Wild West


On Sunday evening July 14, 1878, attorney Alexander McSween and more than 50 armed partisans rode into the town of Lincoln, New Mexico Territory, and took up positions in preparation for a climactic confrontation. It was a showdown months in the making, the February 18 murder of McSween’s business partner, John Henry Tunstall, having triggered a series of revenge killings, skirmishes, raids and assorted mayhem across Lincoln County. Backing McSween were the “Regulators,” who had avenged Tunstall’s murder with their own brand of vigilante justice. Opposing them was “the House,” a cabal of ruthless Irish businessmen centered on the L.G. Murphy & Co. enterprise, primarily run by James Dolan. With the backing of the corrupt Santa Fe Ring, they had a roughly equivalent force of hardened gunmen at their disposal.

Lost in the historical background are the majority of Hispanos (Southwesterners of Spanish descent) who fought on both sides in the subsequent five-day siege, the boiling-over point of the Lincoln County War. While there is no shame in being overshadowed by the legend that became Billy the Kid, they were more than merely a collective backdrop. They were men, many with families, willing to risk their lives, some paying a bloody price for having been drawn into a predominantly Anglo conflict from which they ultimately gained nothing for their participation.

Before riding into Mc-Sween and the Regulators had significantly bolstered their numbers with the help of Picacho resident Martín Chávez, who had rallied some two dozen armed Hispanos to join the fight against the House. “We knew him to be one of our sympathizers, although he had never entered actively into an engagement,” recalled Regulator George Coe. “He was a deputy sheriff, a conservative, and was not satisfied with conditions as they existed.” With a disdain for the House and what they stood for, Chávez and his armed Hispanos set out to change those conditions (by force).

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