July 19, 1878
As a raging fire engulfs another room, Alexander McSween and his men move into the kitchen, the last standing room of his adobe home in Lincoln, New Mexico.
A large posse under Sheriff George Peppin surrounds the house, with four or five deputies stationed along the back fence that faces the kitchen.
At approximately 9 p.m., five McSween adherents, including Billy the Kid, run toward a gate on the east side of the yard. The first to get there, Harvey Morris, is shot dead; the Kid opens fire, causing Peppin’s men to duck. The remaining four jump over Morris’s body and miraculously make it to the banks of the Bonito River and cross safely. They keep running to the foothills beyond and fire off their guns in exultation over making it out of the burning hell alive.
The next group, which includes McSween and 15-year-old Yginio Salazar, is not so lucky. At the back gate, Peppin’s men are extra alert now and repulse these escapees, who turn back and hide in the corner of the yard amidst the smoke and darkness.
Someone in the McSween group says, “I will surrender.”
Robert Beckwith, a Peppin deputy, enters the back yard and replies, “I am a deputy sheriff, and I have a warrant for your arrest.”
Beckwith is greeted with an oath, “I shall never surrender!” and a bullet in his eye. The men behind Beckwith unload a volley of lead into the darkness. When the firing stops, six bodies lie crumpled in the rubble: those of Alexander McSween, Franciso Zamora, Vicente Romero, Harvey Morris, Robert Beckwith and Yginio Salazar.
To celebrate their success, Peppin’s men procure whiskey and drink as two fiddle players play tunes. Andy Boyle checks the bodies (Beckwith’s body is removed to the Dolan store). Boyle kicks Salazar and starts to put another bullet in him when Milo Pierce says, “Don’t waste your shot on that greaser, he’s long gone and dead as a herring.”
Around midnight, the music stops and the victors stagger off to bed.
As the burning embers crackle and pop, one of the bodies begins move. Salazar, shot once in the back and once in the shoulder, inches himself, painfully and slowly, a half mile to his sister-in-law’s house.
Aftermath: Odds & Ends
Yginio Salazar’s sister-in-law, Nicolasita Pacheco, took him in and managed to get the post surgeon at Fort Stanton, Dr. Dan Appel, to attend to Salazar’s serious wounds.
John Kinney and three of his men tracked Salazar by his blood trail, but when they got to Jose Otero’s house, Appel told them if they tried to harm his patient, he would see them hanged. Salazar gave a statement on July 20: “Mr. McSween come to me at the Berando and told me if I did not go with him he would fine me $50. That he knew I had a good gun, and he wanted me to go with him.” Peppin left him alone.
When Billy the Kid escaped hanging on April 28, 1881, by killing his two guards, local legend claims that he headed straight to Salazar’s home, where Salazar cut off the Kid’s shackles and fed him.
Salazar lived out his life in Lincoln County as a rancher. He died on January 7, 1936. His descendants still live in Lincoln.
Recommended: The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History by Frederick Nolan, published by Sunstone Press.