The above photo was taken sometime around 1890, but shows Lincoln much as it would have looked during the war. Looking east, the House is the large building in the foreground. The Tunstall store is approximately in the middle of the photo, on the opposite side of the street as the House. The McSween house would have been located in the vacant lot neighboring the Tunstall store.Monday, July 15, 1878; Lincoln, Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory---The stage is set for the climatic battle of the Lincoln County War. Alex McSween has decided that the time has come for there to be one final showdown between his forces and Jimmy Dolan’s. One last test of strength and it will be determined which side will win Lincoln County. Shortly after nightfall on July 14, Alex McSween, tired of living in the hills and wanting to return to his home, and the Regulators rode into Lincoln and took over the town. McSween has no real battle plan, but he figures if he strikes first against the Dolan crowd and leaves it up to them to answer his challenge, his side will win. McSween and the Regulators do have several advantages over the Dolan men. First of all, after recently recruiting farmer Martin Chaves from Picacho and twenty-five or so Hispanics under his command, the Regulators now number about sixty, more than Dolan and Sheriff Peppin will be able to muster together. Secondly, the Regulators made it into Lincoln undetected and placed themselves in strategic locations throughout town. In the big, U-shaped McSween house are McSween himself, his wife Susan, Elizabeth Shield and her five children, Harvey Morris (a non-combatant tubercular law student who just happens to be in the McSween house studying law), and about six Regulators. To the immediate east, in the Tunstall store, are George Coe, Henry Brown, and “Tiger Sam” Smith, along with Dr. Taylor Ealy and his family and schoolteacher Susan Gates. Across the street in the Montano store are Martin Chaves, Fernando Herrera, Constable Atanacio Martinez, twenty to twenty-five more Hispanics, and Billy “the Kid“ Bonney. Next door in the Patron house are about four or five more Hispanic Regulators. In the Ellis house/store at the east end of town, are Josiah “Doc” Scurlock, John Middleton, Charlie Bowdre, Fred Waite, Frank Coe, John Scroggins, “Dirty Steve” Stephens, Dan Dedrick, and maybe eight more men. Although the Regulators took these locations without firing a single shot, they did manage to trap Dolan men (called “Murphs” by the Regulators) Deputy Jack Long, Jim McDaniels, Jim Reese, George “Roxy” Rose, Billy Mathews, Sam Perry, and a newcomer to the area known only as “the Dummy” in the torreon, located next-door to the Baca house and across the street from the Montano store.
In the morning, Sheriff Peppin discovers what the Regulators have done. With the majority of his men still out searching for the Regulators, Peppin only has a few men actually in town, and six of them are trapped in the torreon. Peppin does what he can and sends out a messenger on horseback to retrieve the posses of John Kinney, Buck Powell, and Marion Turner, while he and the rest of his men in town, namely Jimmy Dolan himself, Andy Boyle, Pantaleon Gallegos, Lucio Montoya, and five to ten more take over the Wortley Hotel and the House, both located on the west end of town.
The Regulators in their various positions throughout town begin piling bags of sand against the windows and doors of their buildings as barricades, while at the same time carving holes in the adobe walls to use as portholes for their rifles. While this is going on, McSween realizes that Saturnino Baca is supplying the Dolan men in the torreon with food and water. Since the Baca house and torreon are both on McSween’s property, he writes a short letter to Baca informing him that since he is allowing McSween’s property to be used by “murderers for the purpose of taking my life,” he has three days to vacate his house or it will be burned down. Baca’s wife had only given birth to a child the previous day, leaving her in no condition to be moved. This, coupled with a death-threat Baca had received from Susan McSween a few days before, causes him to write a letter to Col. Nathan Dudley at Fort Stanton, requesting military protection. Due to the new Posse Comitatus Act forbidding military intervention in civil disturbances however, Dudley cannot act, and instead sends Lt. Daniel Appel to Lincoln to investigate. Once in Lincoln, Appel meets with Baca, then McSween. McSween stands by what he wrote and adds that under no circumstance will he again be driven from his home by Dolan and his men. Frustrated, Appel goes to the torreon to try to talk the men inside into leaving. They refuse, however, unless U. S. soldiers will come to occupy the torreon, thereby assuring that the Regulators can’t have it and making it neutral. Returning to the McSween house, Appel tells McSween what the men in the torreon said. McSween agrees to this deal, and Appel rides out of Lincoln.
