Billy the Kid & Whiskey Jim
No one except the locals were particularly interested in the comings and goings of a young outlaw, just another small-time rustler in Lincoln County. It would not be until that fateful April day when the Kid shot his way out of the Courthouse that the world would begin to spell his name with capital letters.
With war’s end, the Kid had to find some way to make a living, and he did it the only way he knew how: by stealing horses and cattle and gambling (the Kid was quite adept at Spanish Monte). He was acutely aware of the fact that, war or no war, there were a number of men in and around Lincoln who would love to see him dead. Jimmy Dolan and Bob Olinger were two of the more visible examples.
Consequently, Billy spent a great deal of his time in other locales – high desert communities such as Fort Sumner, Las Vegas (NM), Puerto de Luna, Anton Chico, and the new boomtown of White Oaks, about 40 miles from Lincoln, down out of the mountains, in the Tularosa basin. White Oaks was, and is, surrounded by the mountains that the Kid knew so well, but is itself considerably lower than Lincoln in elevation.
Gold had been discovered at “The Oaks” in 1880, and the rush was on. The Kid, as well as his mostly new gang of ne’er-do-wells, found it to be quite attractive. Three brothers named Dedrick ran a livery stable in the town, and, more importantly to the Kid and his associates, the Dedricks also had a ranch just outside of town where stolen stock could be driven, butchered and sold with no questions asked.
Additionally, the Dedricks owned another ranch near Bosque Grande and were occasional partners in some rather nefarious dealings with a man known as “Whiskey Jim” Greathouse. It was probably through the Dedricks that Billy met Whiskey Jim.
Greathouse and a partner named Fred Kuch (pronounced “Cook”) ran a trading post/rooming house/saloon/bordello/wayfarer’s stop about 40 miles north of White Oaks in the flatlands of the Tularosa Basin. (There is a state historical marker a few miles from the actual location on State Highway 54).Needless to say, Whiskey Jim was considered by many White Oaks residents to be a rather unsavory character (an accurate evaluation, actually), but this was tempered by the fact that he was 40 miles away and was not running around the countryside shooting people, a habit that so many other residents of Lincoln County had developed in the previous decade or so.
One night in November of 1880, an attempt was made – and foiled – to steal some horses from a ranch on the edge of White Oaks. The next day, the town was rife with rumors that Billy and his men were currently stopping at Blake’s Sawmill, on the road to Coyote Spring, which was too close to White Oaks for most of the citizens’ comfort.
A posse was hastily formed by Will Hudgens, a former Lincoln storekeeper who had moved to White Oaks when the boom began. As was the case with many, Hudgens had grown ever so weary of Lincoln, with all those pesky gunmen and bullets flying everywhere, etc. The posse included his brother John, Jim Carlyle, J.W. Bell and others.
Hudgens was no fool. He was not about to take after Billy and his men, whose number included the surly, hulking, murderous Dave Rudabaugh, with just a few men. He enlisted
as many as would come along. About 10 brave souls did.
On their way out of the Oaks, the posse came across Mose Dedrick and another man on their way into town. Working on the assumption that the two were coming from a rendezvous with the Kid’s band, Hudgens arrested them.
Hudgens’ instinct about Mose had been correct, as a little further down the road, the posse, quite by accident, stumbled across the Kid and his men lounging about their campsite. As might be expected, the instantaneous result was a lot of panicked men and horses, with a great deal of sudden gunfire. The only casualties were three horses – Hudgens’, the Kid’s, and outlaw Billy Wilson’s. The unhorsed outlaws jumped up behind their confederates and galloped away, firing as they went.
Getting another horse for Hudgens was no problem. All the posse had to do was send back to White Oaks for one. For the outlaws, it created more of a dilemma. They could only ride double so far, and after the Kid and Wilson were put back on the ground by the other outlaws, Billy instructed his men to meet him and Wilson at the Greathouse place, 40 miles to the north. He and Wilson, he announced, would walk. Neither the Kid or Wilson were happy about it, but unless they came across some horses before Greathouse’s, they had no choice but to hike it on up there.
Meanwhile, back at the outlaws’ campsite, the posse began to find items that incriminated Mose Dedrick. Goods and provisions that had been purchased that morning by Mose in White Oaks were scattered everywhere. Most damning of all was the overcoat that Billy the Kid had
draped over his shoulders when the posse surprised them. The Kid had leaped to his feet and in doing so, the coat fell to the ground behind him, where he left it. The entire posse had witnessed this. When they picked up the overcoat, stitched in large letters on the inside of the collar were the words “Mose Dedrick.” Needless to say, Mose suffered severe personal embarrassment over this incident. More importantly, Mose and his partner, a man named Lamper, were taken back into town for arraignment.
While Dedrick and Lamper were appearing before the local magistrate, a new posse was formed. This new posse consisted of most of the men from the original posse and several
new volunteers, bringing the total to about 14. This time, Jim Carlyle was in charge.
