This English Rancher’s Ambush Killing Set Billy the Kid on the Path to Murder

In 1926 writer Walter Noble Burns printed The Saga of Billy the Child, the primary book-length biography of the Child since Charlie Siringo’s Historical past of Billy the Child, printed in 1920. As Burns defined to readers, the unprovoked, sadistic homicide of Englishman John Henry Tunstall on Feb. 18, 1878, was the occasion that kicked off the bloody Lincoln County Warfare. Tunstall was killed whereas making an attempt to flee from a “posse” of no less than two dozen males led by simply deputized Jacob Mathews. The posse, little greater than a lynch mob backed by Tunstall’s bitter enterprise rivals Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, included no less than 4 infamous outlaw gunmen. Fleeing with Tunstall have been Billy the Child, Robert Widenmann, Richard Brewer and John Middleton. The lads have been driving a string of horses from Tunstall’s ranch on the Rio Feliz to Lincoln, as Tunstall wished to avoid wasting the animals from confiscation by the posse.

In 1927 two of Tunstall’s nephews, guided by rancher George Coe, marked the homicide website with a stack of stones and a crude picket cross. (Fulton Papers, College of Arizona)

Motivated by the account of the homicide in Burns’ guide, two of Tunstall’s nephews traveled in April 1927 from England to Lincoln, N.M., to hunt their uncle’s grave. They met with rancher George Coe and others nonetheless dwelling within the Lincoln space who had recognized the late service provider and rancher. Coe took the pair to the spot the place the Englishman had been murdered, they usually marked it with a stack of rocks. These within the historical past of the Lincoln County Warfare owe a bouquet of because of Coe and the unnamed Tunstall nephews for his or her efforts.

That October rancher and New Mexico Consultant James V. Tully, of Glencoe, wrote Paul A.F. Walter of the New Mexico Historic Society with a suggestion: “There must be a marker for the spot again of my ranch on the so-called Tunstall Path, nailed on a juniper tree, to point out the place [Tunstall] was slain. That is now practically forgotten.”

Within the fall of 1929 Dr. William Alexander Osborne, dean of the medical faculty on the College of Melbourne, Australia, traveled to Lincoln to analysis the Lincoln County Warfare. His curiosity, as he advised an Related Press reporter, “was aroused as a result of Tunstall, the primary sufferer of the vary conflict, was an Englishman.” Stimulated by the publicity generated by Dr. Osborne’s go to, the U.S. Forest Service erected an official monument on the homicide website that December. The location is thickly forested in the present day, and it’s difficult to mentally image what it regarded like on that fateful Monday when Tunstall was murdered.

The canyon the place Tunstall was killed descends from a comparatively flat plateau within the hills above and to the south of Glencoe, throughout the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the Lincoln Nationwide Forest. Calling it a valley is probably a greater description. Based on the Child, in a sworn deposition supplied to U.S. Division of Justice Particular Investigator Frank Warner Angel, Tunstall’s get together had simply reached the mouth of the canyon, or the “forehead of the hill” as Billy described it, once they sighted the posse driving “at full pace” behind them. Billy and Middleton have been trailing far behind the opposite three, who weren’t driving collectively. Brewer and Widenmann have been 200 to 300 yards to Tunstall’s left, off the path. Tunstall was driving about 100 yards to the proper of the path, out in entrance of his horses, who have been following the path.

the unprovoked, sadistic homicide of Englishman John Henry Tunstall on Feb. 18, 1878, was the occasion that kicked off the bloody Lincoln County Warfare

Billy and Middleton raced ahead to warn these driving forward. The 2 had simply reached Brewer and Widenmann when the posse commenced firing. The lead males within the posse, Tom Hill and William S. “Buck” Morton, have been far in entrance of the primary physique. Billy mentioned he, Widenmann and Brewer turned their horses left and rode “over a hill in the direction of one other, which was lined with massive rocks and bushes, as a way to defend [ourselves] and make a stand.” Middleton galloped towards Tunstall, yelled a warning, after which veered left and joined Billy, Widenmann and Brewer.

