Old Times and Old Timers

by Don Bullis

New Mexico’s Old Times and Old Timers

“Jim Carlisle Died Young”

James Bermuda “Jim” Carlyle was born in Trumbull County, Ohio. Historian Dan Thrapp reported that he was born in 1861, but Philip Rasch indicated the year was 1854, which is most likely correct. In any case, he left home at a young age and while yet in his teens he was working on the buffalo hunting ranges of West Texas. In the summer of 1874 he participated in the second battle at the Adobe Walls in which thirty men — famed lawman Bat Masterson among them — and one woman, held off an estimated one-thousand Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians led by Chief Quanah Parker. Carlyle’s name appears on the monument there as Bermuda Carlile. It must have been a pretty exciting event for a teenager from Ohio.

The route he took after that is not known, but by November of 1880, during the waning days of the Lincoln County War, Carlyle was living in the thriving mining town of White Oaks, New Mexico, and working as a blacksmith. William Bonney (Billy the Kid) was making a general nuisance of himself, and Patrick F. Garrett had just been elected sheriff of Lincoln County on a campaign promise to halt to Bonney’s criminal career.

Bonney along with Billy Wilson and Dave Rudabaugh, and perhaps others, stole a herd of horses and drove them into White Oaks in late November. The nuances of ownership of the animals could be overlooked as a result of great demand for mounts but the burglary of a couple of local stores could not. A local deputy, Will Hudgins, and a small posse took up the trail of the outlaws and in the gunfight that followed at Coyote Springs, Bonney and Wilson both had their horses shot from under them and they were obliged to run for their lives. The outlaws, however, rode back into White Oaks on November 30 and Bonney, or one of his toadies, took a shot at another deputy named James Redman on the White Oaks main street.  They may have mistaken Redman for Hudgins.

Another posse was formed, this one headed by a local constable, Pinto Tom Longworth — historian William Keleher identified Carlysle as a deputy sheriff and leader of the posse — took up the pursuit of Billy and his friends. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground and the weather was very cold. The chase ended about 40 miles to the north at the Greathouse and Kuch ranch — a saloon and way station for travelers — on the White Oaks-Las Vegas Road, near the present-day town of Corona. It was also called Robber’s Roost by some. The outlaws had the better situation as they were inside where it was warm and the posse was outside in the cold. Longworth returned to White Oaks for reinforcements and left Carlysle in charge.

Greathouse and Kuch employee Joe Steck became an intermediary between the two groups. It was finally agreed that “Whiskey Jim” Greathouse — who acquired his nickname name by illegally selling liquor to Indians — would join the posse as a hostage if a representative of the law would enter the saloon and discuss the situation with Bonney. Carlyle agreed and traded places with Greathouse. By late evening the deputy had not returned and the other possemen became concerned. They sent a note into the house saying that if Carlyle was not promptly released, they would shoot Greathouse. Shortly afterward, a shot was heard from outside and what happened next has been the source of debate from that day to this.

One theory is that Carlyle heard the shot and thinking his posse had killed Greathouse, he dived out a window to save his own life, only to be shot to death by Bonney and the outlaws as he did so. Bonney’s version of events agreed that Carlyle jumped out the window after the first shot was fired, but Bonney claimed the deputy, who had been drinking heavily with the outlaws, was actually shot and killed by members of his own posse who thought he was attacking them.

One version goes that Carlyle was shot inside and staggered outside and fell dead on the ground. Dave Rudabaugh said this later: “We all three shot at him [Carlysle]. You [Billy Wilson] and I fired shot apiece and the Kid twice.”

Whatever the sequence of events, the posse withdrew after Carlyle was shot, leaving his body where it fell in the snow. Less than an hour later, the outlaws also fled the scene. Even Kuch, Greathouse and Steck left. Carlyle’s body was frozen stiff when Joe Steck returned and found it at daybreak.

Yet another White Oaks posse, this one led by Will Hudgins, burned the road ranch to the ground the following day.

It is not known who fired the shot that created the circumstances leading to Carlyle’s death.

Greathouse was arrested in March 1881, and charged as an accessory to Carlyle’s murder. He was released on bond two days later. In December 1881, after rustling some 40 head of cattle from Joel Fowler of Socorro, Fowler shot Greathouse to death in the San Mateo Mountains, west of Socorro.

Sheriff Pat Garrett killed William H. Bonney at Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881 only seven months later.

Dave Rudabaugh was killed in Mexico in 1886.

Billy Wilson was later convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, from which he escaped. President Grover Cleveland pardoned him in 1896 at the behest of former Lincoln County sheriff Pat Garrett. Wilson became sheriff of Terrell County, Texas in early 1918. A drunken cowboy killed him there later the same year. (Thrapp incorrectly asserted that he was killed in 1911.) Most important is that Wilson was born in Trumbull County, Ohio. One source says that Carlyle and Wilson attended school together. That may explain why Carlyle was willing to go into the tavern in the first place. But whatever the reason, the result was that Jim Carlyle’s career on the western frontier ended at a young age.


Selected sources: Bullis, Don, New Mexico Historical Biographies
Burchett, Marilyn. Lincoln County Tells Its Stories
Haldane, Roberta Key, Gold-Mining Boom Town: People of White Oaks, Lincoln County, New      Mexico Territory
Nolan, Frederick, The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History
Thrapp, Dan, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography
Tise, Sammy, Texas County Sheriffs