An early fight in the Lincoln County War occurred near this sawmill on April 5, 1878, when several men of the McSween faction, including Dick Brewer and Billy the Kid, attempted to arrest Buckshot Roberts. Roberts and Brewer were killed, and two others wounded, in the battle that followed.
On February 18, 1878, John Tunstall was murdered by members of the Dolan-Murphy faction at the onset of the Lincoln County War. Tunstall factions members immediately assumed Buckshot Roberts was party to the murder due to his close connections to the Dolan faction. Roberts, however, wanted nothing to do with the conflict, and put his ranch up for sale. Roberts stayed at Blazer's Mill on his way out of town, where he was confronted by the Regulators on April 4, 1878, including Dick Brewer, who led the group, and of course, William H. "Billy the Kid" Bonney, the most famous participant in the Lincoln County War.
A few different stories about why Roberts was at Blazer's Mill exist, but the two prevalent ones are, first, the one I told above, about him leaving town after selling his land, and the second, almost as plausible, was that he went to the mill to collect some money owed to him. Whatever the truth was, he was ambushed by the Regulators, being shot at from both sides.
Frank Coe of the Regulators had asked Buckshot to give up his weapons, and when he refused, he was ambushed from behind. Roberts returned fire on the twelve or thirteen men, initially wounding two and, had the gun not misfired, could have shot Billy the Kid. Charlie Bowdre wounded Roberts, who then retreated into the house.
At this point, Dick Brewer, leader of the Regulators, made a move at Roberts, creeping his way up to the house. Buckshot saw Brewer hiding behind a pile of logs, and with one well timed fire, shot through Brewer's eye and took the top of his head off. At this point, de facto leader Billy the Kid ordered the retreat.
Buckshot Roberts died the following day in a great deal of pain. Later, the distances of shots and the stories seemed verified through independent investigation. According to historical sources, Buckshot Roberts was later found to have had nothing to do with John Tunstall's murder.
Blazer's Mill now exists as old adobe ruins, and the historical marker sits on US Highway 70 about 2.5 miles south of Mescalero, between Mescalero and Tularosa near a village called Bent, New Mexico. It's a great bit of Americana and New Mexico history.
My sources for this post are as follows:
- Old West Legends, Buckshot Roberts Last Stand: This site tells the story as plain as day, it's a good starting point.
- Diggin' History; Wild West Wednesday: Buckshot Roberts and the Gun Battle at Blazer's Mill: A well written little piece that tells of the battle itself. I learned a lot here!
- Tom Rizzo Storyteller; Buckshot Roberts, the Legend of Blazer's Mill: The above author might have learned some of what they wrote from this well written and insightful piece.
- Blazer's Mill Showdown: A generic, Angel Fire presentation hides some good history and some great historical photographs at the bottom of the page.