Based on the sworn testimony of posse member Albert Howe, Hill and Morton, having noticed Tunstall off on his personal, galloped towards the Englishman, who stopped, turned and confronted them. Hill known as out for Tunstall to strategy, assuring he wouldn’t be damage. On the identical time the pair stealthily drew their weapons. Tunstall rode nearer, anticipating to speak. With out warning, Howe mentioned, “Morton fired and shot Tunstall by means of the breast, after which Hill fired and shot Tunstall by means of the top.” Howe’s testimony is thirdhand, nevertheless. The one witnesses have been the killers themselves. However the proof suggests sure conclusions.

Hill and Morton could have thought that with Tunstall positioned straight in entrance of them, it will be tougher for any potential witnesses driving up from behind to know whether or not the Englishman had drawn on them. That was their alibi: He had shot first, they usually had returned hearth in self-defense. Somebody additionally shot and killed Tunstall’s horse. Morton and Hill then dismounted and simply had time to take away two cartridges from the Englishman’s pistol and drop it beside his physique earlier than the opposite posse members arrived on the scene. In a despicable act of mockery somebody positioned Tunstall’s hat beneath his useless horse’s head and beat the Englishman in regards to the head with the butt of a gun.

In 1878, on the centennial of Tunstall’s ambush killing, the Lincoln County Historic Society positioned this second marker on the homicide website, which lies throughout the Lincoln Nationwide Forest. (David G. Thomas)

That night John Newcomb, Patricio Trujillo, Florencio Gonzales, Lázaro Gallegos and Ramón Baragón went after Tunstall’s physique. “We couldn’t rise up the canyon in a wagon, so we packed it on a horse,” Gonzales recounted. “The physique was mendacity by his useless horse’s head, along with his and his horse’s head proper collectively.” Newcomb added telling particulars. “The corpse had evidently been carried by some individuals and laid within the place through which we discovered it,” he famous. “A blanket was discovered below the corpse and one over it. Tunstall’s overcoat was positioned below his head, and his hat positioned below the top of his useless horse. By the obvious naturalness of the scene we have been pressured to conclude that the murderers of Mr. Tunstall positioned his useless horse within the place indicated, contemplating the entire affair a burlesque.…We discovered his revolver fairly near the scabbard on the corpse. It will need to have been positioned there by somebody after Tunstall’s demise. We discovered two chambers empty, however there have been no hulls, or cartridge shells, within the empty chambers; the opposite 4 chambers had cartridges in them.”

Billy the Child and different self-appointed “Regulators” sought vengeance. On March 9 they killed Morton and one other of the posse members alongside Blackwater Creek. On March 14 Hill took a deadly bullet whereas making an attempt to rob a sheepherder’s camp. Then, on April 1, six Regulators, together with the Child, ambushed Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady and 4 of his deputies, killing the sheriff and Deputy George Hindman. There was no turning again. The Lincoln County Warfare was in full swing.

Numerous writers have puzzled why Tunstall’s horse was shot and posed because it was. The reply is that the murderers knew about Tunstall’s deep love of horses, notably a bay Thoroughbred named Colonel, who was within the string the Englishman been driving that day. Colonel was incurably blind. Tunstall had rescued the horse from the Fort Stanton butcher pen and tended him since. The ugly death-scene posing of Tunstall and his horse was a last, wicked act of contempt.

On Feb. 18, 1978, the a hundredth anniversary of Tunstall’s homicide, the Lincoln County Historic Society positioned a second commemorative marker on the website, which is troublesome to search out. One can park inside a half mile of it, however there are not any markers to point out the place to start mountaineering. Maybe that too shall be remedied sometime. WW

For instructions to the commemorative marker go to and enter the search time period “Tunstall homicide website.”