On his way out of town, Appel notices a large party of men on horseback riding into town from the west in a cloud of dust. The men are the combined posses of John Kinney, Marion Turner, and Buck Powell and include the newly returned Jessie Evans. They had been searching in Baca Canyon for the Regulators when they received the news from Peppin’s messenger of the Regulators’ takeover. Leaving their horses in the corral behind the Wortley Hotel, the Murphs fire a dozen or so shots at the McSween house, signaling their answer to McSween’s challenge and the opening of the Five-Day Battle. Hearing the shots, Billy Bonney and five or six other Regulators exit the Montano house and run across the street to the McSween house, firing their guns at the Murphs as they go. No one from either side is hurt in this short exchange of gunfire, but one of the horses in the Wortley Hotel corral takes a bullet and is killed. Billy and the others with him take refuge in the McSween house, bringing the total number of Regulators in the building to thirteen (Billy, “Big Jim” French, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Ignacio Gonzales, Tom O’Folliard, George Bowers, Tom Cullins, Joe Smith, Jose Maria Sanchez, Vincente Romero, Florencio Chaves, Francisco Zamora, and fifteen-year-old Yginio Salazar).
With the posses of Kinney, Powell, and Turner now in town, the Peppin forces number about forty, the vast majority of which are members of the Jessie Evans Gang, John Kinney Gang, or Seven Rivers Warriors. Just before sunset, Peppin has Deputy Long attempt to serve the arrest warrants he has for McSween, Billy Bonney, Jim French, and others in the McSween house. Long slowly approaches the house and yells his intentions through a window. There is a short silence, and then several bullets are fired Long’s way through the windows. Long quickly turns to run and makes it to the House, amazingly without being hit. Through the rest of the day, approximately one-hundred shots are fired. However, as the sun sets, all shooting comes to an end.
Tuesday, July 16, 1878---As the sun rises, all the houses in town still occupied by non-combatant civilians are boarded shut. During the evening, some of the Dolan men made it to the houses of Ham Mills and Juan Chaves, located near the McSween house. Shortly after dawn, the shooting resumes, but no serious damage is inflicted on either side. Dolan and Peppin realize that they are at a stalemate, with the Regulators still at an obvious advantage. The tenacious Dolan soon has an idea though, and has Peppin write a short note to Col. Dudley. The note reads: “If it is within your power to loan me one of your howitzers, I am of the opinion that parties for whom I have warrants would surrender without a shot being fired. Should it be within your power to do this in favor of the law, you would confer a great favor on the majority of the people of this county, who are being persecuted by a lawless mob.” Dolan and Peppin both know that in all likely hood, the mere threat of a howitzer would scare the Regulators into surrendering. And, if it wouldn‘t work quite like this, they could simply open fire with the howitzer and kill them. Peppin then selects one of his men to ride over to Fort Stanton and deliver the note to Dudley.
The letter receives Dudley in the late afternoon. Although he wishes to loan a howitzer to Dolan, he is still bound by the Posse Comitatus Act not to. He writes a quick note addressed to Peppin informing him of the regretful news and orders Pvt. Berry Robinson to ride to Lincoln and deliver it to the sheriff. Robinson leaves Stanton around 6:30 and rides fast in an attempt to reach Lincoln before sundown. As he nears town from the west, several shots are fired his way, causing his horse to become startled and throw him. Remounting the animal, Robinson spots Jimmy Dolan at the Wortley Hotel, motioning for him to approach. Once Robinson reaches the hotel, Dolan informs him that it was the Regulators in the McSween house that fired on him, which the soldier accepts without question. (However, it does seem more likely that men at the House or Wortley Hotel fired at him, seeing as how they were closer.) Robinson quickly delivers Dudley’s note to Peppin and Dolan, then leaves to return to the fort. Dismayed over Dudley’s inability to loan him the howitzer, Peppin simply has his men continue to fire on the Regulators’ strongholds, without much affect. Later in the day, Susan Gates and a couple of the Shield children venture down to the Rio Bonito and fill some buckets with water, as thirst is starting to take its toll on the people inside the McSween house. When the Dolan men see that it is Miss Gates and children getting the water and not the Regulators, they leave them unharmed. By nightfall, as the shooting again stops, two windows in the McSween house are completely shot out.
Meanwhile, back at Fort Stanton, Pvt. Robinson informs Dudley of his entrance into Lincoln and how he was nearly shot. Furious over this, Dudley calls a meeting with fellow officers Capt. Tom Blair, Capt. George Purington, and Lt. Daniel Appel. By the meeting’s conclusion, it’s decided that the officers will ride into Lincoln tomorrow to investigate the shooting themselves.