Shortly after daylight, a man came out of the house and headed for the barn. Two
possemen jumped him and, with the business end of a revolver stuck in each ear, the man,
who turned out to be Greathouse’s German cook, Joseph Steck, was more than happy to
tell the posse anything they wanted to know.
From the descriptions he gave of the men staying inside, the posse ascertained that Greathouse’s guests were indeed the Kid, Billy Wilson, and Dave Rudabaugh. All three
had spent the previous night there and were in fact, still there. It was not all of the men
who had been involved in the Coyote Springs shootout, but it was the most wanted ones.
Several more men came out for various reasons, including Whiskey Jim himself, and
all were taken into custody. By this time, of course, the men inside were growing more
than a little curious as to where everyone was disappearing to.
Finally, Carlyle wrote a note to the Kid, demanding his surrender, and ordered Steck, who was somewhat less than enthusiastic at the way his morning was shaping up, to deliver it inside to Billy. A short time after Steck entered the house the posse could hear the outlaws laughing. Then Steck came back out with a note from Billy.
As Steck later recalled, “The Kid’s party sent me out with a note demanding to know who the leader of the party (posse) was, and invited him into the house to talk the matter over.”
At first, Carlyle objected, but finally (and foolishly) acquiesced. Steck’s testimony goes on: “Carlyle, the leader of the White Oaks posse, at first objected, but Greathouse, putting himself as hostage for his (Carlyle’s) safety while he was in there, he took off his arms and walked into the trap. In the meantime, I was backward and forward between the two parties, carrying
The deal, in other words, was simply that Greathouse would be the posse’s hostage in order to insure Carlyle’s safety inside the house.
At this point, the reader may well ask “Why would Carlyle submit to such an insane request?” He had the upper hand, with the outlaws surrounded, but once he was inside, it became a Mexican standoff.
The answer, actually, is quite simple: Booze, and it is easy to see why Carlyle’s judgment had been a trifle impaired. He was, in all probability, more than a little inebriated.
Once inside with the outlaws, Carlyle realized his error and began to loudly complain about the situation. Seeing his condition, the outlaws decided that it wouldn’t hurt if Jim became even more snockered than he already was. Hell, it might even shut him up. On the contrary, Carlyle became even more vociferous and more annoying. Steck tells us that by 11 a.m.: “I
found Carlyle getting under the influence of liquor and insisting on going out while the others (this would be the outlaws) insisted on his staying.”
No doubt. Carlyle was Billy’s insurance policy. Imagine the scene – three desperate men locked in a house with an argumentative drunk. Comical as the situation seems to have been, it had to come to a breaking point soon, and it did.
The possemen, who were themselves becoming drunker and more impatient standing around in the frigid morning air, began to talk of rushing the house. Then one of them fired a shot. Whether or not it was an accidental discharge, we will never know. The result was that the outlaws inside the Greathouse place began to think that perhaps Whiskey Jim had been shot.
To the now-plastered Carlyle, however, there was no doubt. He was suddenly, drunkenly, and mortally certain that that his fellow possemen had just gunned down Greathouse and that he, Carlyle, was next. Whether or not the outlaws intended to shoot him is another mystery, because Carlyle leapt to his feet and, racing across the room, dove right through a closed window to what he thought would be safety. Sadly, he was mistaken.
When Carlyle came sailing through the window, everybody shot him. It’s a good bet, in light of some remarks made later by Dave Rudabaugh, that Billy and Rudabaugh both opened fire on the fleeing man and when Carlyle came crashing loudly through the window, his own men mistook him for one of the outlaws and opened fire on him. He was dead when he hit the ground.
In the confusion of the resulting gun battle (Steck estimated that 60-75 shots were exchanged), Whiskey Jim wisely slipped away.
The next morning, Greathouse and his partner, Fred Kuch, returned in the company of Steck. They ascertained that after the death of Carlyle, the posse, realizing they had shot their own leader, had elected to withdraw and regroup. In fact, they kept withdrawing until they were all the way back at White Oaks.
Two nights later, the posse returned. This time, however, they had no official status with
which to cloak themselves. This time, they were a drunken mob.
And they burned Whiskey Jim’s ranch to the ground.
Now, for those of you who saw the film “Young Guns II,” you will remember that in the film, Whiskey Jim was transformed into a comely madam named “Jane” Greathouse. In that production, she confounds the posse by mounting a horse ala Lady Godiva, sans clothing. It is kind of amusing to think about what the real posse would have done if Whiskey Jim had tried the same trick.
At the very least, it would have been one hell of a Kodak moment.
Drew Gomber is a Lincoln New Mexico historian with the Hubbard Museum
and has been seen frequently on the History Channel in programs such as Wild West Tech,
The Plot to Kill: Jesse James and many more.
SOURCES: THE FILES OF PHILIP RASCH, courtesy of The Hubbard Museum;
A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE LINCOLN COUNTY WAR and THE WEST OF
BILLY THE KID, both by Frederick Nolan
HIGH NOON IN LINCOLN by Robert Utley.