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

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

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

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

Everybody has heard of Billy the Kid, but few are familiar with Frank W. Angel. Angel was a well educated, well-connected, Easterner. He was sent by nervous Washington D.C. politicians out to New Mexico, America’s least-populated and least-civilized Territory, to keep a national embarrassment from blowing up into an international incident.

John H. Tunstall, a young, upper-crust British Citizen, only five years older than his most volatile and homicidal employee Billy the Kid, recklessly challenged a roughand-tumble group of New Mexico Irish potato famine refugees, almost all of them former Union Army Civil War veterans, and in 1878 was murdered for his efforts.

Territorial officials, by virtue of their relative inaction, seemed to have taken the position that the spoiled young English upstart had gotten what he deserved. Hibernian ants had risen up, so to speak, and killed the English anteater that had taken up residence within their Irish ant colony in far-off New Mexico.

Tunstall’s outraged English millionaire father was now howling for blood. Tunstall Senior demanded satisfaction from the U.S. Government and rallied his fellow British businessmen to his side, threatening to make economic trouble for America. So Frank Angel was the investigator who was directed to determine what had happened to young Tunstall, enquire why justice had not been served, and, last but not least, decide whether or not a “coverup” had occurred. His most important, albeit unwritten, duty was to placate Tunstall Senior and diminish the possibility of any transatlantic economic war.

Special Agent Angel was equal to these manifold tasks, and put all of New Mexico “under the microscope.” He discovered that some of the U.S. Army officers officers investigated were neutral, while others were blatantly partisan. He also proved that dishonesty and corruption went all the way up the food chain of civil authority from the municipal, to the county, to the territorial level. In fact, the New Mexico Territorial Governor lost his job directly as a result of Angel’s report. So heads did roll, with Angel sending the victims to the chopping block.

Tunstall Senior, back in England, was satisfied that due diligence in getting to the truth of his son’s murder, had indeed taken place. Angel was, in fact, so effective that his report was suppressed by those most at risk of exposure. This is why so few people interested in New Mexico history, and specifically the Lincoln County War, have been aware of it, until now. Now is, of course, ever since David G. Thomas did such an outstanding job of historical research and writing culminating in his Frank W. Angel book.

The Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid have provided plot elements for dozens of Hollywood horse-operas for more than a hundred years. Such Old West Mythology is taken as gospel by far too many Americans, owing to the perceived lack of historical documentation proving it to be completely fictional, with only the most tenuous connection with chronological, geographical, and biographical facts.

David G. Thomas debunks the Tinseltonian pseudo-history that has swirled around Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War for far too long, and goes farther than any previous historian in setting the record straight. Every official document generated at U.S. Government request bearing upon the causes, the actions, and the after-effects of the bloody New Mexico conflict are reproduced in The Frank W. Angel Report. Thomas doggedly traced every documentary thread bearing on the Lincoln County War back to its source, and offers thoughtful conclusions about the significance of each bit of evidence.

Nobody knows the documentary sources relating to southern New Mexico history better than Thomas, and his Frank W. Angel book is the most recent of a great many equally-valuable publications exploring this fascinating Old West region. His 2022 Frank W. Angel book presently stands, and probably will stand far into the future, as the best and most up-to-date study of the Lincoln County War.

Myth-buster David G. Thomas has single-handedly demolished the falsehoods and fabrications swirling around the time and place that made Billy the Kid famous. For the very first time in 140 years all of the documentary evidence for this compelling episode of New Mexico history is presented between two covers, and the vivid testimony of all the participants still living when Frank W. Angel arrived way out west provides answers to most of the questions raised by past generations of historians about the Lincoln County War.

Thomas has raised the bar for Western American historical writing. For serious scholars as much as old west aficionados interested in Billy the Kid and Southern New Mexico history, this book is the very best place to start reading. The remarkable Frank W. Angel Report merits a place of honor on every westerner’s bookshelf. Highly recommended. — Brian Dervin Dillon, Buckskin Bulletin, June 2023