Maggie’s The Old West's longest continuous gunfight. 33 hours. 4,000 rounds fired. 5 combatants killed.

Blue Sky Country

Urban Cowboy
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Minuteman
  • They tried to kill him with every possible method at their disposal. But he prevails.

    Sounds like the tagline on the poster of a 1940's or 1950's Republic or Monogram Pictures cowboy movie, doesn't it?

    During a time when grit, endurance, and sheer strength of will, as well as prowess with a shootin' iron determined life or death, one tough hombre ascended above all odds and rose to become a respected community leader and champion of this country's very principles.

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    Name: Elfego Baca
    Born: February 10, 1865 Socorro, New Mexico.
    Died: August 27, 1945 Albuquerque, New Mexico.
    Political affiliation: Republican
    Career posts: In chronological order: Peace officer, constable, school administrator, nightclub owner, lawyer.


    Born in the harsh and rugged landscape of Socorro, New Mexico Territory in the February of 1865, Elfego Baca had already experienced a harrowing life. At a very young age, he had been abducted by a ruthless gang of bandits known as Comancheros, who were known for committing unspeakable atrocities across the settlements of the still untamed western frontier, killing, raping, burning, and even massacring entire towns. Facing certain death or a lifetime of slavery, only a ransom paid by his community persuaded the bandits to return the boy. Having descended from a long line of Spaniards who had first arrived in the region in the late 1500's, his family was involved in the horse breeding and cattle ranching business. By the time Elfego was a teenager, his father had opened successful ranches in both Topeka, Kansas, and Belen, New Mexico, where the older man became a town marshal.

    Wanting to follow in his father's footsteps and having learned all of the basics of riding, shooting, and roping, the young man set out to a town named Middle Frisco Plaza in 1884 in order to try his own luck in the booming business of the ranching industry.

    The year is 1884, and cattle is steadily replacing buffalo as the primary source of profit for the American meat market. This is an era which also marked the beginning of the consolidated factory farm industry and livestock monopolies.

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    THE FRISCO WAR
    OCTOBER, 1884


    What 19 year old Elfego Baca found instead at Frisco, was a town under siege. Having long been a quiet community of Spanish ranchers who provided neighboring communities with horses and riding equipment, Frisco has now been invaded by large bands of cowboys, hide hunters, and railroad workers from several massive factory ranching conglomerates that have set up shop nearby. The scofflaws did not pay any mind to the safety or peace of the town's residents and routinely got roaring drunk, riding through the streets and shooting randomly at buildings and animals. In one incident, a young resident of the town had been castrated by a cowboy with a hunting knife when he attempted to break up a brawl between the cowboys and the townspeople.

    Elfego Baca could not help but realize the connection and the urgency to help a people and community who had saved his life when he was younger. In a place with no real law to instill a resemblance of order, what the young man did next would be astonishing. According to popular folklore, Baca ordered a set of tin stars to be made from the local blacksmith, strapped on his Colt Single Action .45 and Winchester 1873 carbine which were originally intended for defense against wild animals on the cattle trail, and proclaimed himself the marshal of Frisco.

    THE SHOOTOUT
    OCTOBER 29-30, 1884


    Elfego Baca's bold proclamation as an officer of the law was very quickly put to the crucible. On the evening of the 29th of October, 1884, a group of cowboys from the notorious John B. Slaughter livestock syndicate had gotten extremely intoxicated and rowdy at the town's saloon and gambling hall when one of them, a Texan named Charlie McCarty drew his revolvers, went out into the street, and doused the nearby buildings with a fusillade of bullets. Upon hearing the gunfire, Baca arrived on scene, drawing his own pistol and announced that he was placing McCarty under arrest for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Upon waiting for the circuit judge to arrive from neighboring Socorro to formally process the case, Baca and three deputized townsmen converted a one story adobe inn into a makeshift jail to hold their prisoner.

    During the night however, more cowboys from the Slaughter outfit, hearing what had happened to their comrade, descended upon Frisco and demanded the immediate release of Charlie McCarty. Surrounding the small but tough adobe structure, the armed men attempted to batter their way in. In response, Baca shouted back from within the structure that if the mob did not scatter within "the count of three", warning shots are going to be fired straight in their direction.

    The verbal warning was only met with uproarious laughter from the cowboys. "Do you even know how to count?", one of the drunken ranch hands promptly taunted. "ONE.... TWO....", responded from within the building. "THREE..." As Baca had promised, several shots rang out, whizzing through the air uncomfortably close to the cowboys' heads. In the glare of torchlight, darkness and pandemonium however, one of Baca's bullets accidentally struck the horse being ridden by Slaughter's personal assistant. As the wounded animal reared upward, it's rider was thrown from the saddle, crashing onto the ground, whereupon the horse fell on top of him, killing him instantly. Shouts of alarm quickly turned into anger when the cowboys realized what had happened. "We're going to kill you, son of a bitch!". "Watch it, your reckoning is coming soon!", the mob roared, interspersed with Rebel yells as they retreated.

