In the Shadow of Billy the Kid
Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War
Publication Year: 2013
The events of July 19, 1878, marked the beginning of what became known as the Lincoln County War and catapulted Susan McSween and a young cowboy named Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid, into the history books. The so-called war, a fight for control of the mercantile economy of southeastern New Mexico, is one of the most documented conflicts in the history of the American West, but it is an event that up to now has been interpreted through the eyes of men. As a woman in a man’s story, Susan McSween has been all but ignored. This is the first book to place her in a larger context. Clearly, the Lincoln County War was not her finest hour, just her best known. For decades afterward, she ran a successful cattle ranch. She watched New Mexico modernize and become a state. And she lived to tell the tales of the anarchistic territorial period many times.
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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I became interested in Susan McSween Barber after my first visit to Lincoln, New Mexico, in 1980. At the time I wondered how she could have played such a major role in the Lincoln County War and yet escaped historical attention. I started to research Susan seriously when I was a...
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The events of July 19, 1878, catapulted Susan McSween and a young cowboy named Henry McCarty, alias Billy Antrim, alias William H. Bonney, alias the Kid into the history books. For four days Susan, her husband Alexander, her sister Elizabeth Shield and the five Shield children, Billy, and at least twelve other men calling...
1: A Plain and Modest Beginning
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The future cattle queen of New Mexico lived for the first eighteen years of her life on a fertile, well-tended farm in rural Adams County, Pennsylvania. The woman who would one day sleep soundly behind Billy the Kid’s protective six-gun and defiantly stare down cattle rustler John Kinney spent her childhood as a member of a pacifist German...
2: A Ten-Year Vanishing Act
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Although Susannah Ellen Hummer wrote that she left home in 1863 to escape an ill-humored stepmother and uncaring father, she never told anyone who interviewed her where she went after leaving Adams County or what she did over the next ten years of her life. Unless new documents surface, this period will remain somewhat of a mystery. Susannah reentered...
3: The McSweens Seek Their El Dorado
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New Mexico attracted many Americans who, like the McSweens, were down on their luck in 1874. Tales of gold and silver strikes attracted the adventurous. Businessmen saw possibilities in new mining towns located in the western half of the territory and along New Mexico’s eastern plains, where Texas cattle ranchers generated gold of another...
4: Malice in the Land of Enchantment
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Isolation and primitive conditions were only two of the problems that Susan faced in Lincoln. Nor were these necessarily the worst. Life here was cheap, she quickly discovered. Too many men walked around with hair-trigger tempers and guns to match. They nursed imagined slights and past wrongs. It was almost inevitable, therefore, that gunfire shattered...
5: Throwing Down the Gauntlet
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In early January 1877 Susan received a note from Elizabeth that seemed to foreshadow a somber time ahead. Elizabeth, who was still living in Las Vegas, informed her sister that several of the children were sick in bed with smallpox. In fact, the disease had first appeared in late 1876, and it raged across much of southeastern New Mexico...
6: The Lincoln County War
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With Alex and Chisum in custody, Susan McSween and Colonel Robert D. Hunter ate together in the hotel dining room a day or two after Christmas. “I dressed quite fashionable” for the occasion she later recalled, and “He like to drop dead.” It seems an inappropriate concern considering her husband’s dire situation, but Colonel...
7: The Big Killing
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By noon on July 19, a tense lull engulfed Lincoln. Dolan’s men used the arrival of the soldiers to slip inside the Steve Stanley house across the street from the McSween place, penetrate the adobe wall along the back of the Tunstall store, and secure themselves in the stable behind the McSween house, all strategic locations. With the Gatling gun pointed...
8: Beyond the Lincoln County War
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Despite having relatives living across parts of the Midwest and in Pennsylvania, Susan opted to remain in New Mexico following Alexander McSween’s death. She obviously considered the territory her home. She also realized that far greater opportunities awaited her here than in many of the more settled parts of the United States....
9: New Mexico’s Cattle Queen
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The decades following the Lincoln County War proved Susan’s most productive and rewarding. She attained financial success and the social acceptance she so desperately desired. She juggled hard manual labor with conventional notions of Victorian womanhood. She cast aside links to John Tunstall’s perilous schemes and freed...
10: Retelling the Stories
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Susan turned fifty-five in December 1900. She was weary of battling roller-coaster cattle prices that showed little sign of stabilizing and of enduring long periods of isolation. She found that even a modest amount of hard ranch work left her exhausted, and over time the cattle queen had begun to prefer companionship to the loneliness of Three...
11: Out of Billy’s Shadow: A Legacy
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Susan Barber was one of the last survivors of the Lincoln County War, and when she passed away in January 1931, a still-untapped treasure trove of information died with her. For more than a decade, researchers had asked her to describe the Five-Day Battle or explain how Jessie Evans and the Boys escaped from the underground...
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Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013