Wednesday, July 17, 1878---Before dawn, Sheriff Peppin sends Charlie “Lollycooler” Crawford, Lucio Montoya, and three others to the hills behind the south side of town, specifically to the area overlooking the Montano house. Their purpose is to shoot down at the Regulators inside and try to scare them out. However, after firing a few shots at them and getting no response shots, Crawford and the others begin to think that maybe the Regulators snuck out of the Montano house during the evening and left town. Confident in this, they leisurely begin to walk back down the hill towards the House and Wortley Hotel. Unfortunately for them, there are still Regulators in the Montano building. One of them, Fernando Herrera, the father-in-law of Doc Scurlock and Charlie Bowdre, aims his Sharps rifle through one of the windows facing the southern hills. As Crawford and his men continue walking, Herrera fires one booming shot with his rifle. The slug cuts through Crawford from hip to hip, blasting right through his spine and dropping him to the ground. Startled, Montoya and the three others run as fast as they can to the House.
Around noon, Capt. Purington, Capt. Blair, Lt. Appel, and five troopers ride into Lincoln to investigate the previous day’s shooting on Pvt. Robinson. They find the street is deserted with gunfire emitting from every direction and all the homes in town are either abandoned, taken over by gunmen from one faction or the other, or boarded up tightly by the terrified citizens inside. Going first to the Wortley Hotel, the officers talk with Dolan and Peppin, as well as posse members Jessie Evans, John Beckwith, “Rustling Bob” Bryant, R. L. Bryan, Buck Waters, and Tom Cochrane. They all swear that it was men from the McSween house who fired on Robinson, and even go so far as to say that when Robinson was approaching town, they (the Dolan men) shouted at the Regulators to hold their fire. The officers then proceed to the McSween house, where they question McSween and some of the Regulators. Although McSween adamantly denies that the shots aimed at Robinson came from his house, the officers conclude that they did.
Leaving the McSween house, the officers are informed that Charlie Crawford was shot earlier in the day and is still lying where he fell, on a hill behind the Montano store. All the other Dolan men have been too scared to go get him. Lt. Appel, a doctor, decides to attempt to retrieve Crawford and, along with Capt. Blair and two of the troops, climbs up the hill. As they near the bleeding Crawford, shots are fired at them from the Montano house. Dodging the bullets, they quickly grab Crawford and carry him down to the House. Their investigation for the day complete, the officers and troops, along with Crawford, head back to Stanton. Upon their arrival at Stanton, Crawford is taken to the post hospital, where it’s discovered that his wound is mortal.
The shooting in Lincoln continues for the rest of the day, with hundreds of shots being fired from both sides. At some point, Seven Rivers Warrior William Johnson receives a bullet wound in the neck and has to ride to Fort Stanton for medical attention. Shortly before nightfall, Ben Ellis, owner of the Ellis house and a non-combatant, is shot in the neck while feeding a mule behind his house. A few of the Regulators in his house rush out to help him and are met with gunfire. Returning the fire, they manage to slightly wound Seven Rivers Warrior Jim Jones and grab Ellis and drag him back into his house. Ellis is bleeding profusely and it’s obvious that in order for him to survive, he’ll need a doctor. After the sun sets and the shooting again comes to a halt, a couple of Regulators from the Ellis house walk down to the riverbank of the Rio Bonito and follow it to the Tunstall store, where Dr. Taylor Ealy and his family still are. Dr. Ealy agrees to go to the Ellis house with the Regulators and treat Ellis as best he can. As Ealy and the Regulators leave the Tunstall store, they are spotted in the moonlight and a volley of shots are fired their way. Ealy instantly turns tail and flees for the safety of the Tunstall store, while the Regulators run back to the Ellis house. For the rest of the evening, all is quiet and everyone stays where they are.
Thursday, July 18, 1878---As the sun rises, three Hispanic women who walked from Lincoln arrive at Fort Stanton. They speak to Col. Dudley and beg of him to lead his troops to Lincoln to repossess their homes, which they claim were taken over by the Regulators and Peppin’s posse. Dudley informs them that he cannot due so, and that the most he can do is offer them military protection at the fort. The women take what they can get and stay at the fort. By this time back in Lincoln, only twelve of the fifty or so families that normally reside there still remain. The rest have fled for Stanton or to anywhere else that could offer some sense of safety.
