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The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

Some things relating to the Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid and other characters involved in that period of time in Lincoln County, New Mexico, have proven to be elusive to historians and authors. A major one of these has been the 1878 Frank W. Angel report on the death of rancher John H. Tunstall.

It has been since 1976 when Lee Scott Thiessen wrote an article, “Frank Warner Angel’s Notes on New Mexico Territory 1878” for Arizona and the West (Vol. 18, No. 4, Winter, 1976), that much attention was paid to this important document. The obscure original document, 395 handwritten pages, has been difficult to access and only Thiessen’s notes have been generally available to historians.

Now comes Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid historian, David G. Thomas, with an account of Angel’s investigations into “Tunstall’s killing and the roles Governor Axtell and U.S Attorney Catron played…..” in this process.

Chapter six reveals the illegal attempt by Catron and Stephen Elkins to destroy the report. Appendix “A” provides brief biographies of the 71 men and women who had important roles in the Report events and Appendix “B” present a timeline of important events related to the Report.

All in all, this is an important contribution to Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid studies and is highly recommended.

— Roy B. Young, Wild West History Association Journal, June 2022

Water in a Thirsty Land

Water in a Thirsty Land – Ruth R Ealy – David G Thomas

Water in a Thirsty Land

by Ruth R. Ealy
David G. Thomas, Editor

“Water in a Thirsty Land” is a chronicle of Dr. Taylor Filmore Ealy’s 1874 to 1881 sojourn as a medical missionary in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and New Mexico Territory, compiled by his daughter Ruth R. Ealy, and privately issued in a limited edition of 40 copies.

The sources of Ruth’s account are her father’s extensive, contemporaneous diaries and his recollections and correspondence.

Dr. Ealy’s first assignment was Fort Arbuckle, Chickasaw Reservation, Oklahoma Territory. His second was Lincoln, New Mexico Territory. His final assignment was Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico Territory.

Dr. Ealy’s faithful accounts of his struggles and challenges at these — at the time — exotic locations make for fascinating reading. His daily records of eye-witnessed events in Lincoln are of exceptional historical value. He arrived in Lincoln on February 19, 1878, the day after John Henry Tunstall was murdered. The unprovoked, sadistic murder of Tunstall kicked off the bloody Lincoln County War. Dr. Ealy was present at Tunstall’s funeral, the killing of Lincoln County Sheriff Brady and Deputy Hindman, and the five-day shootout that ended with the firing of Alexander McSween’s home and the heinous slaughtering of McSween and four others as they frantically fled the blazing conflagration.

There are many details about the Lincoln County War in Dr. Ealy’s account not recorded in other sources. Here are examples:

  • Tunstall’s funeral was held at 3 pm. His bullet-holed, bloody clothes were lying on the dirty ground in McSween’s back yard during the service.
  • The Lincoln county jail when Sheriff Brady was shot was “a hole in the ground with a watch-tower over it.”
  • Sheriff Brady had handcuffs in his pocket when he was shot.
  • The book provides many details about Tunstall’s store: “The floors were good ones and the windows were large.” One room was “12 feet high, 18 feet long, and 18 feet wide, with a huge window and a door with a large glass in it.” That room was “large enough to hold three hundred people.” The store lot was five acres in size and fully fenced.
  • When the McSween house was fired during that 5-day shootout, one of Elizabeth Shield’s children stepped in the coal oil used to ignite the fire.
  • Among the items in McSween’s house destroyed by the fire were an elegant piano, a Brussels carpet, costly furniture, rich curtains, and fine paintings.
  • After Taylor testified at the Dudley Court of Inquiry, he was warned by anonymous note that he would be killed before he got back to his home in Zuni (a “coffin note”).

From Lincoln, Dr. Ealy went to Zuni Pueblo. There, he entered a long-isolated, deeply ethnocentric world that had not changed for hundreds of years. His keen observations are one of the primary, early sources of halcyon life in Zuni in 1878.

Dr. Ealy was in Zuni when the first James Stevenson anthropological expedition arrived in New Mexico. He knew well pioneer ethnologists such as Frank Hamilton Cushing, Matilda Coxe Stevenson, and Alfred Kroeber. He was present when John Karl Hillers took his famous photographs of Zuni Pueblo.

The Editor has added an extensive introduction, contextual notes, footnotes, appendices, and an index to the text of this extremely rare book.

Supplementing the text are 45 photos, including many photos never published before. 208 pages.

Available in both paperback and hardcover.

Paperback, ISBN 978-1952580109
Hardcover, ISBN 978-1952580116

Press Release: Water in a Thirsty Land

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The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall by David G. Thomas

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The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

By David G. Thomas

“In the matter of the cause and circumstances of the death of John H. Tunstall….”

