Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry McCarty: The Wild West's "Billy The Kid"

Fort McSween

"Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water.
To cool my parched lips, the cowboy then said. Before I returned, his soul had departed,
And gone to the round up the cowboy was dead."

The Streets of Laredo


War continued, and the Murphy faction, still captained by Dolan and Riley, was losing every engagement. One by one, the men who had killed Tunstall and the men who loitered with the killers ate dirt. Each wilted under unforgiving Chisum-McSween firepower, unceasing and in fond memory of the Englishman they loved. Every time Billy the Kid and his pals assembled after dark with mug in hand, no matter in what cantina and in what burgh they found themselves chasing the next victim, they toasted Tunstall in whisky and completed the toast the following morning in hot lead. It was a never-ending salutation to, ironically, a peace-loving man.

With the victor seemingly apparent, those independent ranchers and beef buyers in the Lincoln area who had continued to patronize The House's inventory jumped fence to do business with Tunstall's general store, now called McSween's. Livery, clothing, farm implements, hardware and meat on the supper table life goes on and these things would be needed to sustain heart and hand. It didn't really matter who supplied them, after all.

But everyone, including Billy the Kid, had overlooked the biggest trump card yet to be played by the Murphy Gang. Even though they were finding themselves outnumbered and outshot in pitch battles, the Murphys still retained the biggest and best weapon: political influence also known as the Santa Fe Ring. With fear of losing their government beef contracts and their land holdings to the enemy, the mutton-chopped legislators, realizing a decreasing bank account, convened in the capital city to chew both the situation and their fingernails. It didn't take them long to realize that the Regulators would neither surrender nor compromise. So, they, the shining stars of the territorial government, who outwardly remained neutral and implored both sides for peace (because it read well for them in the newspapers) committed to performing a coup d'grace. But, how to crush the opposition and protect their impartiality? There was the rub.

The legitimate answer came quickly, supplied unwittingly by Billy the Kid. He had finally caught up with and, in broad daylight, gunned down two of the mechanics of Tunstall's murder, Lincoln Sheriff William Brady and Deputy George Hindman. Unlike the other men who had died thus far from both sides, these were government-appointed officials...crooked, yes, but official nonetheless. The Santa Fe Ring mourned the pair in public, but hurrahed in private. Billy had taken the feud beyond its intimacy to cause the deaths of two badge-wearing lawmen. The politicians now had a [legal] reason to arrest one of the leading Regulators but, they mused, why not lever the opportunity to do away with all the Regulators at once? They decided to wait and watch for Billy the Kid and his friends to meet en masse, which they were known to do occasionally in Lincoln, then take the whole bunch together as abettors of a runaway murderer.

George Peppin, Lincoln's new sheriff, promised to keep surveillance on lawyer McSween's Lincoln home, the roosting nest of the Regulators.

*****

Paulita Maxwell (McCarty)
Paulita Maxwell
(McCarty)

Unaware of the plot hatching against him and his comrades, Billy took a breather from the action to meander around DeBaca County, chiefly in the town of Fort Sumner. A former military garrison one-hundred miles northeast of Lincoln, the town had been named after Edwin Voss Sumner, commander of the now-defunct fort, which had been transformed into a private ranch by a wealthy half-Mexican, half-Irish landowner named Pedro Maxwell. Maxwell's sister, Paulita, was one of the attractions for Billy in Ft. Sumner, as well as other olive-skinned Latin-beauty types for which Billy had a passion. By all accounts, the boy had little trouble finding female company; they liked the smiling blonde wiseacre with an undertone of chivalry. Little is known about Billy's flames, but research has uncovered a few names besides Paulita's. According to Nick McCarty, who operates a website on the Kid, girlfriends some whose photographs exist were Abrana Garcia, Fredericke de Oliveira and Celsa Gutierres.

Throughout the fighting, Billy had found a constant sidekick named Tom O'Folliard, a swarthy, smiling ne'er-do-well the same age of Billy, from Uvalde, Texas. O'Folliard, according to Don McAlavy, president of the Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang Society, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to preserve, protect, and promote Billy the Kid history, "Tom joined the supporters of Alexander McSween, now the leader of the faction opposed to the (Murphy) gang's heavy-handed rule of Lincoln County... There is an account of Tom being involved in stealing cattle from Emil Fritz, a member of the (opposing) faction, thus pitting him against The House." Orphaned at an early age, O'Folliard adored his grandmother, who raised him, and to whom he would often correspond in Texas.

Billy shared his Ft. Sumner retreat time with O'Folliard. When not with their respective inamoratas, the boys dawdled in various keno and faro halls. One of their best friends became a former cattle driver and buffalo hinter, strapping 6'4" Patrick Floyd Garrett who, having wearied of the range, had settled in Ft. Smith to open a small café offering gambling at its backroom tables. Garrett, though ten years older, took a shine to especially Billy and they could often be seen shoulder to shoulder betting their luck on a throw of the dice. O'Folliard jokingly referred to them as Big Casino and Little Casino, a reference that the other frequenters soon adopted.

Pat Garrett had always been a civilized man, a believer in law and order. Born in Louisiana in 1850, he was raised on the fine wine culture of the Old South where ambition and chivalry were much merited. Too young to fight in the Civil War, he found adventure later when he relocated to the Texas Panhandle after his parents passed away in 1866. Moving cattle northward became his chief occupation and, in doing so, he crossed paths with some of the toughest [hombres] in Abilene, Fort Worth and other clapboard hamlets on the bovine beat. With one of these outlaws he had a deadly encounter, a mule skinner named Briscoe. Misunderstood words turned frothy over a bar in Fort Griffin and when Briscoe raised a fire axe with the purpose of ventilating Garrett's skull, Garrett had no alternative but to shoot him. "The mule skinner died a few minutes later with Garrett standing over him, tears running down his cheek," writes Jay Robert Nash in his excellent Western Lawmen & Outlaws.

