The Bloody Lincoln County War was effectively over by the autumn of 1878. It had climaxed in the savage five-day siege of the McSween house in Lincoln, New Mexico, where Billy the Kid and his companions held off the gunmen of the Murphy-Dolan faction until the house was fired by treachery around them. Their employer Tunstall had been murdered some time before, and his partner McSween had died during the siege, shot by Murphy man Bob Beckwith. Four of Tunstall’s “Regulators” made their escape from the burning house one by one at the end, under massive fire from the besiegers. They were Josiah “Doc” Scurlock, Tom “Bigfoot” O’Folliard, Ignacio Gonsalez and Jose Chavez y Chavez. Last to make the perilous dash was Billy the Kid. Like the others, he received covering fire from three of their comrades who had taken positions elsewhere; “Tiger” Sam Smith, who was killed by Apaches two years later, George Coe, and the redoubtable Hendry Brown.
Billy the Kid out of all of them is the only name everybody recognizes today. He’s a western legend, and like many figures of the past who’ve become legendary, the myth-makers have blended his feats and deeds with those of other men, chief among them Hendry Brown. They battled on the same side, were often together in the same fights, were both trigger-fast and deadly, and even resembled each other physically to a degree. Neither was a large man; both were between five foot six and five foot eight, slim, young (Brown one year older than Bonney) and fair in their coloring.
Since many of the fights in the Lincoln County War were mass affairs with a number of combatants on both sides shooting, it’s likely that Billy the Kid received credit for some killings that other men did. Some skeptical modern estimates have Bonney killing only four men in person, one on one, and maybe five others in fights he shared with other Regulators. Well, as this writer mentioned last post, I tend to regard the extreme debunkers (on this matter and others) as Pecksniffian know-alls, but I also recognize that the legend-makers never let facts get in the way of a good story. I might suppose that Billy the Kid shot nine men in personal combat and others in mass firefights, and that the tradition that he’d killed his first man at twelve, with a victim for each of his years when he died at twenty-one, as just that, a tradition – but it’d be sheer guessing, from a man who’s no expert on the south-west’s history. Robert E. Howard knew enormously more, and he wrote that Bonney had “eleven or twelve killings to his name” before he even reached Lincoln County at the age of nineteen.
This is certain. REH regarded Billy the Kid as the greatest western gunman ever. He considered the top three to be Bonney, Hickok and Hardin, with Bonney coming first. As he contended in a letter of May24th, 1932, to H.P. Lovecraft:
If I expressed my opinion as to the three greatest gunmen the West ever produced, I would say – and doubtless be instantly refuted from scores of sources, since you cant compare humans like you can horses – but I’d say, in the order named, Billy the Kid of New Mexico, Wild Bill Hickok of Kansas, and John Wesley Hardin of Texas. The Kid killed twenty-one men in his short eventful lifetime; Hardin had twenty-three notches on his pistol-butt when John Selman shot him down in an El Paso saloon; how many men Wild Bill killed will probably never be known; conservative estimate puts the number at fifty-odd. But Wild Bill had a somewhat softer snap than the Kid, since the quick draw had not attained its ultimate heights when he was at his best.
In the same letter, referring to Pretty Boy Floyd, he says:
He’s being touted as a second Billy the Kid, but deadly as he undoubtedly is, I doubt if he has quite the ability of that young rattlesnake. I consider the Kid the greatest gunman that ever strapped a holster to his leg, and that’s taking in a lot of territory.
REH rated Hendry Brown extremely high, too. In another letter to Lovecraft, written in September 1934, he refers to Brown as “a former partner of Billy the Kid, one of the warriors of the Bloody Lincoln County War, and one of the deadliest gunmen that ever wore leather.” Later in the letter he says, “It was not merely physical superiority that made such men as Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, John Ringo and Hendry Brown super-warriors. It was their razor-edged intelligence, their unerring judgment of human nature, and their natural knowledge of human psychology.” Putting Brown in the same bracket as Billy the Kid, Hardin and Ringo is pretty strong evidence that REH took his gun-prowess seriously. The term “super-warrior” isn’t one that errs on the mild side, either.
