The Santa Fe Ring

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The Santa Fe Ring and The Lincoln County War

The Santa Fe Ring was a small group of lawyers, speculators and politicians. The two most powerful people were Thomas B. Catron and Stephen B. Elkins. These two lawyers accrued their wealth by litigating land grants. By 1883, Catron was considered to be one of the largest landowners in the U.S. They controlled New Mexican political life during the Territorial Period to benefit their own self-serving interests. They worked with some Mexicano leaders who, by association with this group, aimed to retain their influence. From land grant speculation, they moved on to other enterprises such as dealing in livestock. By 1870 Lawrence Gustave Murphy, another member of the Ring, had a profitable contract with the U. S. Army in Fort Stanton and the Mescalero reservation as a provider of produce and beef. Neither Murphy nor Rosenthal, Murphy’s partner, owned a great deal of cattle. They encouraged much lawlessness by hiring cattle rustlers for their beef-supply business. In 1873, the Harrell group of outlaws rode into Lincoln and began harassing the townspeople. The Constable Juan Martinez tried to stop them, and a battle followed. Three of the Harrell men and Constable Martinez were killed. The outlaws later retaliated by firing on a group of people attending a dance. Four Mexicans were killed. Ultimately, the Harrell outlaws were driven out of town. On their way out, they killed Jose Haskell because he had married a Mexican woman. One of the outlaws, Ben Turner, was shot at an ambush. In retaliation, the gang killed five more innocent Mexican people (70). John Chisum, another wealthy cattle rancher, challenged Murphy’s exclusive right to sell to the U.S. government. This struggle between Chisum and Murphy started the Lincoln County War. Murphy had control of Republican politics, and Chisum was a Democrat. Most Mexicans sided with Chisum because he was less of a threat to them than Murphy who promoted lawlessness and abuse. Also, James

Dolan, a very violent man, became the leader of the Murphy faction (71). Juan Patron became a leader of the Mexican people in Lincoln County. He had grown up in the area and had graduated from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He was spoken of as "honest, studious, and industrious." (Fullton 406). In 1878, he was a delegate to the State House of Representatives where he was picked to be the Speaker of the House. He also was Lincoln’s only schoolteacher. He did this gratuitously. The Harrell gang had killed his father. He attained distinction as a clerk of the probate court when he intervened against John Copeland and John Riley (a Murphy gang member) in behalf of two Mexicans who were accused of stealing from the two Americanos. Copeland and Riley chased after the Mexicans who had run away. They killed one and captured the other one. They said they were going to take the captured man to Fort Stanton, seven miles away. They claimed that on the way to the fort, the unarmed Mexican man had tried to run away and they shot him. Juan Patron looked into the crime and figured the Mexican man was shot at their ranch not on the road. Patron asked for a grand jury investigation. This was denied. So as a probate clerk, he signed a warrant for the arrests of Copeland and Riley. He found them and questioned them. He determined the two Mexican men had been killed in cold blood. The posse with Patron wanted to shoot Copeland and Riley, but he dissuaded them of this. Riley, through a friend, had asked for help from Fort Stanton. When the troops from Fort Stanton arrived, they released the two Americanos. Riley went home and got a gun. He shot Juan Patron in the back, and the army arrested the Mexican posse. Juan Patron was taken prisoner and placed in a hospital where he was in critical condition. Riley demanded Patron be indicted, and he was; however, he was not put on trial. Later on, he recovered, sided with John Chisum and led the Mexicans against the Murphy gang in the Lincoln County War (71). Governor Samuel B. Axtell never took action to control the Murphy gang led by Dolan. There were, however, two murders of prominent people who were outspoken against the Santa Fe Ring and the Murphy gang. These two people were Reverend Tolby in Colfax County, who was outspoken against the Ring; it is believed the Ring had him murdered. The other murder victim was John H. Tunstall, an Englishman. Tunstall was an associate of Chisum. He opened a mercantile store in competition against Murphy’s business. Chisum and Tunstall also started a bank that competed against the First National Bank controlled by Stephen B. Elkins and Thomas B. Catron. Dolan’s men killed Tunstall in the early months of 1877. This was the start of the Lincoln County War. His death made world news. President Rutherford B. Hayes wanted the Lincoln County War to end. Axtell had proven inefficient, and the word was that he was part of the Santa Fe Ring. Ignoring the protests of Elkins and Catron, President Hayes appointed Lew Wallace as the new Territorial Governor on September 4, 1878. Wallace came with a mission from the President to clean up Lincoln County. He set up a militia and appointed Juan Patron to lead it. The upheaval ended in 1879 (72).

James Dolan was still very influential. Chisum abandoned his original enterprise and moved out of Lincoln. Juan Patron suffered a great deal of threats and abuse and eventually moved to Puerto de Luna. There in a bar, a cowboy named Mitch Maney shot him. Suspicions ran high that Dolan had hired this penniless cowboy as an assassin. Adding fuel to these suspicions was the fact that Maney had some of the most expensive attorneys representing him. The prosecutor was none other than Thomas B. Catron. Manley walked free because of a hung jury and the case was never retried (72). Because of this ruthless violence against the Mexican people and lack of protection by the authorities, a resistance movement was difficult to organize. However, in Las Vegas, San Miguel County, a group of Mexican men organized themselves into a militant resistance organization called Las Gorras Blancas, The White Caps. In order to protect their identities, they wore white cowled masks. They fought against the takeover of their community lands in Las Vegas. They cut fences on lands taken over by speculators. They destroyed railroad bridges, buildings, crops, etc… Juan Jose Herrera and his brothers Pablo and Nicanor Herrera were part of their leadership. On November of 1889, some of their members were arrested. The day of the trial 63 Gorras Blancas rode into Las Vegas and surrounded the courthouse. Then they went to the home of Miguel Salazar, the Attorney General, and finally rode to the jail where their friends were held. On March of 1890, 300 Gorras Blancas rode into Las Vegas and distributed Nuestra Plataforma, Our Platform (Salaz 366-367) (See Appendix.)

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