So begins the single most important contemporary document recounting the origins of the Lincoln County War. That document is the “Report of Special Agent Frank Warner Angel on the Death of John Henry Tunstall,” known today to historians as the “Angel Report.”

The 395-page, hand-written Report that Angel submitted on October 3, 1878, on Tunstall’s unprovoked, sadistic murder is published for the first time after 144 years in this book.

The Report documents the events leading to Tunstall’s murder – the testimony of the men present at the brutal killing – including Billy the Kid’s eye-witness account – and the violent consequences that followed.

It includes sworn accounts by William “Frank” Baker, Robert W. Beckwith, Henry N. Brown, James J. Dolan, William Dowlin, Pantaleón Gallegos, Godfrey Gauss, Florencio Gonzales, John Hurley, Jacob B. Mathews, Alexander A. McSween, John Middleton, Lawrence G. Murphy, John Wallace Olinger, Juan B. Patron, George W. Peppin, David P. Shield, Robert A. Widenmann, and 18 others..

Supplementing the Report are an extensive introduction, notes, contemporary documents, associated letters, biographical details, and a timeline.

The book also reveals the brazen attempt by two powerful politicians – Thomas Catron and Stephen Elkins – to destroy the Report, depriving history of its priceless contribution.

Forty six images, many never published before.

254 pages, paperback.

Paperback, ISBN 978-1-952580079
Hardcover, ISBN 978-1-952580055

Press Release – The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

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David G. Thomas is joining Dr. Robert Stahl, Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, for a panel discussion at the 2022 New Mexico-Arizona History Convention. The panel title is “Anything New on Billy the Kid?”

The 2022 Convention will be held April 7-9, 2022, at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, 4100 Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

SESSION 5A, April 9, 2022
Anything New on Billy the Kid?

Moderator: Heidi Osselaer has taught Southwest history and is the author of numerous articles and two books – Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics and Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight.
Presenters: David Thomas, Robert Stahl, and Nancy Stahl

“The Trial of Billy the Kid” – Based on the book about Billy the Kid’s trial for murder at the Doña Ana County Courthouse in Mesilla, this presentation will expand on some of the little-known events and issues of the trial and review issues such as the governing territorial laws, the charges, ask questions about his defense, the witnesses, jury, the trial judge. and whether the trail was fair. David Thomas is an author, historian, filmmaker, producer, actor, screenwriter, travel writer, and co-founder of the Pat Garrett Western Heritage Festival and Friends of Pat Garrett.

“Billy the Kid’s Escape from the Lincoln County Jail: What Really Happened?” – This paper will provide a detailed timeline of what happened, where, and why things happened during Billy the Kid’s escape from the Lincoln County Jail and the killing of James Bell. We will review the physical evidence and sequence of events as Billy planned them. Robert Stahl is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and after retirement is a full time Arizona and New Mexico historian. Nancy Stahl is retired from the position of Director of Gifted and Talented Education, Arizona Department of Education and a part-time researcher and editor.

https://www.historicalleague.org/event-inside.aspx?productid=218

The Trial of Billy the Kid, by David G. Thomas

On April 8, 1881, Billy the Kid stood trial for the murder of Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory Sheriff William Brady. The legal proceedings lasted just a few days, but set in motion a series of infamous events over the next three months.

In The Trial of Billy the KId, David G. Thomas argues that the legal proceeding was the most important event in the Kid’s young life. That’s debatable, but Thomas does an admirable job of laying out his argument.

The research is impeccable, with practically every sentence footnoted. Excerpts from newspaper accounts are included throughout the book. When I first picked it up, I thought, “Can somebody do an entire book on an event that took just a few days?” Thomas answers “yes” in this one — and you’ll definitely agree. — Mark Boardman, True West Magazine.

Wild West Magazine – History Net

The Trial of Billy the Kid, by David G. Thomas

This latest offering in a well-researched and much-recommended series written by Las Cruces–based David Thomas centers on New Mexico’s unofficial state outlaw, Billy the Kid—hardly an untapped subject. But as the author notes in the introduction, “Billy’s trial is the least written about and, until this book, the least known event of Billy’s adult life.” The best-known periods of the Kid’s life are probably his coming of age in Silver City, N.M. (including his mother’s death, his first arrest, his jailing and his escape); his fighting years in the Lincoln County War (in support of the John Tunstall/Alexander McSween faction); his April 28, 1881, escape from the courthouse in Lincoln (during which he killed two of Sheriff Pat Garrett’s deputies); and his July 14, 1881, shooting death by Garrett in Fort Sumner. Yet Thomas contends that Billy’s murder trial in Mesilla, which ended in a “hanging sentence,” was the pivotal event in the Kid’s life, as it doomed him to an early death.

