History Moment By William “Doc” Halliday

Lincoln County War

tunstallOn March 6, 1853 John Henry Tunstall was born in Hackney, a suburb of London, England. In August of 1872, Tunstall immigrated to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and worked in a store his father had an interest in.

William Henry McCarty, Jr., was born in New York City two years before the Civil War. His mother, Catherine McCarty, is thought to have immigrated to New York during the Great Famine. In 1868, Catherine moved to Indianapolis, Indiana bringing little Billy and his brother Joseph with her.

Catherine McCarty met William Antrim and after several moves the couple was married in 1873 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but settled in Silver City, New Mexico. The following year when Billy was apparently 14 years old, his mother died.

Billy was arrested the first time in April of 1875. In September of 1875 he was arrested for the second time and escaped from jail within days. He worked for a time as a ranch hand, but thought stealing horses was easier. He was known in Arizona as Kid Antrim.

In February, 1876 John Tunstall moved from Canada to California searching for ranching property. Six months later he moved on to New Mexico. In Santa Fe, he met Alexander McSween, who steered him to Lincoln County where the two men became partners. He became a cattleman, opened a mercantile store, and a bank. Tunstall and McSween linked themselves with John Chisum who owned over 100,000 head of cattle on a large ranch.

Unfortunately, there already was an established bank and a store. Several years earlier James J. Dolan, Lawrence G. Murphy and John H. Riley started these two enterprises. Their store was known informally as “The House”. They ran the entire county as a personal kingdom. They controlled the court, the sheriff, and the beef contracts with the government.

Dolan, Murphy and Riley- along with others were known as the Santa Fe Ring. The Ring included Thomas Catron, the Attorney General of New Mexico who owned 3,000,000 acres of land. The ranchers, led by Chisum and McSween, didn’t believe merchants should dominate the markets and began to challenge The House. Tunstall was eager to make a profitable living in Lincoln County. He offered reasonable prices and fair dealings at his store. This attracted people who were eager to find a competitor to The House.

In August of 1877, in Fort Grant, Arizona, Billy got into a conflict with “Windy” Cahill. At first it was verbal, and then it became physical when Cahill shoved Billy to the ground. Billy responded by shooting Cahill, who died the next day. It was Billy’s first kill. Fearing retribution by Cahill’s friends, Billy fled to New Mexico.

In late 1877, Billy was in Lincoln County working at various jobs, including as a ranch hand. Billy was now using the name of William Bonney.

Murphy, Dolan, etc., tried to put Tunstall out of business, first by pestering him legally, and then after they had hired gunmen by trying to prod him into a gunfight. Tunstall began to hire young gunmen for protection, including the soon-to-be-infamous William Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid.

In early 1878, the House used its considerable political resources to attack Tunstall, winning a court order demanding that Tunstall relinquish some of his equine livestock to pay an unsettled obligation. When Tunstall refused to turn over the stock, the House-controlled Lincoln County sheriff dispatched a posse led by William Morton to take them.

Billy the Kid and several other Tunstall hands spotted the approaching posse. Outnumbered, the men fled, but they had not gone far before they saw Tunstall gallop straight up to the posse to protest its presence on his property. 140 years ago, on February 18, 1878, As Billy and the others watched, Morton shot Tunstall dead with a bullet to the head.

Although he had not worked for Tunstall long, Billy the Kid deeply resented this cold-blooded murder, and he immediately began a vendetta of violence against The House and its allies, beginning a very deadly shooting war that would be termed the Lincoln County War.

Image of John Tunstall is from www.ruidosonews.com

Mr. Halliday can be contacted at doc@william-halliday.com

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