Early in the morning in Lincoln, Dr. Ealy, along with his wife, five-year-old daughter Pearl, and baby daughter Ruth, walk defiantly down Lincoln’s street to the Ellis house, where he examines Ben Ellis’s wound and sews it shut. He and his family then return to the Tunstall store.
The shooting resumes around noontime. At some point, George Bowers, a Regulator in the McSween house takes a bullet, but his wound it not too serious. Fellow Regulator Tom Cullins, also in the McSween house, is not so fortunate though, as a bullet hits him and leaves him dead. The other Regulators in the house carry Cullins’s body to the cellar and leave it there, planning on burying it at a later point once the Five-Day Battle is over. Despite the wounding of Bowers and the death of Cullins, the Regulators still have a high moral. Knowing they still have the upper hand, they still believe that all they have to do is outwait Dolan and Peppin and victory will be theirs.
Around mid-afternoon, a rumor starts circulating among the Peppin men that John Chisum, along with thirty-five of his cowboys and a howitzer, are approaching Lincoln to aid the Regulators in the fight. Perhaps prompted by this, Jimmy Dolan decides to travel to Fort Stanton himself and have a talk with Col. Dudley. Accompanied by John Kinney, Roxy Rose, Sam Perry, and one or two others, Dolan rides over to Stanton. Privately, Dolan meets with Dudley and requests his aid in fighting off the Regulators. After their brief discussion, Dolan, Kinney, and the others return to Lincoln. That evening, Dudley holds a meeting with his fellow officers and informs them that on the following day, the military will enter Lincoln “for the preservation of the lives of the women and children” still in town. Following the meeting, Dudley has the fort‘s blacksmith, a Mr. Nelson, repair the damaged howitzer located on the parade ground.
Friday, July 19, 1878---Early in the morning, Alex McSween writes a letter to Roswell postmaster Ash Upson, requesting three dollars worth of stamps. In his letter, Mac also confidently states that “right will triumph.” As the mail carrier makes his way through town, no shots are fired. Stopping by the McSween house, the carrier takes Mac’s letter, finishes his rounds, and rides out of town. Just as the carrier leaves, gunfire from both sides erupts again. It stays this way until about 10:00 A.M., when things take a drastic turn. Coming from the west, Col. Dudley himself, along with Capt. Purington, four officers, a company of eleven black troopers of the Ninth Cavalry, and a company of twenty-four of the Fifteenth Infantry, for a total of thirty-five men, along with a howitzer and a Gatling gun, march into Lincoln.
Dudley stops his troops at the Wortley Hotel, where he summons Sheriff Peppin. When Peppin appears, Dudley informs him that he and his men are here only to protect women and children and any non-combatant who wants it, not to fight for either side. He goes on to say that if any one of his men is wounded, killed, or even shot at by either side, he will unleash his howitzer and Gatling gun on whatever building the shot came from. He and his troops then continue to march down the street and pass by the McSween house and Tunstall store without making any attempt to inform the men inside of his intentions. Directly across the street from the Montano house, they find a vacant lot with a half-built adobe building on it and Dudley orders his men to set up camp. As this is going on, the Regulators are too afraid to risk injuring a soldier and cease fire. Taking advantage of this, Peppin has his men take over several houses located around the McSween house. “Pecos Bob” Olinger and a couple others take over the Stanley house across the street from McSween’s; Johnny Hurley and others take over Squire Wilson’s adobe jacal, also located on the south side of the street. To the west of the McSween’s, Billy Mathews, Pantaleon Gallegos, and Sam Perry take over the Schon house and Dolan takes over the Mills house; to the east, Peppin takes over the torreon. Andy Boyle, Joe Nash, and others take over the stable located in McSween’s own backyard.
Once Dudley has his camp set up, he orders his men to aim the Gatling gun at the Montano house. Capt. Blair then shouts to the Regulators inside the same thing Dudley told Peppin and advises all the women in the house to leave immediately. Seeing this as a threat, Martin Chaves and his men elect to abandon the house. Covering themselves in blankets to conceal their identity, Chaves and his men, along with the men from the Patron house, flee down the street to the Ellis house. Dudley then has his officers visit the homes in town and inform the inhabitants of the army’s reason for being in town. Lt. Appel visit’s the Ellis house and upon seeing that Ben Ellis’s wound needs to be redressed, he walks back to camp to get his medical bag. Accompanying Appel is Isaac Ellis, who wishes to speak to Col. Dudley in person.
