Lincoln County War

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The Lincoln County War was a 19th century range war between two factions in America's western frontier. The "war" was notable for the large number of semi-mythical figures from 19th century America, including legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, county Sheriffs William J. Brady and Pat Garrett, cattle rancher John Chisum, lawyer and businessman Alexander McSween, and general store owner L.G. Murphy.

The conflict pitted two factions against each other, over the control of dry goods trade in the county. The older, established faction was led by Murphy and his business partner James Dolan who had a dry goods monopoly run through Murphy's general store. Young newcomers to the county, English-born John Tunstall and his business partner Alexander McSween, with backing from established cattleman John Chisum, opened a competing store in 1876. The two sides gathered lawmen, businessmen, and criminal gangs to their sides. The Murphy-Dolan faction were allied with the Lincoln County Sheriff, William J. Brady, and supported by the Jessie Evans Gang. The Tunstall-McSween faction organized their own posse of armed men, known as the Lincoln County Regulators, to defend their position, and had their own lawman, town constable Dick Brewer.

The "war" was marked by back-and-forth revenge killings, starting with the killing of Tunstall by members of the Jessie Evans Gang. In revenge for this and other killings, Sheriff Brady was killed by the Regulators. Further killings continued unabated for several months, climaxing in the Battle of Lincoln, a four day gunfight and siege which resulted in the death of McSween and the scattering of the Regulators. It would finally be brought to an end when Pat Garrett was named County Sheriff in 1880. Garrett would hunt down the remaining Regulators, including Billy the Kid, who some claim was killed by Garrett in July, 1881. This claim has been disputed through the years and the evidence for it has been seriously challenged.


The Lincoln County War begins

In November 1876, a wealthy Englishman named John Tunstall arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico hoping to set up a profitable cattle ranch, store, and bank in partnership with young attorney Alexander McSween and cattleman John Chisum. However, he soon discovered that Lincoln County was controlled both economically and politically by Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, the proprietors of LG Murphy and Co., the only store in the county. LG Murphy and Co. was loaning thousands of dollars to the Territorial Governor, and the Territorial Attorney General would eventually hold the mortgage on the firm. Tunstall would also soon learn that Murphy and Dolan, who bought much of their cattle from rustlers, also had beef contracts from the United States government. These government contracts and contacts, along with their monopoly on merchandise and financing for farms and ranches, allowed Murphy, Dolan and their partner Riley to run Lincoln County as their own personal fiefdom.

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