Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Past tense: Aftermath, part one

by Drew Gomber

It is easy to think that the Lincoln County War, and the incredible violence that accompanied it, ended with the “5-Day Battle” in Lincoln in July of 1878. While the war was more or less officially over, the violence was a long way from ended.

Bodies had piled up during the war, and the fact is we will never know how many murders were committed. To try and list the fatalities is an exercise in futility. While we can certainly tally the murders that took place during the war, we can only do that with the publicized homicides. But what of others? One has to remember that it was extremely dangerous for, not just the participants, but also for those residents of Lincoln County who were neutral. Imagine that you are a farmer, out working in your fields, and you look up to see a heavily armed group of men approaching you. You cannot make out who they are, and the only thing that you know for certain is that they will kill you for who your friends are – a decidedly dangerous situation…

For example, on August 2, 1878, Jim Reese was killed by the Sanchez brothers at Tularosa. The next day, at La Luz Canyon, a Navajo scout named “Captain John” killed at least one Apache. On August 5th, there was an incident near the Indian Agency (Blazer’s Mill) that left the area reeling.

George Peppin’s posse had been scouring the county searching for the remains of the late Alexander McSween’s “troops” – known as “the Regulators”. While Peppin and his men were searching in the vicinity of John Chisum’s ranch (Roswell), the Regulatos appeared at the agency. They had been living somewhere in the mountains between San Patricio and South Fork (a rather large area), and it had only been a few weeks since “the big killing” (a phrase which the old-timers used when speaking of the finale of the 5-Day Battle) that left McSween and a number of others extremely dead. It is more than possible that some, if not all, of the Regulators did not feel that the war was over… and it turned out to be a very bad day for a young man named Morris Bernstein.

According to Regulator Frank Coe, the Regulators were on their way to the agency to visit Dick Brewer’s grave. Brewer had fallen there back in April, along with Andrew L. “Buckshot” Roberts, the man the Regulators had attempted to “arrest.” In the interest of history, it should be noted that when reading Coe’s account, one can practically see the halos over the Regulators’ heads. Also, the U.S. Army disagreed with Coe’s recollections. According to the Army, the Regulators were fired on by Apaches, who feared that the former McSween men were there to steal horses, a scenario that sounds at least more probable. Whatever the case, the Regulators were close to the agency when the gunfire erupted.

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