When in August 1877 they again collided in one of the saloons, Cahill behaved as usual. Quite a bit of a grin, he called Billy bad words, to which he heard a couple of unpleasant expressions in response. Cahill could not stand it. He jumped out of the chair, rushed to Billy, knocked him down, pressed him to the floor and began to beat him in the face. He was beside himself with anger. A little more, and he would have crippled the thin guy with heavy fists, but Billy did not give him that time. He no longer wanted to endure bullying. Releasing his right hand from under the villain who had landed on him, Billy grabbed his revolver, pressed the barrel into his thick belly and pulled the trigger. Cahill roared in pain and fell to his side. Billy did not lose precious seconds, slipped out from under a mortally wounded enemy and ran out of the doors of the saloon. Frightened, he jumped onto the nearest horse and rode out of town. He later apologized for returning this horse to its owner.
Even knowing that the law of the Wild West should interpret his actions as self-defense, Billy was afraid of the impending trial. And forebodings did not deceive him. He refused to believe when a judge found him guilty of murder. The judge apparently decided that the puny sixteen-year-old boy could well settle his problems with the powerful bully Cahill fair fight on his fists, without resorting to weapons. Billy again fled from justice, this time deciding to return to New Mexico, where he was accepted into his ranks by a gang of “Guys” Jesse Evans. But the law was already on the heels of the “Guys,” and they had to hurriedly change the zone of their actions, moving to Lincoln County. An internecine feud flared up there, which soon grew into a real war. For fighters Jesse Evans quickly found a “job”.
The reasons for the “Lincoln County War” were economic. One of its participants, John Tunstell, wrote to his father in England: “Anyone who brings money in New Mexico is run by this or that clique. There are “Native American”, “Army”, “Legal”, “Roman Catholic”, “Cattle-breeding”, “Konokrad” and a dozen other cliques. You must either enter one of them or create your own. ” Although Tanstell was a new man in New Mexico, he made far-reaching plans. The young Englishman was only a little over twenty years old, but he believed in himself. He wrote to his father: “Now I’m just working on creating my own clique. “I intend to limit my operations to Lincoln County, but set up the business so that I get half of every dollar earned by the people here.”
Tunstell knew well that his opponents would not calmly watch how he selects all profitable business for himself. James Dolan, one of the co-owners of Murphy & Dolan, burned with particular hatred for the young Englishman. The head of the company was Lawrence Murphy, but by that time he was already dying of cancer in the Santa Fe hospital, and therefore Dolan was personally involved in solving all the problems that were arising. He was a strong and treacherous adversary, ready to remove obstacles to his business by any, even criminal, means.
The “War in Lincoln County” has become the bloodiest civil conflict in the Wild West, and, as Leon Metz noted, the list of its participants reads like the encyclopedia of “Who is Who in the World of Titans of the Wild West”. Many county residents were involved in the conflict, taking sides in one direction or another, and the history of the rivalry between Tanstell and Dolan was only part of it. Authors often portray Tanstell as a positive hero, trying to create his own business in a corrupt county, and Dolan as a real villain. Is it so? Not at all. The Englishman was an intriguer, underestimating the strength of the enemy and overestimating his own. From Tanstell’s letter to his father, we know that his true intent was to squeeze out competitors from the county and seize economic positions. And he was going to do it with the financial support of his father. In addition to the ranch, Tanstell built a store in the city, placing it directly opposite Dolan’s store, and planned to open a bank. If successful, Dolan risked going bankrupt and was therefore ready for the most decisive action.
Tunstell understood that he alone could not cope, so he enlisted the support of lawyer Alex Maxvin, offering him a share in his business. James Dolan, on the other hand, had a close relationship with the Santa Fe Clique, which included the governor, politicians, and lawyers. The forces were clearly not equal, but the vain Englishman did not seem to want to notice this.
When the “Guys” of Jesse Evans began “by order” of Dolan to steal cattle from Tanstell, he decided to recruit fighters for protection. One of them was a former member of the Evans gang, Billy Kid. He fell on horse-stealing, but Tanstell, seeing in front of him not a notorious scoundrel, but an ordinary, stray boy, immediately offered him to forget about his previous grievances.