Monday, July 11, 2011

How the death of a B.C. merchant spurred Billy the Kid's killing spree

Billy the Kid rides through America’s nation-building mythology like an enigmatic outlaw angel of retribution. Yet this unstable, anarchic Wild West of American folklore also turns out to be intimately connected to British Columbia and to our own frontier in the years when this province was taking shape amid the tumult and greed of a gold rush. The B.C. connection is John Henry Tunstall, the New Mexico rancher who hired William H. Bonney as a ranch hand in November 1877 — and in so doing launched Billy the Kid on his epic trajectory into the firmament of myth. Tunstall had been working as a clerk in his father’s bustling Victoria dry goods store a scant two years before the fateful events that would enter history as the Lincoln County Range War. Young, ambitious, out to prove himself to a wealthy father by making his own fortune, Tunstall left Victoria to buy a cattle spread in New Mexico in 1876. He found himself entangled in a conflict between ranchers and a Mafia-like business monopoly. J.J. Dolan & Co. gouged ranchers with high retail prices while simultaneously forcing down prices ranchers could charge for their cows by dealing in rustled livestock. Cattle stolen from ranchers were bought at steep discounts, then sold at inflated prices to the U.S. army and to Indian agents under the company’s exclusive supply contracts. Tunstall allied himself with the ranchers. Drawing on his merchandising experience from Victoria, he opened his own store, J.H. Tunstall & Co., in Lincoln, N.M., financing his attempt to break the monopoly with family money...more

No comments: