Badges That Won the West – Lincoln County, New Mexico Sheriff’s Badge

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Badge is reminiscent of the violent 1870s, when a war of rank broke out between several wealthy ranchers and a trio of corrupt businessmen in the city of Lincoln. The most famous participant in the conflict was William Henry McCarty, also known as William H. Bonney, better known as “Billy the Kid”, although the outlaw gained most of his notoriety during the Lincoln County War by killing the sheriff. William Brady and several deputies. with Lincoln County insignia. The trouble in Lincoln County began when city merchants Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan were joined by a third partner named John Riley on their Murphy and Dolan Mercantile and Banking property. At the time, Lincoln County was the largest county in the nation, encompassing approximately 20% of the entire New Mexico territory. Governor Axtell, who was directly on Murphy-Dolan’s side in the dispute, declared the regulators outlaws. Undeterred, regulators made plans to settle scores with Sheriff William Brady, who they suspected of having ransacked Tunstall’s store after his death. Within a month, six regulators, including The Kid, ambushed and killed Sheriff Brady and George Hindman, another of his deputies, in the middle of Lincoln’s Main Street. Brady suffered at least a dozen injuries and Hindman was shot twice.

Murphy, Dolan and Riley were part of a network of corruption that extended to the territorial capital of Santa Fe. They used their political connections to obtain government contracts with Fort Stanton and soon controlled virtually all commerce in the great county. The huge profits from the products they sold at exorbitant prices at their store, along with the low prices they paid the smaller ranchers for their cattle, understandably infuriated the less affluent residents of the county.

Lincoln’s attorney, Alexander McSween, was sympathetic to the plight of small ranchers. He and John Tunstall, a wealthy English cattleman, opened a rival merchant to compete with Murphy and Dolan’s monopolistic store. His new company had the financial backing of John Chisum, another wealthy rancher in the region who owned more than 100,000 head of cattle. John Wayne’s film “Chisum” is based on the main characters in the Lincoln County saga.

In 1878, Murphy and Dolan used their political connections to obtain a court order granting them the right to have sixteen a herd of Tunstall horses as payment for a debt they allegedly owed. The gang formed by Sheriff William Brady to serve the order and sixteen horses was made up mostly of criminals. Many were members of the Jessie Evans Gang, an outlaw gang that once featured Billy The Kid among its members. The gang bided their time until Tunstall was caught alone in the open on February 18, 1878. When he objected to his presence on their land, Jessie Evans, William Morton and Frank Baker shot him dead. Although they were too far away to prevent assassination, several of Tunstall’s “cattle guards” witnessed it from a distance, including The Kid. It was the Tunstall assassination that ignited the Lincoln County conflict into a full-blown war.

Outraged by the murder, The Kid and several of Tunstall’s “cattle guards” formed their own gang called “The Regulators.” Led by Dick Brewer, the Tunstall ranch foreman, the Regulators’ only reason for existing was to track down and arrest Tunstall’s killers. Regulators soon expelled Morton and Baker, and they fought a continuous battle with the two men on the field until they surrendered. Regulators returned to Lincoln a few days later claiming that Morton and Baker had died during an alleged escape attempt. Few believed this story, given the number of bullet holes in the two men, but since the Regulators had arrest warrants charging Morton and Baker with Tunstall’s murder (obtained by Alex McSween), they were still operating within the limits of the law … albeit tenuous, at that point.

He may have been corrupt, but the violent assassination of Sheriff Brady and his deputy on Lincoln’s Main Street was enough to convince many other county residents that there were no ‘good guys’ in the conflict, as both sides were in range. the war seemed equally bloody.

John Copeland was appointed bailiff to replace the late Brady, but when he refused to take sides in the conflict, Murphy-Dolan again called on his corrupt political associates to remove him and replace him with one of their own. Sheriff George Pippin not only favored the Murphy-Dolan faction, he was on their payroll. The bloodshed continued with sporadic killings, eventually culminating in a five-day siege of McSween’s home in Lincoln, during which his home was burned down. Regulators who had taken refuge in the house managed to escape and flee, but McSween was shot and killed, although he was unarmed when he ran out of the burning house.

In the fall of 1878, Governor Lew Wallace was appointed by President Hayes to replace the corrupt Governor Axtell, whose collusion with the Murphy / Dolan group was a major factor in the Lincoln County conflict. In an attempt to end the field war, Governor Wallace issued an amnesty for all combatants except Billy the Kid. The amnesty officially ended the war in the countryside.

Meanwhile, Kid and his gang of supporters had turned to cattle theft to support themselves and had become a serious problem for ranchers in the area, including John Chisum. In November 1880, Pat Garrett was elected Lincoln County Sheriff with the backing of Chisum, running on a platform to end the theft of cattle in the county, and Governor Wallace offered a $ 500 reward for the capture of Billy. the Kid.

Sheriff Garrett and a group tracked down and killed two of the remaining Regulators: The Kid’s closest compadres, Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre, and on July 14, 1881, they killed Billy the Kid in Fort Sumter, New Mexico. All three are buried together at Fort Sumter. Their names are engraved on the tombstone, below an epitaph that simply reads “Pals.” After the marker was stolen multiple times, it was surrounded by a heavy wire cage to deter more souvenir hunters.