    Knowing the storm that is about to fall upon Frisco, Baca and his deputies moved McCarty back into the saloon in the early hours of the morning to hold his "trial", rather than wait for the circuit judge. Presiding over the ad hoc proceedings was the saloon owner Bill Milligan himself, a tough old Civil War veteran who had initially summoned for Baca's assistance when the trouble broke out earlier. Charlie McCarty was fined 5 dollars along with his pistols, and released.

    However, by daybreak, the rest of the members of the Slaughter outfit, along with ranch hands from other nearby companies who had been howling for Baca's severed head on a pole for the death of the assistant throughout the night, had descended upon the town in full force and armed to the teeth. Sources say that over 40 cowboys showed up, although the townspeople who watched from a distance had reported seeing over 80-100 armed horsemen thunder towards the adobe inn where Baca, with his pistol and Winchester carbine had taken refuge in.

    One man, a large roper named Hearne drew a massive knife from a sheath, vowing to the others "I am gonna git' the son of a bitch". He kicked down the wooden door of the structure and promptly received two blasts from Baca's carbine. The 250 grain slugs crashed through Hearne's stomach and he collapsed and died at the entrance of the building. Almost immediately, the cowboys responded with volleys of rifle and handgun fire. A withering storm of lead slammed into the walls and the interior of the building. Clouds of blinding dust and shrapnel erupted from successive impacts.

    At several intervals throughout the ceaseless fusillade, the cowboys demanded that Baca surrender immediately. "If I am going to surrender, it will be to another officer of the law!", Baca shouted back.

    Over the next 33 hours, the cowboys fired over 4,000 rounds into the building, which was virtually shredded and gutted by the sheer volume of impacts. It had been called a "miracle" that Baca had even survived, until it was later found out that the floor of the structure had been several inches lower into the earth than the ground outside. Baca had pressed his body into the recessed floor behind the walls closest to the entrance and all of the gunfire had streamed over him. During the periodic lulls in the fusillade as the cowboys stopped to reload, Baca rested the barrels of his pistol and rifle on the entrance floor ledge and returned fire. Subsequent investigations of shell casings by the county sheriff's deputies revealed that Baca had fired 360 rounds during the ordeal and fatally struck 4 of the cowboys, and wounding 8 more.

    Midway through the second day of the standoff, some of the vigilantes hurled flaming torches onto the roof. As the roof caught fire, the structure partially collapsed. Incredibly, as the cowboys attempted another frontal charge to flush out the exhausted, hungry, and almost deliriously thirsty defender, more return fire blasted from the ruins, forcing the attackers to beat a hasty retreat.

    On the 33rd hour of the siege, Socorro town marshal James Cook and Deputy Ross had arrived just as the cowboys had prepared a wagon filled with kerosene soaked tinder and were about to incinerate Baca along with the rest of the building in one final assault. Upon the appearance of the lawmen, Elfego Baca announced his surrender. With the guns of every cowboy and militiaman pointed directly at him, Baca emerged from the smoldering ruins of the adobe inn. Feverish, near delirium, and caked in filth, but alive.

    Baca was taken to Socorro County Jail and confined there for the next four months while awaiting trial for the death of John Slaughter's assistant on the night of October 29. After examining multiple witness testimonies, Baca was acquitted and released on his own recognition while he faced murder charges stemming from the shootout and siege. In that trial, held in the August of the following year, Baca was yet again acquitted of all charges, as his killing of the four cowboys during the standoff had been ruled a "perfectly justified use of lethal force in the course of self defense".

    Upon his final release, Elfego Baca officially ran for, and won the seat of Sheriff of Middle Frisco Plaza, to the overwhelming support of the townspeople. With his appointment, the era of lawlessness which plagued the town and it's surrounding areas was over. For the next decade, Baca served his duties as the chief lawman of Frisco as well as the constable and sheriff of nearby Socorro County. During his tenure as a lawman, Baca employed a unique method of apprehending criminals and fugitives. Instead of sending out deputies to pursue and bring the offenders to justice, Baca simply mailed the offender a letter stating: "I have a warrant here for your arrest. Please come in by March 15 and give yourself up. If you don’t, I’ll know you intend to resist arrest, and I will feel justified in shooting you on sight when I come after you." Almost all offenders surrendered voluntarily.

    A plaque and commemorative display of Elfego Baca's exploits during the Frisco Shootout, located in Reserve, NM, formerly known as Middle Frisco Plaza.

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    Several views of the display at different angles.

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    As the turn of the 20th century arrived, the State of New Mexico established it's public school system and Elfego Baca, now a seasoned lawman, public official and having earned his law qualifications in the New Mexico Bar, had also served several successful terms as a state Dept. Of Education administrator. In the later years of his life, Baca found his calling in law, and beginning with a practitioner with the Freeman Socorro Law Firm, Baca went on to open successful ventures in San Antonio and Albuquerque. Elfego Baca passed away at the age of 80 in Albuquerque on August 27, 1945. Having been born in an age of horse drawn carriages, he had lived to see the first commercial airliners, high speed trains, and the control and release of nuclear energy, both in peacetime and warfare. Over the course of his life, Elfego Baca staunchly preserved and promoted American traditions and the American system of governance. A lifelong Republican, Baca was a standfast protector of individual liberty, the ideal of personal responsibility, and the basis that every man should stand up for what is righteous, and not be afraid to defend these ideals.
     
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