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Murder and mayhem over a mere 50 cents ($12.62 in 2018 currency); After a few days of quarreling, grudge over small change is settled with a Winchester rifle

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A photo of a tombstone taken during the days of the Wild West on a ranch about 7 miles southeast of Dunken in Chaves County. In the old days, people were usually buried close to where they died. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico)

Working in the archives you occasionally come across an old article that reinforces your perception of the days of the Wild West. The following article was written in 1929 about an event that occurred in 1888, but the newspaper the article came from as omitted.

First, to provide some background, here’s a summary of some of the events the occurred in or around New Mexico and in the era of 1880s.

1880

• March 2: James Allen kills James Moorehead after ordering eggs in a tavern in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and, after escaping from prison for Moorehead’s murder, is killed by a posse.

• Dec. 19: Tom O’Folliard, best friend of Billy the Kid, is shot and killed by members of Sheriff Pat Garrett’s posse in Fort Sumner

• Dec. 23: Charlie Bowdre, a member of Billy the Kid’s gang, is shot and killed by members of Garrett’s posse at Stinking Springs,.

• Dec. 24: Abran Baca kills A.M. Conklin in Socorro with several other outlaws, though he is acquitted the following year.

1881

• July 14: Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Garrett in Fort Sumner. He is buried the next day between his friends Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre in the town’s old military cemetery.

1884

• Dec 1: A 36-hour standoff begins in the town of Reserve, New Mexico, when a posse of Texan cowboys confronts lawman Elfego Baca for having arrested an intoxicated cowboy.

1885

• Feb 18: Dave Rudabaugh, a former member of Billy the Kid’s Dodge City Gang, is reportedly captured and decapitated by townspeople after terrorizing the village of Parral, Mexico.

• March 21: The “Big Fight” takes place in Tascosa, Texas, when three ex-members of Garrett’s “Home Rangers” are killed by rival ranch hands and gunmen.

• Sept. 24: Apache renegade Geronimo surrenders to forces under Gen. Nelson Miles and is taken into custody at Fort Grant, Arizona. His surrender is often considered the end of the Apache Wars.

1886-87

• Winter: The extremely harsh winter of 1886-87 devastates the American cattle industry, leading to the end of the open range era. As a result, cattle ranching is completely reorganized and the period of the great cattle drives is over.

After reading of the above events of the 1880s, the headlines of the above mentioned 1929 article may not come as much of a surprise.

Lincoln Forest Holds Twin Graves Of Men Who Killed Each Other Over 50 Cents

The first pioneer graves to be reported to the U.S. Forestry service here under the government’s plans to mark the graves of Indian fighters and pioneers and prospectors in the national forests, are those of two man who killed each other in a quarrel over a 50-cent debt in 1888. They are marked by a twin tombstone. The graves are on the E.E. Jernigan ranch near Weed in the Lincoln National Forest.

The tombstone carries the information that J.A. Green was born April 5, 1865, and died June 2, 1888, and that William M. Owens was born June 14, 1857, and died May 31, 1888. The stone also bears the epitaph, “Stop and read as you pass by, as you are now so once was we; as we are now you soon will be. Prepare for death and follow us.”

There is a story in the neighborhood that a third man, Bill Mackey, was involved in the fight and had one eye shot out,but recovered.

The Lincoln forest headquarters here has asked that any information regarding pioneer graves be sent to the office here with a brief sketch of the man’s life. It is hoped that the plan to mark the pioneer graves will bring out details of the many interesting pioneer events.

There are many graves both marked and unmarked all over the West, from gun fights, to cattle drives, to Indian fights, illnesses of pioneers going west,and any number of circumstances of those days. This was a noble cause in 1929, of the Forest Service to try to mark those graves.

According to Vaughn Teel, great-grandson of E.E. Jernigan, due to the fact that there was no embalming of bodies during this time most people were buried close to where they died. Such was the case in the above article. These two men were buried very close to where they died, even though one lived a few days after he was shot.

The Jernigan name is well known in Sacramento Mountain area, and the family goes back many generations. G.W. (George Washington) Jernigan, had just acquired this land before the incident above happened. His son was E.E. Jernigan, who owned the land in 1929 when this article was written. Then there was Arvel Jernigan, his daughter Alivare Ruth Jernigan, and her son Vaughn Teel. This particular property has been sold and is no longer a part of the Jernigan family. Teel tells me that some ranchers were very particular about having graves on their property and somewhat superstitious about where folks were buried on their land.

Upon further research, I found another article from Ancestry.com about this particular event which changed the story just a bit.

Notes by Mike Green on fight at Lincoln County New Mexico in what is now Upper Penasco or Mayhill where Owens and Green lived. Otero County has since been carved out of Lincoln County.

On May 31, 1888, James A. Green and brother-in-law William Milton Owens got into a quarrel with two brothers, John and Millburn Mackey. There are two versions of the cause of the quarrel. The Santa Fe New Mexican in it’s June 13, 1888, edition reported that Green and Owens claimed that the Mackey’s owed them 50 cents. The White Oak Interpreter in its Sept. 14, 1888, edition reported that the parties had quarreled a few days before and when it was renewed, the Mackey’s claimed that Green and Owens owed them 50 cents. Regardless, a scuffle ensued and Milton Mackey rode his horse to a nearby house to get a Winchester rifle. He shot both Green and Owens who rode their horses a short distance, then fell to the ground. Owens died quickly but Green lived until June 2, 1888. Both Mackey’s were wounded but both survived. A large number of people witnessed the shooting, Including the wives and children of Green and Owens. The Mackey’s were indicted and tried for murder. Both were found guilty.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, the dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 2.51 percent per year. Prices in 2018 are 2,424 percent higher than prices in 1888.

In other words, 50 cents in the year 1888, is equivalent in purchasing power to $12.62 in 2018, the difference of $12.12 over 130 years.

Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

O bury me not on the lone prairie

These words came low and mournfully

From the pallid lips of the youth who lay

On his dying bed at the close of day

But we buried him there on the lone prairie

Where the rattlesnakes hiss and the wind blows free

In a shallow grave, no one to grieve

Beneath the western sky on the lone prairie

He had wasted and pined ’til o’er his brow

Death’s shades were slowly gathering now

He thought of home and loved ones nigh

As the cowboys gathered to see him die

“O bury me not on the lone prairie

Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free

In a narrow grave just six by three —

O bury me not on the lone prairie

It matters not, I’ve been told

Where the body lies when the heart grows cold

Yet grant, o grant, this wish to me

O bury me not on the lone prairie

I’ve always wished to be laid when I died

In a little churchyard on the green hillside

By my father’s grave, there let me be

O bury me not on the lone prairie

I wish to lie where a mother’s prayer

And a sister’s tear will mingle there

Where friends can come and weep o’er me

O bury me not on the lone prairie

For there’s another whose tears will shed

For the one who lies in a prairie bed

It breaks me heart to think of her now

She has curled these locks, she has kissed this brow

O bury me not … And his voice failed there

But they took no heed to his dying prayer

In a narrow grave, just six by three

They buried him there on the lone prairie

And the cowboys now as they roam the plain

For they marked the spot where his bones were lain

Fling a handful o’ roses o’er his grave

With a prayer to God his soul to save

By William Elliot Whitmore

For more information, visit https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_American_Old_West#1880s

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdunna@hotmail.com.