Even at the time he was chucking dice and flipping jacks with Billy the Kid and Tom O'Folliard, he was considering giving up the café and going into law enforcement. He craved action and enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. Within a year, he would be appointed a county marshal; within two years he would kill both boys in line of duty.

*****

Billy and saddle buddy Tom wearied of Ft. Sumner and left in July, 1878. Sheriff Peppin, on the scout for the Santa Fe Ring, wired the politicos, informing them that it looked like their chance to arrest the Kid and his friends may be near at hand. Surveillance reported that the Regulators were straggling into Lincoln, one by one on horseback, loafing in McSween's general store, and boarding under his roof at the edge of town. Apparently, the long-idle Regulators were up to their old tricks, about to formulate a new series of attacks on supporters of The House. If that were the case and it was very likely it was then the main aggressor, Billy the Kid, was destined to join them any day. Reports had him breaking leather for Lincoln.

Sheriff Peppin was ready. While Billy had been relaxing in Ft. Sumner, the constable had gathered a posse of over forty locals and placed it in the hands of devoted hanger-on Marion Turner. This civilian brigade of cattlemen and merchants loyal to Murphy was now alerted and put on emergency detail. The sheriff had also contacted the officer in charge of the closest Army station, Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Dudley, to seek assistance in capturing the fugitive-harboring Regulators if extra force was required.

The Santa Fe Ring wanted a showdown and the showdown came at sundown on July 15 when Billy and Tom at last rode onto the grounds of the McSween estate. With their arrival, that brought the number of Regulators present inside the house to fifteen, counting its owner. Besides the principles Billy, O'Folliard and McSween, there were other vexatious foes whom the Murphys had long wanted to shut down Jim French, Charlie Bowdre, Ignazio Gonzales, Harvey Morris and Jose Chaves y Chaves to name a few.

Alexander McSween (Nash)
Alexander McSween
(Nash)

McSween's home sat on an open stretch of ground just beyond the limits of town, fronted by a main road and outbuildings. Never one to trust the Murphy Gang, McSween had a guard posted at all times along the frontage with orders to ring a shot at the first intimation of trouble. With the brunt of the Regulators assembled there, he doubted that the enemy would dare any mischief in fact, his house was a fort. Nonetheless, he checked the situation with the postern not long after sunset. The guard reported no suspicious activity.

Hours passed. Sweet chaparral drifted through the open window and screen door. A coyote yodeled far off. The lodgers broke off into groups, some to the kitchen to play cards, others to their rooms to sleep. Yet others glanced at their pocket watches and figured they'd better get some shut-eye before the big meeting scheduled for next morning in the parlor. Pulling Billy aside, McSween had taken him into his confidence to confess an apprehension; things had been too quiet lately and the air, he said, breathed suspicion. His aim was to strike before the others. Billy winked and replied, "You know you can count me in, Alex."

The grandfather clock in the parlor had just boomed midnight when the Regulators were lulled from sleep by the lookout's warning gun. The sentry raced into the parlor, bug-eyed, and hadnt a chance to speak before the front yard rumbled with a hellish disturbance of horsehooves and wagons, almost immediately followed by a barrage of gunfire that shook the walls and shattered the windows of the mansion. The boarders dived off their chairs, from their cots, from the divan and crawled along the carpeted floor to wherever they had leisurely placed their respective weapons. They knew instantly who their attackers were, of course, and realized they had played into their hands. McSween, stooping below a parlor window, called out for a parley, but bullets from dozens of muskets answered him, splintering the window frame inches above him.

Billy, who was upstairs at the time, surveyed the moonlit front yard. He could see that the raiders had turned their buckboards on their sides along the road and were firing from behind these makeshift parapets. Squeezing a couple of shots from his Colt, he saw two silhouettes in Stetsons jerk from position, then drop from sight. This incited a volley in his direction. Dodging, he fell to the floor. As he lay there waiting for the blast to subside, he could hear the reports of his own men downstairs and around him lustily returning shot for shot. Darting from window to window, he soon discovered what he suspected the Murphy bunch had surrounded McSween's, expecting a long siege.

During a brief lull in the contest, he saw one shadow step carefully out from behind the line of wagons, just one boot toe out ready to duck back upon a single shot. The shadow called out, "You in there! All of you Regulators! We have a warrant for your arrest for the murder of Billy Brady and George Hindman! Come out with your hands"

Billy severed him. "And we have a warrant for you and Murphy and all your scum for the murder of the finest man that ever walked this dirty ground, John Tunstall!" And he laced his words with a blast of his Colt that sent the shadow scrambling to cover.

For five days the siege continued without letup. Men on both sides of the bullet-torn walls of the mansion were tired and wounded; they choked on gunsmoke, their bellies cramped up with hunger. Still neither party relented. At last, says chronicler Jay Robert Nash, the U.S. Army was called in. "Colonel Dudley threatened to fire his two field cannons at the house, reducing it to rubble (but the Regulators) made a mass escape, hundreds of bullets smashing into the building around them. The Kid miraculously fought his way through the lines of besiegers, wounding several, and made it to the nearby river...His friends, including Tom O'Folliard, followed and most were wounded. McSween refused to desert his home and was shot to death, nine bullets entering his body."

 

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