Gunfight at Blazer's Mill
Blazer's Mill Circa 1930
Of all the gun battles in America’s Old West, perhaps none was more dramatic or violent than the one fought at Blazer’s Mill on April 4th 1878. In the battle Andrew L. Roberts, better known as “Buckshot Roberts,” single handedly stood off a slew of eight experienced gunslingers. Some sources cite 14.
Robert’s early life is mostly a mystery and history remains silent as to when he was born or where he came from. The little that is known is a mix of legend and fact. Some say he was a Texas Ranger who went by the name of Bill Williams, yet others say he was injured in a shootout with them. Some believe he was a sergeant in the Union Army during the Civil War. Other sources list him as a Confederate soldier as his grave has a Confederate marker. But it is known for certain he hunted bison with Buffalo Bill Cody and was a feared Indian fighter. He got his nickname by being hit by a shotgun blast in his right arm sometime in his past, possibly in the shootout with the Texas Rangers. Thereafter he was unable to lift his rifle higher than his hip. However, he was still an excellent marksman.
He was described as being a short stocky man who mostly kept to himself and seldom spoke of his past. For the most part, he was even tempered, but also not one to cross. It’s said he favored riding a mule instead of a horse.
Richard M. Brewer
Sheriff William Brady
However, regardless of who he was or where he came from, Roberts found himself getting caught up in the midst of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico which was about to become a live powder keg in the 1870s. At the time he owned a small ranch near Lincoln. From time to time he worked with James Dolan, a major cattleman and businessman in the area. Dolan, a hot tempered Irishman, was suspected of ordering the murder of John Tunstall, a strong competitor. He and Lawrence Murphy were business partners in a mercantile and banking operation and monopolizing most of the business in the county.
Since Roberts had been in Dolan’s employ everyone naturally assumed he was a member of the Dolan-Murphy faction, but in actuality he wanted no part of the conflict. His position was he “…would fight no man’s battle for him.” However, his neutral stance availed him naught. When the Dolan-Murphy outfit murdered Tunstall, a warrant for his arrest was issued. Robert’s decided to sell his ranch and move on to quieter pastures. He moved in temporarily with a friend living near Blazer’s Mill. When the property was bought a check was to be mailed to the post office at the mill.
In the meantime, Constable Richard M. Brewer organized a group of “Regulators” to track down Tunstall’s killers. In actuality, the Regulators were nothing more than hired guns. On April 4, 1878 Roberts spotted a wagon headed for the mill. He hoped it was carrying mail because he was in a hurry to get his money and move on. If he had known who was at the mill at the time he would’ve patiently waited another day.
The Regulators had stopped there to get something to eat, but Roberts wasn’t aware of the fact since they had hitched their mounts out back of the building. The group of gunmen included: Richard “Dick” Brewer, John Middleton, Frank Coe, Doc Scurlock, Henry Brown, Charles Bowdre, Frank Mcnab and last but not least, Billy the Kid.
Roberts rode his mule up to the mill, hitched it and went inside to check his mail. He had no idea the Regulators were inside eating. Or they had shot and killed the corrupt Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady and his deputy George Hindman three days before. Brady was targeted since he was basically a flunky for the Dolan-Murphy faction.
It was Frank Coe who first spotted Roberts. Not wanting to spill blood needlessly, he approached Roberts and tried to talk him into surrendering peacefully. The others however, weren’t feeling too peaceable like and were getting impatient. Anyway, Roberts deduced no matter what decision he made he was between a rock and a hard place.
Brewer finally had enough of the talk and sent his Regulators outside to get on with it. When Roberts saw the play going down he was determined to get the first shot off. Swinging his rifle up to hip level he fired, hitting Charlie Bowdre’s oversized belt buckle and knocking the wind out of him. Bowdre however, didn’t go down before he had put a bullet in Roberts’ gut. Roberts staggered backwards seriously wounded but still firing. In rapid succession John Middleton went down with a bullet to the chest. Another bullet knocked Doc Spurlock’s pistol from his hand. Frank Coe was next losing his right thumb and trigger finger. Billy the Kid had a much better day having only been grazed on an arm.
Roberts’ rifle was now empty. Billy, seizing the opportunity, made a mad rush at his opponent. But Roberts wasn’t done yet. Billy’s head met the cold, hard steel of a rifle barrel and he was taken out of the play.
With the playing field leveled a bit Roberts backed into the mill with another rifle prepared to go down fighting. But the Regulators had called time out to lick their wounds and reverted to their previous ploy of negotiation. Brewer however, was disgusted with the idea his handpicked stable of gunslingers had been routed by one man…and one with a bad arm and gut shot at that. Brewer, determined to save face circled to the rear of the building. When he saw Roberts he began firing. Roberts had returned fire simultaneously and placed a bullet neatly through one of Brewer’s eyes. Brewer slumped to the ground dead.
Without their leader the remaining Regulators, who were able, quickly turned tail and fled. Apparently, on the way back to town they had told someone about Roberts’ condition who returned to Blazer’s Mill with a doctor. Although the doctor did the best he could, there was little he could do. Buckshot Roberts died the next day.
Ironically he and Dick Brewer were buried side by side at the small Blazer Cemetery in Mescalero, New Mexico, near where the gunfight occurred.