The First Lincoln County War

Tom-Martha-HorrellTo track the Horrell boys of Lampasas, Texas, you can follow the trail of dead—including their own.

During their nearly six years raising hell in Texas and New Mexico, they killed at least dozens and wounded others. All because Sam, Mart, Ben, Tom and Merritt Horrell took umbrage with just about anybody not named Horrell.

Soon after killing four state policemen in a saloon shoot-out, the Horrells moved their cattle to a ranch near Ruidoso, New Mexico, in the fall of 1873. They found a war zone. The Hispanics were at odds with the whites, led by L.G. Murphy and Co. (yep, the same ones involved in the Lincoln County War five years later).

On December 1, some of the clan and their friends went into Lincoln to pick up their mail—and to hurrah the town. As the boys got drunker, Constable Juan Martinez confronted them, and one of the Texans shot and killed the officer. Other members of the police force—all Hispanic—jumped in to fight.

Dave Warner was killed in the first volley. Reports state Ben and his pal, Sheriff Jack Gylam, tried to surrender. Gylam ended up with 13 bullets in him, while Ben was shot nine times.

Lincoln’s justice of the peace and the probate judge left town. Without anybody who could issue arrest warrants, people were left to take the law into their own hands, and the Horrells gladly obliged.

On December 20, approximately 25 Horrell forces raided a wedding baile. One Texan reportedly said, “We’ll make them dance to our tune.” They were seeking Juan Patron, who would become a territorial leader in his own right within a few years. The Horrells blamed him for brother Ben’s death. He hadn’t been at that fight, but no matter. The intruders opened fire, killing four men (including Patron’s father) and wounding three other people.

On January 7, 1874, Territorial Gov. Marsh Giddings put a $100 reward each on the heads of Tom, Sam and Merritt, as well as two of their compatriots.

On January 25, Sheriff Ham Mills led a posse of some 60 Hispanics on a raid of the Horrell ranch. Finding nobody there, they burned the house to the ground and stole the harvested crops from the storage sheds.

Within two days, Gov. Giddings tried to calm the situation by recalling the warrants on the Horrells. Too late. The boys had recruited an estimated 50 Texans, and they killed three Hispanics as they prepared their attack on Lincoln.

Yet when the Horrell camp realized that troops from nearby Fort Stanton would be called to Lincoln to protect the town, they began heading back to Texas. En route, they ambushed a wagon train and killed five more Hispanics.

By February, the Horrells were gone. But their New Mexico war resulted in at least 29 deaths, according to Frederick Nolan’s Bad Blood—maybe more.

Tom, Mart and Merritt were later shot to death in Texas.  Only brother Sam died with his boots off, in California, in 1936.

As history shows, where the Horrells went, blood flowed.

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