Late in the afternoon - this is Monday, February 18 - we were on a trail through the hills that would take us to Brewer’s and on to Lincoln. Mr. Tunstall, Brewer, and Widenmann were out in front, Middleton and I were a few hundred yards in the back keeping a lookout in case the posse came up behind us.

Now comes the part that I’ve gone over a thousand times in my mind.

Then this so-called posse came swarming over the hill behind us. Middleton and I goosed our ponies and hollered for the others to take cover. Middleton was closest to Mr. Tunstall, and I could hear him calling Tunstall to follow him. But Mr. Tunstall seemed stunned or something. He was jerking his horse back and forth and yelling something like “What, John? What, John?”

The four of us got some trees between us and the gang, then we got over the crest of a hill. We were riding hard when we heard shots. We hunkered down, peered through bushes, and could see Mr. Tunstall on the ground obviously shot. The killers were whooping and laughing.

We were badly outnumbered, so we worked our way through the hills to Lincoln.

That’s what my memory tells me happened. But I don’t entirely trust my memory. I’ve gone over this so many times in my mind I worry that I could have painted too good a picture for me, for William Bonney. But even the picture I think I remember isn’t all that good for me and the other fellas.

Our job, right then, was to protect Mr. Tunstall. We didn’t do it, and we let him be murdered. We knew that gang was on the loose, we knew or ought to have realized that they might come after us.

Maybe instead of Middleton and me riding so far back, we should all have closed up tighter around Mr. Tunstall. Or maybe Middleton and I should have rode up to Mr. Tunstall and then faced the gang, and hollered for Brewer and Widenmann to come back. Maybe with five of us, they could have been reasoned with. Or maybe instead of heading for good cover the four of us should have dropped where we were and cut loose shooting. We would probably have all been killed, but who knows. And anyway, wasn’t that our job?

Maybe, maybe. One side of my head wants to say I couldn’t have done anything better, but the other side keeps whispering “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”

What I do know is this. Mr. Tunstall’s murder cut a deep scar into my soul, and from that day on I was pretty near obsessed with getting his killers. Was it anger and revenge, or was it a deep feeling of guilt? I’ve never known, I’ll never know.


I still miss Momma so much after all these years, she was just a wonderful lady and mother. I wanted to do something to commemorate her memory. So I was able to endow a small scholarship in her name at Wichita State University, and they put up a plaque in the student center that tells of her important contribution as the only woman on Wichita’s incorporation papers. You can go over there today and read that plaque.

I don’t imagine Momma would have been too happy with the way things developed after she died, at least up until I was supposedly killed. She raised me and Josie to be decent and always do the right thing. I tried to walk the straight and narrow, but I gotta tell you that wasn’t so easy for an orphan kid in the West in the 1870s. I would try, but sometimes I would get in with the wrong fellas and just follow them. But now the Lincoln County War, that was different. I think Momma would have understood about that.

When Mr. Tunstall was murdered in cold blood, just for trying to compete in business with Murphy and Dolan, I believe Momma, if she had been alive then, would have said, “You boys have got to do something, you’ve got to fight back.” And that’s what we were trying to do.