Old West History Archives

John Tunstall and Billy the Kid

John Tunstall and Billy the KidJohn Tunstall was an Englishman who came to America with some capital to invest. He wandered over to New Mexico where he met a lawyer named Alexander McSween. McSween suggested that there were good business opportunities in Lincoln County. What he probably didn’t mention was that there was a bit of a rivalry, over government beef contracts, going on between a J. J. Dolan and John Riley, owners of a general store called “The House,” and local cattle ranchers. Thus begins the story of John Tunstall and Billy the Kid.
           
So Tunstall came to Lincoln. He bought himself a cattle ranch… which was bad enough. But then, he and McSween decided to open a general store in competition with The House.
               
Tunstall wasn’t familiar with the ways of the West. He was used to a more genteel country, where disputes were settled in court. In Lincoln County it was might makes right. And the law was controlled by his competition.
 
Unfortunately for Tunstall, his partnership with McSween brought him into the middle of the feud. The owners of The House brought legal action against McSween regarding a debt. Since Tunstall became McSween’s partner, the law was convinced that Tunstall’s debt was also McSween’s. So, on February 18, 1878, a posse, led by men loyal to The House, headed to McSween’s ranch to confiscate some horses. McSween went out to meet the posse, and was greeted with a bullet to the head.
 
Dolan and Riley of The House probably figured McSween’s death would stifle the opposition. And it very well could have, had it not been for McSween’s 19 year old friend named William Bonney who became a whirlwind from hell. Incidentally, for anyone who may not know it, William Bonney is better known as Billy the Kid.

John Daly and the Vigilante Committee

John Daly and the Vigilante CommitteeJohn Daly was born in New York. As a young man, he migrated to California. Leaving a string of dead men behind him, he then went to the gold mining town of Aurora, Nevada. The mining company and the town fathers were looking for someone to protect their interests from the criminal element. Since Daly carried himself well, and seemed to know how to handle a gun, they hired him as a deputy city marshal. No one ever thought they would one day need a vigilante committee.
           
Daly convinced everyone that he needed some policemen to help him, so he hired Three Fingered Jack, Italian Jim, Irish Tom and a couple of other men who seemed to be of questionable character.
               
In a short time, the men augmented their income by shaking down the local merchants. Also, people who protested ended up in the local graveyard.
 
Finally, one of Daly’s policemen attempted to steal a horse from a local merchant by the name of William Johnson. In the process, Daly’s man was killed. It took a few months, but on February 1, 1864, Daly and his associates made an example of Johnson. He was clubbed, shot in the head and his throat cut.
 
The honest citizens had looked the other way long enough. They formed the Citizens Protective Order, which is a fancy phrase for a vigilante committee. Daly and his gang were arrested and jailed. For a short time…a very short time, if seems as if the men were going to be tried before a judge and jury. But on February 10 the Citizens Protective Order the gang out of jail, escorted them to a scaffold, and ended the whole affair right then and there.
 
This action angered Governor James W. Nye so much that two days later he headed for Aurora with a Provost Marshal Van Bokkelen and United States Marshal Wasson and was going to call out the troops from Fort Churchill to put down the vigilantes. After the Marshal looked into the facts, no action was taken against what was now called the “Citizen Safety Committee.”

Crook’s Starvation March

George Crook's Starvation MarchIt was June of 1876. About 1,000 Sioux and Cheyenne attacked General George Crook and 1,400 soldiers in what was to be called the Battle of the Rosebud. Although the battle ended in a tie, the Indians fled, and Crook, licking his wounds, chose not to immediately follow them. Finally, after a month and a half, Crook took out after them toward the Black Hills. Thus began what is now called Crook’s Starvation March.
       
In order to make up time, they abandon all wagons, tents and extra clothes. With the extra speed that light travel afforded, Crook expected to meet up with the hostile Indians the later part of August. But it didn’t happen. They traveled for weeks through Wyoming, Montana and finally the Dakota Territory. Weather turned bad, and it hailed. It even rained for 11 straight days, adding even more to the soldier’s misery. 
               