There were actually two Billy trials in Mesilla. The first, for the killing of Andrew L. “Buckshot” Roberts, was thrown out on April 6, 1881, as the federal government lacked jurisdiction. The second, for the killing of Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady, began on April 8 with the selection of jurors. A day later those jurors found Billy guilty of first-degree murder, which meant a death sentence. Why the brief trial has received so little coverage (usually just time, place, names and result) is explainable in part by the fact there was no transcript. “The rule of the court,” Thomas explains, “was that if a case was not appealed, then the court did not pay the clerk to make a formal transcript for the case file. That was an unnecessary expense for an unappealed case.”

On April 13 Judge Warren Bristol sentenced Billy to hang a month later in Lincoln. During the trail the Kid did not testify in his own defense; in fact, his attorney, Colonel Albert Fountain, called no witnesses. “Billy’s defense,” Thomas writes, “consisted only of what Colonel Fountain could tell the jury on his behalf. It appears that Colonel Fountain provided Billy with something less than the most vigorous defense.” Further, the author adds, “Billy had several grounds for the appeal he never received.” Much of the trial information Thomas presents comes from Las Cruces–based Newman’s Semi-Weekly, a short-lived newspaper published between March and July 1881.

Despite the book’s title, Thomas covers far more here than just the trail (which would have made for an extremely short book). The first seven chapters mostly detail the actions that led to the murder charges against Billy. Much of this material will be familiar to fans of the Kid, though Thomas presents it well, especially the way he demonstrates how New Mexico Territorial Governor Lew Wallace was guilty of a “pardon betrayal.” Wallace issued a blanket amnesty to men who committed crimes and misdemeanors during the Lincoln War, with the exception of Billy, with whom he later reneged on a pardon agreement. The trial action in Mesilla is limited to Chapter 8. The last two chapters of the 280-page book relate the post-trial story. Thomas includes three appendices, including a helpful cast of characters mentioned in the book. – Wild West Magazine

A Gem of Old West History Revealed in “The Trial of Billy the Kid”
Book Trib
by Jim Alkon

Students of the Wild West not long ago were treated to a fascinating work of research and storytelling in “Killing Pat Garrett,” a blow-by-blow account of the period’s most famous lawman, so precise that you felt author David G. Thomas was huddled behind a bush hearing every word firsthand.

While Garrett lived a notable life, his infamy as the Wild West’s most famous lawman was based on one singular achievement — the killing of Billy the Kid. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that Thomas, leaving no stone unturned, would focus his attention on another magnificently researched narrative entitled The Trial of Billy the Kid?

While the book documents the events leading up to the capture of Billy the Kid, whose real name was William Henry McCarty, the focus is on the trial. Strangely, while Thomas points out that the result of the trial sealed his fate, it is also the least written about and least known event of his adult life. This book remedies that oversight by Old West historians.

The book opens with the chain of events that led to Billy’s trial — his capture by Pat Garrett, his incarceration in jail, and flashbacks that produce criminal charges. “An extended flashback is unusual in a history book,” writes Thomas, “but it is the best way to tell the story of Billy’s trial.”

“I consider Billy’s trial the most important event in Billy’s life,” Thomas continues. “If Billy had escaped death on July 14, 1881, and went on to live out more of his life, that escape and not his trial would probably be the most important event of Billy’s life.”

AN IMPORTANT, YET UNDEREXPLORED, CHAPTER IN THE OUTLAW’S LIFE

For some reason, details of Billy’s trial have not been examined in past works. Thomas sheds light on everything from Billy’s defense to witnesses who stood up for him to the makeup of the jury, legal grounds to appeal, and whether the trial was in fact even fair. The book also includes 131 photos, including many never published before.

Regarding Billy’s capture, Garrett was staked outside a ranch house with Billy and others inside. As Garrett describes, “Shivering with cold, we awaited daylight or a movement from the inmates of the house. I had a perfect description of the Kid’s dress, especially his hat. I had told all the posse that, should the Kid make an appearance, it was my intention to kill him, and the rest would surrender. I told my men, when I brought up my gun, to all raise and fire.”

After the actual trial, Thomas recounts a fascinating interview with Billy by a local editor. Hearing him speak and share his insights is pure gold for Western historians.

And for readers thinking the trial marked the end for Billy, well, truth can be stranger than fiction, as the criminal had one disappearing act left.

The Trial of Billy the Kid is a formidable work, a brilliant piece of research molded into a story of one of the West’s most famous outlaws. Anyone from historians, students and readers wondering how such a comprehensive piece of history can be so precisely recounted will want to jump into this narrative.