Battle of Lincoln (1878)

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Battle of Lincoln
Date July 15 - July 19, 1878
Location Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory, United States
Result The Regulators disband
United States

Murphy-Dolan Faction

Commanders and leaders
United States Nathan Dudley

United States George Smith
George Peppin

Alexander McSween  

Josefita Chavez

 United States Army 150

Murphy-Dolan Faction 60~

Casualties and losses
2 killed
5-10 wounded
5 killed
unknown wounded

The Battle of Lincoln, New Mexico was a five-day long firefight which took place from July 15-19, 1878. The largest armed battle of the Lincoln County War, it was the climax of that conflict, taking place in America's Old West at Lincoln, New Mexico.


Main article: Lincoln County War

While the seeds were sown in the years prior to 1878, open armed conflict in the Lincoln County War began with the murder of rancher John Tunstall[1] on February 18, 1878 by members of the Jesse Evans Gang, who were hired as gunmen by the "Murphy-Dolan" faction (called "The House") to harass their commercial competition.[2][3] The murder and subsequent lack of action by Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady led to the formation of the Lincoln County Regulators, led by Richard "Dick" Brewer and other friends and supporters of Tunstall. The Regulators included gunmen such as William Bonney (also known as "Billy the Kid"),[1] Charlie Bowdre, John Middleton, Frank Coe, George Coe, "Big Jim" French, and Doc Scurlock.[2] The conflict resulted in numerous deaths on both sides, including the murder of Sheriff Brady on April 1, 1878.[1][4]

On April 29, 1878, George Peppin, the newly appointed sheriff who replaced Brady, led a posse which included Jesse Evans, his gang, and the Seven Rivers Warriors. They engaged three Regulators in a shootout at the Fritz Ranch, resulting in the death of Frank McNab, the wounding of Ab Saunders and the capture of Frank Coe. Shortly after his capture, Frank Coe escaped custody, although the details of that escape are unknown.[5] The morning after the shootout at the Fritz Ranch, George Coe, had taken up a defensive position on the roof of Alexander McSween's house. George Coe, missing his trigger finger due to an earlier gunfight with Buckshot Roberts, took aim at 'Dutch Charlie' Kruling, a member of the Seven Rivers gang. Because the distance was in excess of 350 yards, Henry Newton Brown warned Coe he was wasting his shot. To Brown’s astonishment, Coe hit Kruling, wounding him.[6] That same day, Seven Rivers members Tom Green, Charles Marshall, Jim Patterson, and John Galvin were killed in Lincoln. The Regulators were blamed.[5]

On May 15, a gang of twenty-two Regulators—including Billy the Kid and led by Deputy Sheriff Doc Scurlock—tracked down Seven Rivers member Manuel Segovia. He was believed to have been the one who had shot McNab. Subsequently, Segovia was shot and killed while allegedly trying to escape custody.[4]

The battle[edit]

McSween, along with John Chisum, the former partner of John Tunstall, had organized and supported the Regulators, although he himself was a non-combatant.[7] On July 15, 1878, McSween returned to Lincoln with about 41 of his supporters, ten of whom he put up in his home, the rest were scattered around the town.[8] Shortly after, a large force, hired by the "Murphy-Dolan" faction and led by Peppin, arrived in Lincoln, surrounding the Regulator faction in McSween's house.[9]

A barrage of gunfire from the posse and return fire from the Regulators were quickly traded, but the fighting soon subsided into sporadic gunfire which continued throughout the rest of the day. At least five Murphy-Dolan men were wounded in the initial exchange, but the Regulators suffered no casualties.[3] The next three days saw very little change to the stalemate, and no precise casualty figures are known. Finally, on July 18th, a cavalry detachment under the command of Lt. Col. N.A.M. Dudley from Fort Stanton arrived.[10] They had either been summoned by frightened residents,[10] or by a report that a soldier had been wounded in Lincoln.[8]

The arrival of the soldiers quickly put an end to the skirmish. By the end of the third day, the McSween supporters who were scattered about town had all departed, leaving just the contingent holed up in the McSween house.[11] At some point during the night of July 18th, the McSween house was set afire. When McSween and the others attempted to flee the following morning, he was shot and killed, along with several other Regulators.[7][4] The remaining Regulators managed to escape, Billy the Kid.[2] Casualty figures for the battle were varied, but the Regulators lost at least five men, included McSween, while Peppin's posse also suffered two dead: Bob Beckwith and Charlie Crawford.[3]


McSween's wife, Susan, survived and pressed for legal action against the Murphy-Dolan faction, but none was taken.[7] Col. Dudley was place under investigation for his failure to complete his peace keeping mission, but was cleared a year later when the army decided not to file charges.[9]

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. By that time, the remaining Regulators had broken up, with many members and supporters trying to return to normal lives. For many involved in the conflict, Wallace issued general amnesties; but for others (including Billy the Kid), he issued warrants.[12] The "war" led to the notoriety of Billy the Kid, who was eventually killed by lawman Pat Garrett.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Billy the Kid; Desert USA website; accessed January 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Big Jim French and the Lincoln County War; Tower, Mike; from Wild West Magazine; published June 12, 2006 (online); History Net website; accessed January 2014.
  3. ^ a b c The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History; by Frederick Nolan; University of Oklahoma Press; Norman, OK; 1992.
  4. ^ a b c The Lincoln County War; article; "Southern New Mexico" online; accessed January 2014.
  5. ^ a b "The Battle of Lincoln". 
  6. ^ Coe, George; Frontier Fighter; University of New Mexico Press; Albuquerque, New Mexico; 1934.
  7. ^ a b c The McSweens;; accessed January 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Lincoln County Conflict". 
  9. ^ a b High Noon in Lincoln: Violence on the Western Frontier; by Utley, Robert Marshall; UNM Press; December 1, 1989; book; Google Books online; accessed January 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Lincoln County War". Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. 
  11. ^ "Lincoln County War by Hough". Legends of America. 
  12. ^ Note:A pardon for Bonney was discussed, but due to the notoriety brought about by the range war, it never came to pass.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°29′25″N 105°23′34″W / 33.490219°N 105.3927°W / 33.490219; -105.3927