While this is going on, the Regulators in the McSween house spot three soldiers walking up and down the street with Dolan men. They also see what appears to be soldiers also surrounding the house. It becomes clear to them what Dudley’s real purpose in Lincoln is: to aid Dolan and Peppin. McSween quickly writes a note to Dudley saying: “Would you have the kindness to let me know why soldiers surround my house. Before blowing up my property I would like to know the reason. The constable [Jose Chavez y Chavez] is here and has warrants for the arrest of Sheriff Peppin and his posse for murder and larceny.” McSween gives the note to his niece Minnie Shield, who walks it down to Dudley’s camp and delivers it to the colonel. Dudley reads the note and has Lt. Goodwin write a hasty, sarcastic response: “I am directed by the Commanding Officer to inform you that no soldiers have surrounded your house, and that he desires to hold no correspondence with you; if you desire to blow up your house, the commanding officer does not object providing it does not injure any U. S. soldiers.” The note is given to Minnie Shield, who carries it back to the McSween house.
In the late morning or early afternoon, Marion Turner and a couple other Seven Rivers Warriors approach the McSween house and pry off the shutters to one of the windows. Smashing the glass windows with their rifle butts and moving the bags of sand piled up against the windows, Turner shouts that he wants to talk with McSween. McSween responds, asking Turner what he wants. Turner responds by saying that he has warrants for Mac and the Regulators inside and wants to know if they’ll surrender to him. Regulator Jim French then interrupts and says that the Regulators have warrants for the arrest of Turner and his men. Turner replies by asking where the warrants are, to which French responds, “They’re in our guns, you cock-sucking sons-of-bitches!” The Regulators then open fire on Turner and his men, who flee to safety without being hit.
Shortly thereafter, Col. Dudley summons Peppin to his camp. Once Peppin arrives, Dudley informs him that the Regulators who fled the Montano house are now in the Ellis house and that he and his men should go make an attempt to arrest them. Although Dudley had said earlier he would not interfere with nor aid the sheriff in his duty, he is now by advising Peppin on how to do his job. Taking with him Bob Beckwith, Johnny Hurley, John Jones, and two others, Peppin walks to the Ellis house. At the same time, Dudley orders Lt. Goodwin aim the Gatling gun and howitzer at the Ellis house, but tells him not to fire it unless he (Dudley) gives the order. The Regulators in the Ellis house see the Gatling gun and howitzer and feel they have no option but to flee. Exiting the house, they enter the corral located just behind it and begin to saddle up. Just then, Peppin and his men approach the corral and both sides open fire, while at the same time the Regulators spur their horses and charge out of the gate. In the short exchange of gunfire, John Jones is slightly wounded and Regulator Dan Dedrick takes a bullet in the arm. Nevertheless, the Regulators all manage to escape and ride east out of town, then cross the Rio Bonito and head to the northern hills. Although they didn’t manage to capture or kill any Regulators, Peppin and his men do appropriate four pistols and six rifles that were left by the Regulators, as well as twelve saddles and bridles and thirteen horses, all belonging to the Regulators still in the McSween house. Beckwith also finds some coal oil and fills a bucket with it. Peppin then leads his men back to Dudley’s camp, where Dudley yells at Peppin and tells him that if he had moved sooner, he could have captured the Regulators.
The advantage of the battle has now been lost by the Regulators. In an hour or so, their force has been reduced from about sixty to a mere fifteen (the twelve in McSween’s house, and the three in the Tunstall store). They realize that not only do they now face Dolan and Peppin’s men, but the U. S. Army. Furthermore, there’s not much fighting they can actually do anymore, due to where Dudley made his camp. The Dolan men can fire at the McSween house all they want, but if the Regulators attempt to return fire, they risk injuring a soldier, in which case their fate would be sealed. McSween, once so sure that this battle would end with he being the victor, is now beginning to lose all hope. Billy Bonney, on the other hand, remains cheerful, joking, laughing, and singing, probably in an attempt to boost the moral of McSween and the other Regulators. He probably realizes that although they may have already lost this battle, it doesn’t mean they have to pay for it with their lives.
