Assassination of John Henry Tunstall
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Assassination of John Henry Tunstall

Feb. 18, 1878; near Parjito Cutoff, Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory---Early in the morning, John Henry Tunstall, along with his ranch-hands Dick Brewer, Billy the Kid, John Middleton, Henry Brown, Robert Widenmann, and Fred Waite (in a wagon) begin herding nine horses from Tunstall's Rio Feliz ranch to Lincoln, forty miles away. Earlier in the year, Judge Warren Bristol, a friend and ally of L. G. Murphy, James Dolan, and Johnny Riley, ordered that $10,000 worth of Alex McSween's and Tunstall's possesions (including several of his horses) be confiscated. This was done because Bristol wrongly believed that Tunstall and McSween were partners in the store/bank business, when this was not technically true. Although Tunstall was at first outraged over the fact that his personal possesions were being taken from him, he later settled down and decided to let justice work out the problem for him. Because of this, he planned to willingly herd these nine horses from his ranch into Lincoln and hand them over to Sheriff William Brady, a Dolan man. However, what none of them knew was that the day before, Feb. 17, a deputized posse of forty-five men, headed by Billy Mathews and Jimmy Dolan himself and composed mainly of various members of the Jessie Evans Gang and the Seven Rivers Warriors, began riding towards Tunstall's ranch from the nearby ranch of Bob Paul to confiscate the horses themselves.

Ten miles away from Tunstall's ranch, Waite leaves the rest of the party and takes a much easier wagon road to La Junta. Meanwhile, Tunstall and the others continue on through a shortcut through Pajarito Springs. A mile afterwards, Brown's horse throws a shoe and he has to turn back towards Tunstall's ranch. On the way back, he happens to run into the Mathews-Dolan posse. Not having anything against Brown, the posse lets him go on his way.

The posse reaches Tunstall's ranch shortly thereafter and find the horses gone and only the ranch's cook, Godfrey Gauss, still there. At the ranch, the posse makes an inventory of all they find at there. The inventory lists an anvil, a shovel, 360 head of cattle, and a small hut lined with rows of sandbags and portholes cut out of the walls. The posse then interrogates Gauss about where the other men and the horses are, but Gauss claims he does not know. The posse gives up on Gauss, because they realize that they can just follow the tracks of Brown's horse to where the Tunstall party is. Deputy Mathews decides not to send every member of the posse, but designates a little over a dozen to go, with Billy Morton to be the leader.

The dozen plus member sub-posse races after Tunstall, and soon catches up with him in a nearby cavern. When the Tunstall group sees the sub-posse coming up over a hill behind them, they scatter. Bonney, Middleton, Widenmann, and Brewer flee forward to a nearby knoll, where they plan to make a stand against the sub-posse. Tunstall, however, freezes. Middleton calls back to him to follow them, but Tunstall only remains still. He then rides up to the posse, hoping he can talk them into letting him go. However, two members of the posse, Tom Hill and Billy Morton, instantly shoot him down, killing him. They then fire two shots with Tunstall's pistol to give the illusion of self-defense. A member of the sub-posse at some point also kills Tunstall's horse.

Following this, Brewer, Bonney, Middleton, and Widenmann go on to Lincoln, where they tell the townsfolk what occured. That night, a party led by John Newcomb goes to the murder site and retrieves Tunstall's body. Tunstall is buried behind his store in Lincoln on February 22. A week later, on March 1, the Regulators, under the leadership of Dick Brewer, would be formed.

Members of the Murphy-Dolan-Riley partisan sub-posse

Tunstall-McSween-Chisum men involved