Lawrence Murphy, circa 1870s
County Wexford, Ireland
|Died||October 20, 1878
Lincoln County, New Mexico
|Occupation||Old West businessman and member of the Santa Fe Ring|
|Known for||Main instigator of the Lincoln County War|
Lawrence Gustave Murphy (1831 – October 20, 1878) was Irish, Union Army veteran, Grand Army of the Republic member, Republican Party leader, racketeer, Old West businessman and gunman, and a main instigator of the Lincoln County War.
Murphy was born in County Wexford, Ireland, and as an adult moved to the United States. He enlisted in the US Army starting in 1851 through 1855, and re-enlisted in 1856. After he was discharged in 1861, he ventured to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and reenlisted once again in the Union Army. He served for the duration of the Civil War but saw little, if any, combat. He mustered out at Fort Stanton in 1866 and quickly joining the Grand Army of the Republic which united Union Army veterans as auxiliaries of the Republican Party in Reconstruction America. He established relationships with other well-connected GAR-GOP members and went into business with Emil Fritz. Due to Murphy's connections, the partners immediately began securing military contracts to supply beef, vegetables, and other supplies to the Apache Reservation. They then hatched schemes to sell land they didn't own to unsuspecting farmers.
He eventually moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico, and in 1869 he started "L. G. Murphy & Co." By 1873 he had hired James Dolan, who by 1874 had become a business partner in a profitable mercantile and banking operation. The business saw success mainly due to there being no competition. Murphy also became influential within law enforcement circles, controlling the local sheriff, William J. Brady.
Lincoln County War
What would become known as the Murphy-Dolan faction charged local farmers and ranchers high prices for their goods, making them hated among much of the local population. To counter them, rancher John Tunstall and former Murphy-Dolan employee Alexander McSween opened a rival business in 1876, called "J. H. Tunstall & Co". The Tunstall-McSween faction had the support of powerful rancher John Chisum, and the business enraged James Dolan. With Murphy's support, Dolan hired gunmen to try to goad Tunstall into a fight, employing the Seven Rivers Warriors, the Jesse Evans Gang and the John Kinney Gang.
The gangs began rustling Tunstall's herds, or dispersing them, prompting Tunstall to employ several gunmen of his own, to include Dick Brewer, Doc Scurlock, Billy the Kid, and Charlie Bowdre. On February 18, 1878, while Tunstall was alone, he was shot and killed by Jesse Evans, William Morton, Frank Baker and Tom Hill, likely under the orders of Dolan. This event sparked the Lincoln County War, one of the best known range wars. To counter Sheriff Brady's lack of action on the murder, Alex McSween organized the Lincoln County Regulators, having them legally deputized, and tasked with the apprehension of the murderers. On March 6 the Regulators captured Morton and Baker, and on March 9 the Regulators executed both men, in addition to fellow Regulator William McCloskey, a suspected traitor. On April 1, 1878, the Regulators killed Sheriff Brady and Deputy George W. Hindman, with several other killings following that were committed by both the Regulators and the gunmen employed by Murphy-Dolan. The range war culminated in the Battle of Lincoln from July 15–19, 1878.
By that time Murphy was in poor health, suffering from cancer. He was, by this time, having little to do with the day-to-day activities of his businesses or the gunmen under his employ. He died on October 20, 1878, around the age of 47.
- Murphy was portrayed by Forrest Tucker in the 1970 film Chisum
- Jack Palance portrayed Murphy in the 1988 film Young Guns