With the battle of the McSween house, as stated above, the Lincoln County War had for practical purposes ended. The Regulators who survived were still wanted for the murder of Sheriff Brady – described in the previous post. Billy the Kid, Hendry Brown, John Middleton, Fred Waite and Tom O’Folliard left New Mexico for a while, rustling a herd of cattle and driving it to Tascosa, Texas, where they sold it. (Or by some accounts, a herd of stolen horses, not rustled cattle.) They remained in Tascosa, whoring, gambling and drinking on the proceeds for a time. Billy, growing bored – and remembering the revenge he’d sworn on the surviving members of the “House,” the Murphy-Dolan faction — headed back to New Mexico. Tom O’Folliard went with him. Waite and Middleton didn’t. Hendry Brown opted to stay in Texas and, according to some old (none too solidly verifiable) plains gossip, made a trail drive with one Perry LeFors.
Hendry may have gone to Kansas and then Oklahoma with John Middleton in the first part of 1879. Again, that can’t be solidly supported, but a man named Charles Colcord is supposed to have said that the pair stayed at his camp on the Cimarron River in Oklahoma for some weeks, both in poor shape – Brown ill and Middleton having trouble with his old lung wound. Middleton eventually married Colcord’s sister, so Colcord should have known what he was talking about.
It is definitely known that Hendry Brown drifted back to Texas and worked as a cowboy on George Littlefield’s LIT Ranch in the Panhandle, once again in the vicinity of Tascosa. He worked on other ranches there, though not for long on any of them, as his employers found him more trouble than his abilities as a cowhand were worth. He was “always on the warpath.” It’s consistent with his reputation, and also with what REH wrote about him. “He was like a blood-mad wolf at times … He killed anyone who displeased him – and he was very easy to displease.” Must have taken real early 1880’s Texas nerve to tell him to his face, “You’re fired.”
As best I can ascertain, he moved on from the Littlefield ranch in the autumn of 1880. Then, in a complete turnaround, though one that had been performed before, he became a lawman. One Cape Willingham was then the Sheriff of Oldham County and town marshal of Tascosa. He hired Hendry Brown as his deputy because of his gunfighter’s rep, but turned him off early in 1881 because of his aggressive nature. “He always wanted to fight and get his mane up.” Not really what you want in a deputy marshal. He’s supposed to stop fights.
Brown worked on other ranches here and there. The foreman who was his boss on one of them was named Barney O’Connor. They were to meet again.
Hendry Brown drifted up to Kansas, and in the midwinter of 1881 the city marshal of Caldwell, Meagher, died of gunshot wounds. The Wellington newspaper, The Sumner County Press, took a sniping crack at its neighbor town in its June 29th, 1882 issue, saying that Caldwell was wild and violent because of bad whiskey and prostitutes, made available through the venal city administration. The Caldwell Post fired back on July 6th. It declared, “The editor [of The Sumner County Press] states what he is pleased to call facts, what in reality is a string of falsehoods or mistakes.” It points out that Mike Meagher was killed in a riot, by an outlaw named Talbot, over a supposed insult, “not caused by whisky or women.” Meagher’s successor as marshal, George Brown, had been shot and killed on June 22nd, “in the discharge of his duties. The men who did the killing were not under the influence of whisky or lewd women … They were outlaws and would have made the same play anywhere else in the state.”
Another newspaper not based in Caldwell, the Dodge City Times, declared in November that “The cowboys have removed five city marshals of Caldwell in five years.” The Caldwell Post replied, “We most emphatically deny the charge … ” and went on to assert that only one marshal had been “removed” by cowboys – George Brown – and even his killers had really been escaped convicts posing as cowboys to cover their rustling and other crimes. The outlaw Jim Talbot had killed Mike Meagher. “The other marshals spoken of by the Times were not killed by cowboys, but by male prostitutes, to put it mildly.”
Whether cowboys, outlaws, or male prostitutes, it looks certain that a rowdy and homicidal element existed around Caldwell that made quite pastime of assassinating lawmen. Caldwell, in fact, was to go through fifteen marshals in just six years, between 1879 and 1885. Despite the Post’s denials, wild cowboys just off the cattle drives through Indian Territory must have accounted for the demise of several.
By November 1882, though, Bat Carr had been Caldwell’s city marshal for months, following the murder of George Brown. The citizens seem to have been satisfied with him from the start, since they took up a collection and presented him with a handsome matched pair of six-shooters within a fortnight of his pinning on the badge. The Commercial, Caldwell’s second newspaper, had printed: “Carr is a quiet unassuming man, but there is that look about him which at once impresses a person with the idea that he will do his whole duty fearlessly and in the best manner possible. We have not the least doubt that he will give entire satisfaction . . . ”
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