1888 Gun Fight in Lincoln County
Penasco, New Mexico
Submitted by Mike Green
Format by C. W. Barnum
Return to Lincoln County

William Milton Owens:
William Milton Owens was born April 17, 1857 in Uvalde, Uvalde County, Texas. His father, Robert Jackson Owens was the eldest son of W. S. B. Owens, one of the earliest settlers of Uvalde County. William Milton Owens married Sarah A. Freer on February 15, 1879 and they had two children, Laura E. J. Owens, born in 1882 and William J. Owens, born in 1885. In about 1887, William Milton Owens and his family left Texas to homestead land in Lincoln County, New Mexico. They were accompanied by his sister, Mary Jane Owens and her family (Mary Jane was married to James Alexander Green). On May 31, 1888, William Milton Owens and James Alexander Green got into an argument with two brothers named Mackey over a debt of 50 cents. Guns were drawn and in the ensuing battle, William Milton Owens was killed. His brother-in-law, James Alexander Green was wounded and died on June 2, 1888. The Mackey brothers were indicted for murder and tried but were both found not guilty.

James Alexander Green:
He was born in Robertson County, Texas (possibly Tarrant County) in about 1866. In about 1867, his father, Peter Gatewood Green, moved the family to Tarrant County, Texas. A sister of James, Mary Francis, was born in 1868 and a brother, William W. was born in 1871.
In 1873, the family moved to Uvalde County, Texas. Another brother, Stephen S. Green, was born in 1874. James probably met his future wife, Mary Jane Owens, during this time since she was from Uvalde County and her grandfather, W. S. B. Owens, was one of the earliest settlers in that county.
Sometime before 1879, James' father moved the family to Comanche County and another sister of James'. Ella May, was born there in 1879. The family was listed there in the 1880 census and James was listed as "Works on Farm" while his father was listed as "Farmer".
In 1884, the family moved to San Angelo, Tom Green County, Texas. It is not clear how long they were there before James left to marry Mary Jane Owens in Junction, Kimble County, Texas on September 16, 1884. There may have been other Greens in Kimble County since there is an 1884 tax roll listing for S. H. Green (possibly James' uncle, Samuel H. Green).
In 1885, the Kimble County tax rolls list J. A. Green as having 3 horses and mules value $60 and 20 cattle value $180. S. H. Green is also listed on the 1885 tax rolls. James' brother-in-law, William Milton Owens, is listed on the Kimble County tax rolls from 1881 to 1886. James' mother-in-law, Priscilla Ellen Gossett, also lived in Kimble County. Priscilla Ellen was remarried to a man named Sykes. Also, in 1885, James and Mary Jane had their first child, Mary Alexander Green.
In about 1887, James and his family left Kimble County for Lincoln County, New Mexico to homestead land. They were accompanied by William Milton Owens and his family.
On February 23, 1888, James' second child, Wayne Elmer Green was born in Lincoln County.
On May 31, 1888, James Green and Milton Owens got into a quarrel with two brothers, John and Milburn Mackey. There are two versions of the cause of the quarrel. The Santa Fe New Mexican in its June 13, 1888 edition states that Green and Owens claimed that the Mackey’s owed them 50 cents. The White Oaks Interpreter in its September 14, 1888 edition states 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 Milburn 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 not guilty.
James' wife Mary Jane returned to Uvalde County, Texas and was remarried in about 1892 to Harry Singer. They had two more children, Harry Singer, Junior and Priscilla Agnes Singer.

Article from “The Daily New Mexican” Published Wednesday, June 13, 1888 in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Hon. Jones Talliaferro, county clerk of Lincoln, and Mr. G. R. Young, a well known White Oaks business man, now visiting Santa Fe, relate the particulars of a terrible tragedy which occurred below Penasco a few days ago. The parties involved are from Texas. Owens and Green, brothers-in-law, claimed that the two Mackey brothers owed them fifty cents. A quarrel arose and Owens and Green followed the Mackeys some distance on the road and renewed the contest, Owens striking Mackey with a whip. Mackey knocked him down and then slid off his horse and took refuge behind the animal. Owens fired and the bullet from his revolver passed through the horse’s body and struck Mackey in the eye, putting it out. While this was in progress the other Mackey went into J. W. Neatherlin’s house near by and secured a Winchester. Green opened fire on him as he came out and a general battle ensued in which nineteen shots were fired. Both Owens and Green were killed. One of the Mackeys escaped minus an eye and the other had his left arm shattered from wrist to elbow, a ball from Green’s weapon running clean up the arm. The Mackeys were arrested, tried and promptly acquitted.

