James Dolan (Lincoln County War)

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James Dolan
James Joseph Dolan of the Lincoln County War.jpg
James Dolan, circa 1870s
James Joseph Dolan

(1848-05-02)May 2, 1848
DiedFebruary 6, 1898(1898-02-06) (aged 49)
OccupationOld West businessman and member of the Santa Fe Ring, racketeer, cattleman, politician.
Known forInstigator of the Lincoln County War

James Joseph Dolan (May 2, 1848 – February 6, 1898) was a Union Army veteran, Grand Army of the Republic member, Republican Party leader, racketeer, Old West businessman and gunman, cattleman, and a key factor in the Lincoln County War, in New Mexico, which launched Billy the Kid to fame.

Early life and Murphy association[edit]

Dolan was born in Loughrea, County Galway, Ireland and moved to the United States at the age of five with his family. He served in the Union Army from 1863 until the Civil War's end, after which he moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico. He worked as a clerk for Lawrence Murphy, and by 1874 the two men were business partners in a mercantile and banking operation. The venture was highly successful and profitable, particularly since there was no competition.[citation needed]

In May 1873, Dolan attempted to shoot US Cavalry Captain James Randlett at Fort Stanton, resulting in "L. G. Murphy & Co." being evicted from the fort. On May 9, 1877, Dolan killed Hilario Jaramillo, claiming that the latter had charged him with a knife. George Peppin, a recent friend, later married Jaramillo's widow.[citation needed]

It would be the only killing he would personally commit, preferring thereafter to hire others to commit acts of violence under his direction. By this time, however, Dolan had become close friends with Sheriff William J. Brady, who later was suspected to have been corrupt. Because of the lack of competition, the Murphy-Dolan businesses charged high prices for their goods, making them hated by local farmers and ranchers.

To counter this, in 1876 naturalized Anglo-American rancher John Tunstall and businessman Alexander McSween opened a competing business, with the support of American rancher John Chisum. The general store and bank, called "J. H. Tunstall & Co", was located near to the Murphy-Dolan businesses, in Lincoln, New Mexico, and enraged Dolan. With Murphy's support, Dolan hired gunmen with the intent of goading Tunstall into a fight. Dolan hired members of the Seven Rivers Warriors, the Jesse Evans Gang and the John Kinney Gang.

Lincoln County War[edit]

The gunmen rustled cattle from Tunstall, and dispersed his herds, in response to which Tunstall hired gunmen of his own, namely native born Americans Richard "Dick" Brewer, Charlie Bowdre, Billy the Kid, Doc Scurlock, George Coe and Frank Coe. On February 18, 1878, Tunstall was shot and killed by Jesse Evans, William Morton, Tom Hill and Frank Baker. This sparked what would become known as the Lincoln County War, one of the most famous range wars.

Although Dolan was suspected of ordering the killing, Sheriff Brady did nothing. Alex McSween then organized the Lincoln County Regulators which included the primary protagonists of Tunstall, who were deputized to capture and bring in Evans, Morton, Baker and Hill. William Morton and Frank Baker were captured on March 6 by the Regulators, who on March 9, 1878 executed them both when the group was surprised by Dolan-Murphy gangsters, along with fellow Regulator William McCloskey, who was suspected to have betrayed the Regulators and of being on Dolan's payroll. That same day Evans and Hill attempted to disperse sheep on a local farm, and Hill was killed by the sheep farmer, while Evans was wounded.

During that period, Dolan offered a reward for anyone who would kill Alex McSween. On April 1, 1878, the Regulators killed Sheriff Brady and his deputy George W. Hindman. Several killings followed, committed by both the Regulators and the gunmen hired by Dolan, who were often led by Jesse Evans. John Copeland was appointed to replace Brady, but when he refused to side with either faction, preferring to remain neutral and deal with both sides accordingly, he was dismissed and replaced by George Peppin, who was plainly on the side of the Murphy-Dolan faction. The range war lasted through July, 1878, culminating in the Battle of Lincoln.


When the range war ended, Susan McSween hired attorney Huston Chapman to pursue charges against Dolan and others, in addition to working toward amnesty for the Regulators. On February 18, 1879, one year to the day after Tunstall was murdered, Evans and Billy Campbell killed Chapman, then fled the territory. That murder also was attributed to Dolan, though his involvement was never proven. Dolan was indicted for the murder of Tunstall, but was acquitted.[citation needed]

Last years[edit]

Dolan later suffered from alcoholism, but did serve as the Lincoln County Treasurer for a time, as well as in the Territorial Senate. He died on his ranch in 1898, aged 49, having finally acquired all of Tunstall's property as well. Much of the land was later expropriated by the Federal government as part of land conservation with the substantial remainder later being sold off.[citation needed]

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