Hearing that J. P. Squire Wilson is back in town (he had fled Lincoln with his family to a friend’s ranch west of town earlier in the week), Col. Dudley summons him to his camp. Dudley orders Wilson to issue an arrest warrant for Alex McSween and every other man in the McSween house for firing on Pvt. Robinson on July 16. Not wanting to do so, Wilson informs the colonel that he would need official affidavits in order to issue a warrant. Dudley then has Capt. Purington, Capt. Blair, and Lt. Appel go with Wilson to his office to make a proper affidavit. After this is finished, Wilson still refuses to issue the warrants. Furious, Dudley threatens to put Wilson in wrist and leg irons and to write Gov. Axtell to inform him that Wilson is not doing his duty. Faced with this, Wilson begrudgingly issues the warrants and hands them to Dudley. Dudley then hands the warrants to Peppin, who in turn deputizes Bob Beckwith and puts on him the responsibility to serve the warrants. However, Beckwith apparently makes no attempt to serve the warrants, probably because he knows what happened when Marion Turner tried to earlier in the day. Peppin then has John Kinney and Johnny Hurley carry lumber to the McSween house and stack it against the east and west wings of the house. Peppin also orders the black servants of the McSweens, Joe Dixon and Sebrian Bates, to aid Kinney and Hurley in the chore. When Dixon and Bates refuse, Peppin threatens to arrest them, and they then agree to help.
It’s clear to the Regulators what Peppin intends to do: burn them out. Fearing this, Susan McSween bravely decides to confront Dudley herself. Crawling out of her house until she was sure there was no risk of her being shot, Susan stands up and brazenly marches towards Dudley’s camp. On the way, she runs into Peppin by the torreon. When she asks Peppin why her servants are aiding his men in preparation for burning down her house, he responds that if she doesn’t want her house burned down, she needs to kick out her husband and the Regulators. Ignoring Peppin, she marches on to Dudley’s camp. At the camp, she introduces herself to Dudley, who tips his hat to her in response. She asks him why he and his men are in town, to which he responds “to protect women and children.” She then asks why he doesn’t protect herself, her sister, or her sister’s children, all of whom are in the McSween house. Dudley then responds that he won’t protect anyone who would willingly share the same building with “such men as Billy Kid and Jim French.” With this answer, Sue realizes she and her sister and her kids are being treated as collateral damage. From there, their discussion deteriorates into a heated argument. Sue claims the soldiers will blow up her house; Dudley claims her husband wrote in his note that he would blow up his own house. When Sue asks to see the note, Dudley lets her, but tells a nearby soldier to shoot her if she makes any attempt to destroy it. The argument then turns to back-and-forth insults, which only ends when Dudley orders his soldiers to escort Sue out of his camp. As she leaves, convinced fully that Dudley is nothing more than anther Dolan henchman, she shouts to him that he will regret not giving her and her husband protection. Marching back to her house, she informs her husband and the Regulators of Dudley’s refusal to help them.
Shortly thereafter, Billy Bonney and Elizabeth Shield spot Jack Long and the Dummy pour Bob Beckwith’s bucket of coal oil on the logs stacked against the wall of the east kitchen. Not wanting to shoot them because he’s afraid their return shots would hit Mrs. Shield, Billy simply watches them toil. Long then lights the logs and the start to burn quickly. As Long and Dummy turn to leave, George Coe, Henry Brown, and Sam Smith, who have left the Tunstall store for the grain shed located behind it, open fire on them. Their only hope for safety is to jump in the hole of the McSweens’ privy, located in the McSweens’ backyard. Meanwhile, Billy Bonney and Mrs. Shield grab two full buckets of water and extinguish the flames in the house before they can spread very far or cause much damage. A couple minutes later, Buck Powell is spotted by the men in the Tunstall shed coming up from the river north of the McSween house. They open fire on him and he takes refuge in the hole of the McSweens’ privy with Long and Dummy. For the next few hours, whenever the three men try to get out of the disgusting hole, Coe, Brown, and Smith begin riddling the privy, thereby keeping them in the hole.
Around this same time, seven or eight of the Regulators who fled from the Ellis and Montano houses appear on the hills north of town and being firing at the Dolan men surrounding the McSween house. One of the soldiers then aims the howitzer at the Regulators, who cease firing and flee again, this time for good.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon, Andy Boyle approaches a lean-to used as a summer kitchen located at the end of the west wing of the McSween house. He quickly ignites a pile of logs there and is in return met with gunfire from the Regulators in the house. One bullet grazes his neck, but he quickly makes a retreat otherwise unharmed. As the Regulators attempt to put out this fire, they are kept at bay by the Dolan men in the stable behind the house shooting at them. The fire quickly spreads and becomes too great to be extinguished. Although the adobe burns slowly, everyone in the house knows that their time is limited. The fire moves from room to room, first heading south down the west wing, then east across the front of the house facing the street. The men inside move furniture with them as they continually back into remaining rooms. At some point, a keg of gunpowder in the house explodes. No one in the house is injured by this, but a member of the John Kinney Gang known only as Sanders, who is standing by outside, takes some debris to the head and is knocked unconscious. In the house, the smoke is getting heavy, and the men are coughing and finding it more difficult to breathe as their faces turn black with soot. With only the east wing remaining, McSween has a complete mental collapse. He sits with his head in his hands, not paying attention to anything else. With McSween a wreck, Billy Bonney takes charge as the leader. He is still cheerful and optimistic, and is trying to get the other men to be too. In the early evening, Billy and the others decide that the women and children in the house need to leave. Agreeing to this, Sue, her sister, and her children exit the house and head to an army wagon located at the Tunstall store, which is currently loading up the Ealy family. Lt. Appel and Capt. Blair, who are at the wagon, agree to escort the women from the McSween house to safety as well, and all are taken across the street to the Patron house.
