There are wars between nations, and then there are wars between gangs. The Lincoln County War of 1878 was the latter. The war started when John Tunstall was murdered. John Tunstall’s murder was really the culmination of the ongoing conflict between two factions who were competing for profits from dry goods and cattle interests in the county. James Dolan dominated the older and more established faction, operating a dry goods monopoly through general store referred to locally as The House. The other faction was run by English-born John Tunstall and his business partner Alexander McSween, who opened a competing store in 1876, with backing from established cattleman John Chisum. The Tunstall-McSween faction gathered lawmen, businessmen, Tunstall’s ranch hands, and criminal gangs to their assistance. The Dolan faction was allied with Lincoln County Sheriff Brady and aided by the Jesse Evans Gang. The Tunstall-McSween faction organized a posse of armed men, known as the Lincoln County Regulators, and had their own lawmen consisting of town constable Richard M Brewer and Deputy US Marshal Robert A Widenmann.

The highly volatile situation came to a head on April 4, 1878, in what became known as The Gunfight at Blazer’s Mill. The shootout was between the Lincoln County Regulators and buffalo hunter Buckshot Roberts. The Regulators, led by Richard “Dick” Brewer, included Billy the Kid and Charlie Bowdre. They began the process of hunting down anyone believed to have been associated with the murder of John Tunstall, which had initially sparked the Lincoln County War. Still, the conflict had been long in the making. Roberts had already been implicated in crimes associated with the “Murphy-Dolan” faction. Nevertheless, the reality is that he probably had nothing to do with the ongoing range war.

Blazer’s Mill located on a hillside between Lincoln, New Mexico and Tularosa, was owned by a dentist named Dr Joseph H Blazer. It was more than just a mill. The property included a large two-story house, a large square office building, a sawmill, a grist mill, several one-story adobe structures and houses, a post office, a general store, and a number of corrals and barns. I suppose it was rather a local hang out. The Regulators had killed Sheriff Brady and Deputy Hindman three days earlier, and they were in Blazer’s Mill to have a good meal at Mrs Godfrey’s Restaurant. The Regulators, who were there that day included Brewer, Bowdre, William McCarty (aka Billy the Kid), Doc Scurlock, Frank McNab, George Coe, Frank Coe, John Middleton, Jim French, Henry Newton Brown, Fred Waite, and several others who were not as well-known.

Not everyone was ready for this war. In fact, Buckshot Roberts wanted no part of the Lincoln County War. He had even made plans to leave the area. He sold his ranch and was just waiting for the check from his buyer. On April 4th, 1878, Roberts rode his mule into Blazer’s Mills. He was there to collect his check, but he was shocked to discover that the Regulators entire upper echelon was there, eating lunch in a nearby building. After killing Sheriff Brady just three days earlier the men had left the area around Lincoln, New Mexico after killing Sheriff Brady just three days earlier, but had brazenly stopped to have dinner at Mrs Godfrey’s Restaurant, before leaving the area. One of the Regulators…Frank Coe, was sitting with “Buckshot” Roberts on the steps of the main house. Coe was trying to talk Roberts into turning himself in. Roberts refused. He figured that if he turned himself in, he would be killed by the cowboys, out for revenge.

Meanwhile, Regulator chief, Dick Brewer was growing very impatient with the stand-off, so he He had given him a chance to surrender, and now he was done waiting. When Roberts saw the armed cowboys coming for him, he jumped up with his Winchester ready to fire. Roberts and Charlie Bowdre fired at the same time. Bowdre hit Roberts in the stomach and Roberts’ shot hit Bowdre’s belt buckle, actually severing his gun belt and knocking the wind from him. Roberts was seriously wounded but kept pumping bullets at the Regulators as he headed to the doorway. In the shootout, John Middleton was seriously wounded in the chest. Doc Scurlock was grazed by one slug and another struck George Coe in the right hand, costing him his trigger finger. Finally, when Roberts’ rifle clicked, Billy the Kid knew it was empty, so he ran from cover to finish off the Roberts, but instead, he was knocked senseless by the barrel of Roberts’ Winchester.

By this time, Roberts was desperate, so he barricaded himself in the house. He ignored both his painful wound and the Regulators’ repeated gunshots, armed himself with a single-shot .50-70 Government Springfield rifle belonging to Blazer, thought to be a Sharps rifle which belonged to Dr Appel and readied himself for the next round. The Regulators were stunned by everything that had taken place. They didn’t expect this turn of events, and they could only tend to their wounded and keep trying to get Roberts to come out. Nevertheless, none of them dared to approach their enemy’s fortress. Finally, Brewer circled around the main house, and took cover behind some stacked logs and opened fire on the room where the wounded man was laying on a mattress in front of the barricaded doorway. Roberts saw a cloud of gun smoke from the log pile. He opened fire when Brewer put his head up again, striking the cowboy in the eye. The Regulators, finally admitted defeat, pulled out, and left the area. Buckshot Roberts died from his wounds the next day. In the end, Roberts and Dick Brewer were buried side by side near the big house where the gunfight occurred. George W Coe, who survived the Blazer’s Mill fight, died in 1934.

One Response to Gunfight at Blazer’s Mill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Check these out!