[The story above is based on hearsay and is incorrect in the last statement as the Mackeys were indicted in August, 1888 and their trial and acquittal was in September, 1888.]

Excerpt from Appearance Bond of Milburen Mackey; Territory of New Mexico, County of Lincoln; June 13, 1888

…the above bounden principal stands charged with having on the 31 day of (May) A. D. 1888, at the County of Lincoln and Territory of New Mexico, committed the crime of assault (on) the body of Milton Owens and Bud Green with intent to kill….

Excerpts from warrants for Arrest of Both Mackeys; District Court, Lincoln County; August 31, 1888

To the sheriff of Lincoln County, Greeting, You are hereby commanded to arrest and take the body of John Mackey (Milburn Mackey) and him safely keep so that you have his body forthwith before the District Court within and for the County of Lincoln at the term now being held at the Court House in said County, then and there to answer unto an indictment for murder.

Article from the “New Mexico Interpreter” Published September 14, 1888 in White Oaks, New Mexico.

At the close of the famous Solitaire vs. Homestake case on Wednesday the 5th, the jury was called to try the case of the Territory vs. John and Melborn Mackey. District Attorney Ashenfelter and Col. Fountain, having left for
Las Cruces, John J. Cockrell, and Col. Thornton acted as State’s attorneys and Fergusson and Richardson attorneys for defendants. The defendants, John and Milburn Mackey, are charged with the murder of James A. Green and Milton Owens on the 31st of May last, near the residence of L. W. Neatherlin, Upper Penasco, this county. This is the most important murder trial for this term of court, and a large number of witnesses were examined on part of the prosecution, most of them being eye witnesses of the fatal occurrence.
Among the witnesses were the widows and children of the said Green and Owens, who attracted the attention of all and elicited the sympathy of the members of the court. From the testimony brought forth, it appears that a few days previous to the shooting, the defendants and the deceased had had a quarrel over and account existing between them that the morning on which the shooting occurred, Owen and Green met the Mackeys as before stated, near the residence of Mr. Neatherlin, and where the quarrel was renewed, Mackeys claiming a balance due them of 50 cents; the lie was passed and a scuffle ensued. The deceased were well armed, but the Mackeys were not. Melborn Mackey rode to the house of Mr. Neatherlin, about 170 yards, procured a Winchester rifle and on his return, when within a few yards of the parties, opened fire, hitting Owens in the breast, then in the arm. He then shot Green in the breast. Owens, just at the time he was shot turned and shot at John Mackey who was standing behind his horse, the ball striking him in the eye. The firing then ceased. Owens and Green rode a few yards and fell from their horses. They were carried to Mr. Neatherlin’s where Owens expired in a few moments. Green lived until the 3rd of June.

The case was given to the jury at 10 p. m. on Thursday. Friday afternoon the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty in the case of Green. There is an indictment against them for the killing of Owens. The case was continued until next term of court. John Mackey gave bond of $500 and Melborn Mackey $3,000, for their appearance at next term of court. (end)

The location of the above event is probably in present-day Chaves County, New Mexico (which was formed from Lincoln County in 1889), and probably about 3 miles southwest of Dunken, New Mexico. The 1885 census of New Mexico listed the following in Enumeration District 14, Precinct #9, Penasco, County of Lincoln, and Territory of New Mexico:

Dwelling 118 – Milburn Mackey, 26, WM, Head, Single, Ranchman
Dwelling 119 – Jno Mackey, 39, WM, Head, Married, Ranchman
Dwelling 122 – L. W. Neatherlin, 60, WM, Married, Ranchman