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April Fools' Day Assassination in Lincoln

April 1, 1878; Main Street, Lincoln, Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory---It's April Fools' Day. Regulators Frank MacNab, Henry Brown, Fred Waite, Big Jim French, John Middleton, Billy "the Kid" Bonney, and possibly (but unlikely) Charlie Bowdre and/or Jose Chavez y Chavez wake up after a good night's sleep in the back of the Tunstall store located on Lincoln's only street. The small group of men had ridden into town the night before and, due to heavy rain, had elected to spend the night with Rob Widenmann and store clerk Sam Corbet in the back of the Tunstall store. Around the time the Regulators wake up, Sheriff Bill Brady himself rides into town from his ranch east of Lincoln. He rides directly to the House, the gigantic two-story store owned by Jas. J. Dolan & Co. It's a well-known fact throughout the county that Brady is a good friend of Murphy, Dolan, and Riley, and is in their pockets. It is also well-known that it was Brady who sent the posse to attach John Tunstall's horses on Feb. 18, the same posse that ended up killing Tunstall on that same day. Some think that Brady sent out the posse with specific orders to kill Tunstall, or that he at least allowed certain men to join the posse knowing they'd be incline to kill the Englishman. The Regulators are some of those that strongly believe this about Brady.

After staying at the House for a few hours, Brady, along with four of his deputies, namely George 'Dad' Peppin, George Hindman, Billy Mathews, and Jack Long (a known member of the Jessie Evans Gang), begin walking east down Lincoln's only, rain soaked, street. All men are armed with Winchester rifles, making them look very imposing. Everyone knows that Alex McSween is expected back in town sometime this morning, and that he'll be stopping first at the Ellis House, the building located furthest to the east in town. It seems more than likely that Brady and his deputies are heading east, towards the Ellis House, in order to meet up with and arrest McSween when he arrives.

As the five "lawmen" walk on, Brady stops for an instant to have a short discussion with the wife of Ham Mills, who happens to be standing in front of her home. When their discussion ends, Brady runs to catch up with his four deputies, who had continued walking while he had stopped. The five men are spread out, not walking in any kind of configuration or pattern. They're expecting no trouble today, especially none from McSween, a proclaimed pacifist. Their rifles are meant for show, for intimidation purposes; they don't anticipate actually having to use them today.

The half-dozen or so Regulators, still in the Tunstall store, spot the sheriff and his deputies on their stroll. They all sneak into the corral, which is connected to the east side of the store. They also are all armed with Winchesters; the differences is, they do intend to use theirs. They all take up positions on the corral wall facing the street, placing the barrels of their rifles through tiny holes in the adobe structure or through the wooden gate. They make sure they're concealed from view entirely.

Brady and his men pass in front of the Tunstall store. The Regulators hold their breaths, cock their rifles, take aim. BANG!! At least six rifles erupt as one, pause, and then keep erupting at will. Sheriff Brady falls to his knees, takes a gasp, then falls face first into the muddy ground, dead. His body is perforated with at least nine bullet holes. Deputy George Hindman (himself a member of the posse that killed Tunstall) takes a bullet in the neck, most likely fired from the rifle of Frank MacNab, and plunges into the ground as well. He tries to crawl away, yelling for water. Ike Stockton, a local saloon keeper, races to the street with a hat full of water, but before he can assist Hindman, another shot, this one probably fired by Fred Waite, hits Hindman, killing him. The other three deputies, Peppin, Mathews, and Long, panick and scatter. As they flee, Long is also hit, but manages to stay afoot and takes cover in the nearby torreon. Peppin and Mathews, the latter of which is being shot at by Billy Bonney, race to the Cisneros house, located across the street from the Tunstall store. As the Regulators continue to fire at them, a random bullet manages to hit good ol' Squire Wilson, a Tunstall-McSween partisan and the local Justice of the Peace, in the buttock. He falls to the ground, but is not seriously injured. As for Mathews and Peppin, they manage to make it inside the Cisneros house, both untouched by the Regulators' bullets.

The smoke clears as anxious dogs bark throughout the town. All the town's citizens stay behind their doors, not yet wanting to venture out to investigate the shooting. All is still...for the moment. Suddenly, out of the still-clearing smoke, Billy Bonney hops over the corral's woodden fence. He is followed by another Regulator, who some sources say is Fred Waite, others Big Jim French. Both young men approach the body of the recently assassinated sheriff. Billy gets ready to kneel down to it, possibly to pick a gun off of it that Brady had confiscated from him a month and half previously, possibly to find and steal the warrant Brady had for the arrest of McSween. Just as Billy begins to lean in, a lone shot rings out. Billy Mathews, positioned in a window of the Cisneros house, has fired a shot at the pair of Regulators with his Winchester. The bullet tears through Billy's thigh, and either that same bullet or another one fired by Mathews tears through the upper thigh of the other Regulator accompanying Billy. As Mathews and Peppin then both open fire on them, the two wounded men scamper back to the corral, bullets flying around their heads.

Once Billy and Fred/Big Jim are back in the corral, the Regulators begin to mount their horses. Despite his leg wound, Billy is able to sit atop his horse. However, the other wounded Regulator has been more seriously injured and can't manage to mount his horse. The Regulators think and talk fast, and it's decided that the more seriously wounded man will have to stay behind, to allow the others to escape quickly. With this decided, the five mounted Regulators burst out of the corral's gate and race towards the east end of town. By this time, a crowd of citizens has gathered in the streets. As the Regulators near the end of town, a citizen or two shoot at them. John Middleton then pulls his horse to a stop, dismounts, grabs his rifle, and fires a few warning shots in the general direction of the crowd, a few hundred yards away. After this, Middleton again saddles up and the Regulators take off at break-neck speed, heading towards the safe haven of San Patricio.

Meanwhile, the Regulator that has been left behind enters the Tunstall store, where he quickly has Sam Corbet bandage his wound. Corbet then hides him under some loose floor boards with a pair of pistols. A short time later, Peppin, Mathews, and the wounded Long enter the store looking for the wounded man. Despite their best efforts, they are unable to locate the man...and it's probably best for them that they didn't. Shortly thereafter, McSween does indeed arrive in town, is arrested by Peppin, and taken to Fort Stanton. That evening, after the sun has set, Billy Bonney rides back into Lincoln unnoticed, goes to the Tunstall store, and retrieves the other wounded Regulator. Under the cover of darkness, the two men ride to San Patricio and meet up with the rest of the Regulators.

The assassination of Brady will have many dire consequences in the future for the Regulators, and for Billy Bonney in particular. Public opinion begins to turn against the Regulators and they become even more wanted by the law. A few weeks later, Billy Bonney, John Middleton, and Henry Brown will be indicted by a grand jury for Brady's murder, while Fred Waite is indicted for Deputy Hindman's. The indictment will dog Billy for the rest of his life, and it is for this murder that Billy will eventually be brought to trial for and convicted. It will go down in history as the only time a participant in the Lincoln County War was tried and convicted of a crime committed during the war.

Regulators involved

Murphy-Dolan-Riley partisans involved