With no tents, the soldiers took their blankets, and stretched them over bent branches, and slept in the mud. Famished soldiers collapsed on the trail and horses fell dead of exhaustion. With only wild onions and berries to eat, the desperate soldiers had to resort to eating horseflesh. During one week more than 500 horses died or were abandoned. A soldier, remarking on their having to resort to eating their mounts, said, “It seemed like cannibalism.” As an added note, the mules, loaded with supplies and ammunition did far better than the horses.       
Then on September 16 a supply train finally reached the soldiers, finally ending Crook’s Starvation March. It took a month for the soldiers to get their strength back. Although they captured some Indians on the way, and disarmed other Indians on reservations, they never caught up with the ones they were chasing. Once again the innovative fighting style of the plains Indians outmaneuvered that of the military.   

Edward Cash – Cattle Rustler

Hangman's NooseEdward Cash was a hard working rancher with a wife who lived in Coryell County, in the southeastern part of Texas. Although he wasn’t necessarily handy with a gun, he was handy with his fists. And his ability to intimidate people was an asset to his ranching business. This was because Cash worked hard at acquired cattle one at a time… from his neighbor’s stock. It was virtually impossible to prove Cash as the thief because he was successful at getting rid of the stolen cattle. And, his neighbors didn’t really want to confront Cash and call him a cattle rustler based on just their suspicions. 
 
That is, they didn’t want to confront Cash until the evening of April 9, 1894. On this particular evening Cash’s wife was in labor, and the doctor and a couple of women were at his home assisting with the delivery, when the door crashed open, and seven armed and masked men entered the room.     
 
The masked men tied up Cash, and led him outside to an oak tree in his front yard. A rope was thrown over the limb. One end was put around Cash’s neck, and they pulled him off the ground.   
 
When properly done hanging a man breaks his neck. When improperly done the rope strangles him. And Cash was improperly hanged. Showing their lack of compassion, Cash’s neighbors waited until he had died of strangulation, and then each of them put a bullet in him.
 
It’s not known what happened to his wife, the doctor or the two mid-wives. But evidentially they chose not to pursue the matter because no one was ever arrested for the lynching.
 
Oh, yes. The event caused an end to the stolen cattle in the area.  

Doniphan’s Thousand

Doniphan's ThousandAs a young man Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan had no plans on being a military man. Born in Kentucky, Alexander went to college to be a lawyer, later practicing in Missouri. A far cry from what would become Doniphan’s Thousand.
           
But, the courtroom wasn’t enough excitement for Alexander. When the war with Mexico broke out in 1846 the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers were formed, and Alexander was voted their colonel. Now, the Missouri Mounted didn’t comprise of professional military men. They were a rag-tag group of men who looked more like tramps than spit and polish soldiers of the regular military. And Alexander wasn’t a strict disciplinarian as an officer. But “Doniphan’s Thousand” as they were known were impressive in battle.
               
In December of 1846 Alexander and 500 of his men assisted General Wool in his invasion of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. On their way to Chihuahua, Alexander and his men ran into a force of 1,200 Mexican soldiers just outside of El Paso, Texas. Although outnumbered more than 2 to 1, they took on the Mexican forces, and on December 27 occupied El Paso.
 
Continuing on to Chihuahua, Alexander discovered that General Wool had retreated back. Rather than turning back also, Alexander summoned the other half of his “Thousand” and proceeded to attack Chihuahua unassisted. This time he was completely outnumbered 4 to 1. But, once again they quickly overcame their opponent. Within six months Alexander and his men reached the Gulf Coast. At the coast they were picked up by boat, and transported to New Orleans, where they returned to Missouri and their normal occupations.
 
Within a few months U. S. troops occupied Mexico City, and the war was over. Although the professional military got the credit for the victory, were it not for rag-tag volunteers like Doniphan’s Thousand, it surely wouldn’t have happened when it did.
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