The Sad Fate of Huston Chapman
Many of you may not be familiar with the name “Huston Chapman”. He played a small but fair part in the aftermath of the Lincoln County War.
Huston Chapman was an attorney hired by Susan McSween on behalf of her late husband, Alexander McSween, who was killed July 19th, 1878, on the final eve of the 5-Day-Battle in Lincoln County, New Mexico.
Because the Dolan Faction considered Mr. Chapman to be a continuing nuisance of that war, Dolan had conceived that, should the man be “silenced”, the old feud would be over. Many may be familiar with James Dolan as one of the major players on the opposing side of the Tunstall Faction’s Regulators, and one of the primary instigators in Tunstall’s death, kicking off what would become known as The Lincoln County War, officially ending with McSween’s death.
On the fateful day of his own murder, Huston Chapman was in Lincoln County on business when he had an unfortunate run-in with Jesse Evans (ringleader of a gang called "The Boys", a vicious party of rustlers hired by the Dolan Faction to war with the Regulators) and several other men who were all involved in, of all things, a peace-pact with the Regulators. Huston Chapman suffered from neuralgia, a painful ailment of the face, and was in great discomfort and bandaged up as he strode down the Most Dangerous Street in America. A man by the name of Billy Campbell, dangerous and chief herder to Dolan, stopped Mr. Chapman, demanding to know who he was and why he was there. Chapman, having no healthy sense of fear, and being in a particularly foul mood, refused to humor the man, briskly stating his name and the fact that he was there on business.
The crowd of warring gangs were drunken from celebrating by this point, and Billy Campbell pulled out his gun and demanded the ailing man “dance” for the crowd. Huston Chapman again refused to humor the man, shook his head, and declared that he “[Didn’t] propose to dance for a drunken mob.” Campbell didn’t like the attorney’s tone, and warned him to watch his lip before harassing the man further by ripping the bandage from Chapman’s face. Chapman had lost his patience completely and growled that he wasn’t scared of these men, that he was familiar enough with them to know they’ve tried to frighten him before. Chapman then demanded to know if it was Dolan he was speaking with. Jesse Evans piped up and said it wasn’t, but it was a “damned good friend of his.” It was then that Dolan, who had been standing by, fired his pistol while Campbell’s fired near simultaneously, felling Chapman, who gasped, “My God, I am killed!”
Billy Campbell was ecstatic, excitedly exclaiming that he swore he’d kill Chapman, and now he’s done it. The men went on to continue celebrating and figure out what to do with Chapman’s body, which lay burning from gunpowder in the street.
As many of you may be unfamiliar with Huston Chapman’s story, you may also be just as unfamiliar with the reaction of the notorious brigand Billy the Kid, himself now leader of what remained of the still feared Regulators. If Billy was not quite shocked that these murderous, hard-case types could do something so cold, he was, at the least, disgusted.
Dolan had ordered one of his men to put a pistol in Chapman’s hand so that they could claim Chapman had pulled first and had been killed in self-defense. Dolan’s man was wise enough to decline, but Billy, seeing an opportunity to slip away from the volatile crowd and remove himself from yet another killing that could be pinned on him, offered to place the pistol. Once safely away from the crowd, he rode hurriedly past Huston Chapman’s body, still smoldering, with his best friend, Tom O’Folliard. He never had any intention of putting that gun in Chapman's lifeless hand.
It was Huston Chapman’s death that Billy used to initialize a parley with Governor Lew Wallace, wherein Billy issued a testimony against men in the Dolan Faction for a chance of having his name cleared; Billy helped secure quite a few jail sentences. But this parley would help seal Billy’s fate absolutely, as the young outlaw skipped town when it was made clear Lew Wallace planned to wash his hands of Billy once the Governor got what he needed. Lew Wallace was called to Lincoln County to clean up the streets, and with Billy’s help, he did just that, at least technically. When Billy had left town after being discarded by the governor, Wallace was displeased. Despite Wallace's failure to keep his end of the bargain, forcing Billy's hand, any chance of Billy receiving amnesty was wiped from the slate. This also probably played a part in Lew Wallace's decision to eventually publish the infamous $500-dollar reward for Billy’s capture after a posse gathered for the Kid accidentally murdered Deputy Sheriff James Carlyle in White Oaks. Wallace ultimately decided offering a reward was the only way to get rid of the Kid for good.
Spot where Huston Chapman was shot and killed in Old Lincoln, NM, on the Most Dangerous Street in America (Photo taken by Nicole Maddalo Dixon)
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