Two words guaranteed to send me into the slough of despair is 'comedy western' . Apart from Blazing Saddles, Butch and Sundance, Cat Ballou and couple of deliberately humorous moments in Silverado the concept simply does not work.
I'm a revisionist sort of chap - I like a western that revisits the old cliches of the 1940's and 50's and re examines, challenges and ideally overthrows them. That's why, when the German expressionist and noir director, Robert Siodmak got his hands on the Custer myth back in the 1960's, it was always going to be at the very least, interesting. The film was slaughtered by the critics and moviegoers alike, but it was interesting.
Movies like The Professionals, The Wild Bunch, The Outlaw Josie Wales and Major Dundee are much more my cup of tea. Although made within the mainstream Hollywood factory system, they all managed to subvert the genre to a lesser or greater extent. The Bad Man doesn't necessarily wear the black hat, he more often than not wears dusty cavalry blue. Add to that Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, another movie by Sam Peckinpah, and there you have my perfect Western night's viewing.
That last movie is particularly interesting to me (see my entry Ben Hur? Meet Billy the Kid! September 2010. It's also my most visited blog); it covers the period of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico in 1878 that involved Pat and Billy and John Chisum (architect of the Chisum Trail and played by John Wayne in the movie Chisum) and even more so now, as I've just found at that one of the main players William J Brady, Sheriff of Lincoln County at the time and bushwhacked (not often I get to use the word bushwhacked) by Billy, was a Cavan man.
The Mac Brádaigh family were prominent in Breifne since the 13th century but by the time our man was born in 1829, the family were in reduced circumstances - his father was a potato farmer; after he died William left for the US where he enlisted in the army and was posted for five years to southern Texas. Not getting enough of army life, Brady re enlisted and was transferred to New Mexico. From there he went to the New Mexico Volunteers, fought in the battle of Glorietta Pass (against the Johnny Rebs I think), and ended up as a First Lieutenant in the First Regiment, New Mexico Cavalry. Once the civil war was over, Brady continued his military career. leading missions against the Navajo and Apaches nations.
By 1866, Brady was married, out of the army and living the life of a rancher on the Rio Bonito, just a few miles east of the town of Lincoln. In 1870 he became sheriff of Lincoln County. The following year he was the first representative from Lincoln County to sit in the Territorial Legislature. He lost the seat in the succeeding election but was re elected as sheriff in 1876. All in all, William J was doing pretty well for himself - he had a solid if unspectacular military career behind him, he seems that he was making contacts with the local politicos and was elected sheriff twice. The coming man.
The Lincoln County War was little more than a dispute between a small group of rich and vain businessmen who wanted to control the dry goods monopoly of the territory. On one side was Englishman John Tunstall and his business partner Alexander McSween, both backed by cattleman, John Chisum. The present monopoly was held by a couple of Irishmen, Murphy and Dolan. A monopoly they intended to hang on to.
Lawrence Gustave Murphy born in Wexford a Union Army veteran, Grand Army of the Republic member, Republican Party leader, racketeer, Old West businessman and gunman, and a main instigator of the Lincoln County War. He was well connected, and totally unscrupulous. In 1869 he arrived in Lincoln County where he started L. G. Murphy & Co. By 1873 he had hired James Dolan, who by the following year had become a business partner in a profitable mercantile and banking operation. The business saw success mainly due to there being no competition. Murphy also became influential within law enforcement circles, controlling the local sheriff, William J. Brady. (Although there does seem to be some doubt as to Brady's malleability - it's the revisionist in me!).
James Dolan, an equally dodgy and vicious character, was born in Loughrea in Ireland and moved to the United States at the age of five with his family. He served in the Union Army from 1863 until the Civil War's end, after which he moved to Lincoln County, where he became Murphy's business partner. In May 1873, Dolan attempted to shoot and presumably kill, US Cavalry Captain James Randlett at Fort Stanton, NM, resulting in L. G. Murphy & Co. being evicted from the fort. On May 9, 1877, Dolan killed Hilario Jaramillo, claiming that the latter had charged him with a knife.
Dolan appears to be the type who preferred to hire others to do his killing rather than do it himself. By this time, Dolan had become close friends with Sheriff Brady. Because of the lack of competition, the Murphy-Dolan businesses charged high prices for their goods, making them hated by local farmers and ranchers.
Both sides simply wanted more and weren't too bothered how they got it. Each had gunmen who rode for them (rejoicing in the titles the Jesse Evans Gang, the John Kinney Gang, the Seven River Warriors, 'Buckshot' Roberts and the Regulators which included Henry McCarty aka William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid) and used the law and tame lawmen to try and bring their opponents down. The 'war' was a series of tit for tat killings and rustling and running off of stock
In 1877 Brady was attacked and beaten by unidentified men, but thought to be part of Tunstall's cowboys. Brady's role in the war was brief but bloody. Lincoln County deputies (perhaps including Brady, perhaps not) found Tunstall and shot him dead and the 'war' broke out. Whatever Brady's direct involvement in the killing, he wasn't in a rush to investigate and on April 1 1878, Regulators (working for McSween) Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, Fred Waite, Henry Newton Brown and Billy the Kid ambushed Brady and four of his deputies on the main street of Lincoln. They fired on the five men from behind an adobe wall. Brady died of at least a dozen gunshot wounds. He was 48 years old.
The whole sorry affair came to an end in the so called Battle of Lincoln, a four day period of violence and boredom, during which McSWeen was shot and killed. With McSween dead, the Lincoln County War was effectively over. McSween's widow, Susan, hired a lawyer, Chapman to try and bring Dolan to justice. A year after Tunstall's death, Chapman was murdered (by Dolan?). Dolan was eventually tried for the murder of Tunstall but was acquitted.
Susan remarried some time later, to a businessman named George Barber, but the marriage ended in divorce. She would purchase a ranch in Three Rivers, New Mexico, and later became one of the most prominent cattlewomen of the Old West. She sold out in 1902 to politician Albert Fall, and moved to White Oaks, New Mexico, where she remained until her death in 1931, at age 85.
Nobody really came out of the war too well: Tunstall, Brady and McSween (obviously); Murphy died of cancer just a few months after Brady was killed; Dolan lived on into the 1890's but as an alcoholic. He died aged 49; Chisum, the cattle baron died in 1884; Billy, convicted of the killing of Brady, died in 1881, pursued by Pat Garrett, who had taken on Brady's role as sheriff of Lincoln County; Garrett, after the Lincoln wars had a series of fallings out with powerful men, including Albert Fall, who bought the McSween ranch, fell into debt and gambling and was shot dead in 1908. There remains a certain amount of mystery about the who's and why's of Garrett's death.
On a more positive note, most of the characters involved in the Lincoln County War went on to find immortality in books and movies, including that fine western 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid', which is where we came in.