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Susan McSween

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Title: Susan McSween  
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Subject: Billy the Kid, Young Guns (film), Nathan Dudley
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Susan McSween

Susan McSween (December 30, 1845 – January 3, 1931) was a prominent cattlewoman of the 19th century, once called the "Cattle Queen of New Mexico", and the widow of Alexander McSween, a leading factor in the Lincoln County War, and who was shot and killed by members of the Murphy-Dolan faction.

Early life, Lincoln County War

Main article: Lincoln County War

Born Susan Hummer in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, she married Alexander McSween in 1873. In 1875 the couple moved to Lincoln, New Mexico, where her husband had accepted a job with the company of Lawrence Murphy. Working alongside James Dolan, McSween soon lost his desire to work for the company, and had by that time become friends with John Tunstall, a wealthy English rancher. Through Tunstall, the couple met John Chisum, and by 1877 the three men had established a rival business to the Murphy-Dolan businesses who had completely monopolized over every business transaction in Lincoln.

Problems between the two factions began there, and on February 18, 1878, outlaw Jesse Evans and members of his gang working with "the boys" from the rival faction of James Dolan also known as The Santa Fe Ring, shot and killed Tunstall, which sparked the Lincoln County War. By that time, Tunstall and McSween had hired gunmen to counter those hired by Murphy-Dolan. While the latter had hired outlaw gangs like the Seven Rivers Warriors, John Kinney Gang, and the Jesse Evans Gang, Tunstall hired individuals, to include Billy the Kid, Dick Brewer, Charlie Bowdre, Doc Scurlock and others. The two factions clashed over Tunstall's death, with numerous people being killed by both sides, and culminating in the Battle of Lincoln, in which Susan McSween was present. Her husband was killed at the end of that battle, despite his being unarmed and attempting to surrender.

Susan McSween hired attorney Huston Chapman to pursue charges against those responsible for her husband's death, and also had him assist in negotiating with Governor Lew Wallace on amnesty for the Lincoln County Regulators, who had defended her husband and sought vengeance for Tunstall's death. Colonel Nathan Dudley was one of her main targets, and he did stand trial, but was acquitted. Lawrence Murphy had died before the end of 1878, and James Dolan was charged in Tunstall's murder, but acquitted, and could never be linked directly to Alex McSween's murder. Jesse Evans killed Chapman, then fled the territory, after which eventually the whole matter simply went away.

After the range war

She took over a large sum of land in the years after the Lincoln County War ended, establishing a ranch in Three Rivers, New Mexico. In 1880 she married George Barber, but later the couple divorced. By the mid-1890s her ranch holdings were some of the largest in the territory. She averaged during this time between 3,000 and 5,000 head of cattle, becoming extremely wealthy.

Last years/death

In 1902 she sold her holdings to politician Albert Fall, and she moved to White Oaks, New Mexico, by that time a declining boomtown. She died a wealthy woman there, on January 3, 1931, aged 85, and is buried in the White Oaks cemetery.

In popular culture

  • She is portrayed by Sharon Thomas in the 1988 movie Young Guns. The epilogue states that following the death of her husband she became a prominent cattlewoman; however she was not depicted in the film's sequel.
  • In the Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War (2013) by Kathleen P. Chamberlain, a professor of history at Eastern Michigan University.

External links

  • Susan Hummer McSween
  • The McSween's
  • White Oaks, New Mexico, Ghost Town History
  • Friends to Billy the Kid
  • Ghost Town Stories
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