By dark, only a couple rooms of the McSween house remain. The fire is bright enough to make the entire area around the McSween house look like day. Dolan men slowly move closer to the house, while the gunfire from both sides heavily escalates. In the span of only an hour or so, an estimated 2,000 shots are fired. In the house, the situation is desperate. The men inside know that they have three opions: one, surrender to Peppin and his posse; two, die in the burning house; or, three, make some kind of attempt to escape. It’s decided that they’ll take the last option, but they’ll wait until the last possible moment to do so.
By 9:00, only the east kitchen, the room where Long and Dummy tried to start the first fire, remains. With all fourteen men (twelve Regulators, McSween, and Harvey Morris) huddled in this hot, smoke-filled room, the escape must come soon. Billy and the Regulators all know that if they have even the slightest chance of still winning the war, McSween’s survival must be assured. With this in mind, and McSween still a nervous wreck, Billy thinks up a plan of escape. Billy decides that what is needed is a group of “decoys” to run out first to draw the fire of the Dolan men, while everyone else, including McSween, is overlooked and can run to the Rio Bonito for safety. Informing everyone else of his plan, Billy calls for four volunteers; the four that answer his call are Big Jim French, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Harvey Morris, and Billy‘s new sidekick, Tom O‘Folliard. These four, along with Billy himself, will sneak out of the house and run east and try to make it to the Tunstall store. McSween and everyone else will then run directly north, out of the backyard, and down to the riverbank, which will provide safety due to the darkness and the bushes lining it. McSween listens to all this in a daze, not really paying attention. Billy slaps McSween and tells him that if he wants to live, he has to straighten up. McSween responds by saying “Boys, I have lost my mind!”
Billy orders all the Regulators to make sure all their guns are fully loaded. He tells them that they will first try to sneak out of the house, rather than charging out guns blazing. He instructs them further to only start shooting once they’re spotted. Despite the urgings of Billy and the other Regulators, neither Morris nor McSween will carry a gun for their own defense. Instead, McSween clutches to his Bible. Under someone’s suggestion, Billy, Chavez, French, O’Folliard, and Morris take off their boots, since they will be able to sneak out of the house more quietly barefoot.
Billy lights a cigar on one of the burning walls. With a pistol in each hand, he peers through the door of the kitchen. The others stand behind him, waiting for his signal. Seeing that the coast is clear, Billy signals that it’s time for the break. First out the door is Morris, who is followed by French, O’Folliard, Chavez, and Billy, respectively. They walk slowly and quietly and make it the gate of the picket fence encompassing the yard. Just as Morris starts walking through the gate, a bullet tears into his dead and drops him to the ground, dead. With that, a barrage of bullets are fired the Regulators way from men posted on the back fence and from men on the street. The four Regulators take off running, firing their guns in their attackers’ direction as they go. French, Chavez, and Billy jump over the corpse of Morris, but O’Folliard stops, kneels down, and attempts to help the man. When he realizes Morris is already dead, O’Folliard stands up, possibly takes a bullet in the shoulder, and runs after Billy, French, and Chavez. Meanwhile, McSween and the other Regulators in the house also try to run out, but are met by a hail of gunfire from Bob Beckwith, John Jones, Joe Nash, Marion Turner, and Andy Boyle, who are standing by the chicken house in the backyard. The Regulators all scatter for cover in the shadows, firing at the Dolan men as they go. At the same time, as Billy, Chavez, O’Folliard, and French near the Tunstall store, they spot what appears to be three soldiers, along with John Kinney and several others, firing at them from the wall of the store. Rather than try to charge through this onslaught, the four Regulators veer north and run towards the Bonito. As they go, Billy fires a shot into John Kinney’s face, knocking him to the ground unconscious. Billy and the others keep running until they reach the refuge of the riverbank. Around the same time, George Coe, Sam Smith, and Henry Brown, still in the Tunstall grain-shed, see their friends making their escape and decide to do the same. Abandoning the grain-shed, the three