stanton. One night he disappeared, in company with his guard and some United States cavalry horses. Since then nothing has been heard of him. His real name was not Campbell, but Ed Richardson.


Billy the Kid did not kill John Chisum, though all the country wondered at that fact. There was a story that he forced Chisum to sign a bill of sale for eight hundred head of cattle. He claimed that Chisum owed money to the McSween fighting men, to whom he had promised salaries which were never paid; but no evidence exists that Chisum ever made such a promise, although he sometimes sent a wagonload of supplies to the McSween fighting men.


John Chisum died of cancer at Eureka Springs, Missouri, December 26, 1884, and his great holdings as a cattle king afterward became somewhat involved. He could once have sold out for $600,000, but later mortgaged his holdings for $250,000. He was concerned in a packing plant at Kansas City, a business into which he was drawn by others, and of which he knew nothing.


Major Murphy died at Santa Fe before the big fight at Lincoln. James Dolan died a few years later, and lies buried in the little graveyard near the Fritz ranch. Riley, the other member of the firm, went to Colorado, and was last heard of at Rocky Ford, where he was prosperous. The heritage of hatred was about all that McSween left to his widow, who presently married George L. Barber, at Lincoln, and later proved herself to be a good business woman—good enough to make a fortune in the cattle business from the four hundred head of cattle John Chisum gave her to settle a debt he had owed McSween. She afterward established a fine ranch near Three Rivers, New Mexico.


George Peppin, known as the "Murphy sheriff" by the McSween faction, lived out his life on his little holding at the edge of Lincoln placita. He died in 1905. His rival, John Copeland, died in 1902. The street of Lincoln, one of the bloodiest of its size in the world, is silent. Another generation is growing up. William Brady, Major Brady's eldest son, and Josephina Brady-Chavez, a daughter, live in Lincoln; and Bob Brady, another son of the murdered sheriff, was long jailer at Lincoln jail. The law has arisen over the ruin wrought by lawlessness. It is a noteworthy fact that, although the law never punished the participants in this border conflict, the lawlessness was never ended by any vigilante movement. The fighting was so desperate and prolonged that it came to be held as warfare and not as murder. There is no doubt that, barring the Kansas-Missouri Border War,  this was the greatest of American border wars.



Go To Next Chapter - The Stevens County War


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.




Also See: Old West Feuds & Range Wars


Other Works by Emerson Hough:


The Story of the Outlaw - A Study of the Western Desperado - Entire Text

The Cattle Kings

The Cattle Trails

Cowboys on the American Frontier

The Frontier In History

The Indian Wars

Mines of Idaho & Montana

Pathways To the West

The Range of the American West


About the Author:  Excerpted from the book The Story of the Outlaw; A Study of the Western Desperado, by Emerson Hough; Outing Publishing Company, New York, 1907. This story is not verbatim as it has been edited for clerical errors and updated for the modern reader. 


About the Author:  Emerson Hough (1857–1923).was an author and journalist who wrote factional accounts and historical novels of life in the American West. His works helped establish the Western as a popular genre in literature and motion pictures.  For years, Hough wrote the feature "Out-of-Doors" for the Saturday Evening Post and contributed to other major magazines.


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