Battle of Lincoln, New Mexico

Battle of Lincoln, New Mexico

The Battle of Lincoln, New Mexico, usually referred to as the Battle of Lincoln (July 15th through July 19th, 1878) was the largest armed conflict of the Lincoln County War, a now famous range war taking place in Lincoln, New Mexico. The “war” led to the notoriety of gunman Billy the Kid.


The range war had began with the murder of rancher John Tunstall by members of the Jessie Evans Gang, who had been hired by the "Murphy-Dolan" faction as gunmen to harass that factions competition. The murder and the subsequent lack of action by Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady led to the formation of the Lincoln County Regulators, led by Dick Brewer and other friends and supporters of Tunstall. The Regulators included Billy the Kid, Charlie Bowdre, John Middleton, Frank Coe, George Coe, and Doc Scurlock. The "war" had resulted in numerous killings by both factions, to include the shooting death of Sheriff Brady, and culminated in a final showdown in Lincoln.

On April 29th, 1878, a posse including the Jessie Evans Gang and the Seven Rivers Warriors, under the direction of Sheriff Peppin, engaged Regulators Frank McNab, Ab Saunders, and Frank Coe in a shootout at the Fritz Ranch. McNab was killed in a hail of gunfire, with Saunders being badly wounded, and Frank Coe captured. On April 30th, 1878, Seven Rivers members Tom Green, Charles Marshall, Jim Patterson and John Galvin were killed in Lincoln, and although the Regulators were blamed, that was never proven. Frank Coe escaped custody some time after his capture, although it is not clear exactly when, allegedly with the assistance of Deputy Sheriff Wallace Olinger, who also gave him a pistol. On May 15th, the Regulators tracked down Seven Rivers gang member Manuel Segovia, who is believed to have shot McNab, with him being gunned down by Billy the Kid and Josefita Chavez.

The morning after the shootout at the Fritz Ranch, George Coe, also a Regulator and the cousin of Frank Coe, takes up a position on the roof of McSween's house. George Coe, missing his trigger finger due to an earlier gunfight with Buckshot Roberts, takes aim at 'Dutch Charlie' Kruling, a member of the Seven Rivers Warriors gang. The distance has been estimated at being 444 yards, but that has never been confirmed, although it was likely in excess of 350 yards. Henry Newton Brown tells Coe he is wasting his shot, and he cannot hit him at that distance. To Brown’s amazement, Coe hits Kruling, wounding him.

The battle

Alexander McSween, the former partner to John Tunstall, had organized and supported the Regulators, although he himself was a non-combatant during the conflict. On July 15th, 1878, McSween gathered his Regulators in the town of Lincoln, while at the same time forces hired by the "Murphy-Dolan" faction organized to meet them, to include Jessie Evans and his gang, and the John Kinney Gang, and led by the newly appointed Sheriff George Peppin.

On July 15th, the Regulators have gathered in Lincoln, organized by McSween, and receive word that a large posse is on its way into town, so instead of attempting to flee they elect to remain in town to meet the posse. The "Murphy-Dolan" forces soon rode into town from the west, and surrounded the McSween house, where the Regulators had taken refuge to make their final stand.

The Murphy-Dolan men believe that they can take the Regulators by surprise, but were ill-informed. This opens up a barrage of gunfire from the posse, and return fire from the Regulators which soon changes to sporadic gunfire which goes on most of the day. At least five Murphy-Dolan men are wounded, but the Regulators take no casualties.

At around 4:30pm that afternoon, a detachment of cavalry arrives from Fort Stanton, under the command of Lieutenant George Smith. The soldiers place themselves between the posse and the Regulators, effectively stopping the gunfire exchanges.

Shooting exchanges continued through July 18th, and by that time Colonel Nathan Dudley had came from Fort Stanton and taken command. When a soldier was wounded, Col. Dudley gave his soldiers authority to end the conflict, and the cavalry detachment who were present in Lincoln became involved, ultimately benefiting the Murphy-Dolan faction. Members of that faction then set fire to the house, but when McSween attempted to surrender, he was shot five times and killed, while the Regulators escape. McSween, his business colleague Harvey Morris, and Tom Cullins were the fatal casualties suffered by the Regulators. The Murphy-Dolan faction had suffered several wounded and two, Bob Beckwith and Charlie Crawford, were killed.


Ultimately, McSween’s wife Susan did survive, and pressed for action against the Murphy-Dolan faction, but none was taken. In September, 1878, President of the United States Rutherford Hayes dismissed Governor Axtell, replacing him with Lew Wallace, who immediately began trying to bring the lawlessness to an end. For many involved in the conflict he issued general amnesty, but for others, including Billy the Kid, he issued warrants. Although a pardon was discussed, but much due to his notoriety brought about by the range war, it never came to pass. Eventually, William Bonney aka Billy the Kid was killed by lawman Pat Garrett. By that time the Regulators had simply broken up, with many reverting back to live normal lives.

External links

* [ Battle of Lincoln]
* [ Lincoln County War]
* [ Lincoln County War, and the Battle of Lincoln]
* [ Lincoln County War Unwanted Competition]
* [ Lincoln County War History net]
* [ Fact Files, Lincoln County War]
* [ Billy the Kid]
* [ The McSween’s]
* [ Events of the Lincoln County War]
* [ Lincoln County New Mexico]

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