men make it over the large adobe wall surrounding the backyard of the store by climbing up a pile of beer bottles. Undiscovered by the Dolan men, they also run down to the riverbank. Back in the McSween yard, a few tense minutes pass, with McSween and the Regulators hiding in the shadows. The Dummy, now out of the privy hole, walks to the yard and waits there with Beckwith, Turner, and the others. Finally, McSween shouts out, “I shall surrender!” and walks into the light from his hiding space. Beckwith steps forward to accept his surrender when suddenly someone shouts out, “I shall never surrender!” This is followed by a flurry of shots directed at the Dolan men. One bullet hits Beckwith in the right wrist, another in the right eye, and he falls dead. Instantly, Turner, Nash, Dummy, Boyle, and Jones open fire on McSween and the Regulators. Five bullets hit McSween in the torso, and he falls dead directly on top of Beckwith, his Bible still in his hand. Regulators Francisco Zamora and Vincente Romero run into the wooden chicken house, which is then destroyed with gunfire, leaving both men dead, Zamora with eight bullets in him, Romero with three. Yginio Salazar takes a bullet in the back and in the shoulder and falls, unconscious but alive. Ignacio Gonzales take a slug in the right arm, but manages to make it out of the yard and down to the Bonito, where he collapses. Joe Smith, George Bowers, Florencio Chaves, and Jose Maria Sanchez also manage to make it to the Bonito in the confusion.
The gunfire comes to a halt. In McSween’s yard lie the bodies of Beckwith, Romero, Zamora, McSween himself, and the unconscious Salazar. From the Bonito, the Dolan men can hear hollering and gunfire being fired in jubilant celebration by the Regulators who managed to escape. The other Dolan men throughout the town begin to gather in the McSween yard as the burning adobe house begins to crumble. Andy Boyle approaches Yginio Salazar, kicks him, and gets ready to shoot him with his pistol. Just then, Milo Pierce steps in and tells Boyle that Salazar is surely dead and it’s no good wasting a bullet on him. Agreeing, Boyle walks away. Some of the men gather Beckwith’s body and carry it to the House, but the bodies of McSween and the Regulators are left where they fell. Over the course of the night, the Dolan men fire their guns in the air, get drunk, terrorize the town, and force Sebrian Bates and George Washington to play their fiddles at gunpoint, all in celebration over their victory. Neither Col. Dudley nor any of his men make any attempt to stop this, nor do any of them approach the McSween ruins. After all the Dolan men pass out or go in for the night, Yginio Salazar crawls a half-mile to his sisters house outside of town. The Regulators along the riverbank must soon realize that McSween didn’t make it. At some point, they must be wondering “what now?” Do they continue to fight? Do they just go their separate ways? They can’t just go back to the lives they led before the war; they’re outlaws. Should they be happy because they lived through the battle, or should they be saddened over the fact that McSween and other Regulators didn’t? And what of the other Regulators, Doc Scurlock, Charlie Bowdre, Fred Waite, Martin Chaves, and his men, the ones from the Ellis and Montano houses who left earlier in the day? None of these questions could be answered on this night. No, the only thing that could be done at the moment was for the exhausted fighters to sleep.
The Lincoln County War was now over, and from it emerged no one who could claim true victory. The war had been fought between two factions for economic control of the county, and by the war’s end, no one had it. The leaders of one faction, John Tunstall and Alex McSween, were both viciously killed; on the other side, L. G. Murphy was a terminal, alcoholic mess residing in Santa Fe, far from Lincoln, and J. J. Dolan and J. H. Riley had lost their entire business to bankruptcy and were facing criminal charges for murder and cattle theft. The gunmen from both sides, although at various times throughout the war thought of as legitimate law officers, would soon all be declared outlaws. The civilian non-combatants in the county would soon suffer from invading outlaws from Texas, who come to Lincoln to take advantage of the anarchy resulting in the war‘s aftermath. Truly, the Lincoln County War stands as a war in which no one won, but everyone lost.
The above illustraion, by Linda P. Hart, shows the McSween house as it appeared on July 19. No known photos of the house exist. This was taken from the book "The West of Billy the Kid" by Frederick Nolan.
Murphy-Dolan-Riley men involved