Cattle dispute led to kilings in 1911

By Don McAlavy

A dispute over a few head of cattle led to the killing of brothers Ed and Tom Hall along the Pecos River, south of Fort Sumner and west of Kenna, in 1911.

This account comes from a booklet — “My Family, My Life and Times” — written by a nephew of the victims, and from an old newspaper article probably published in Fort Sumner.

To the south of the Hall ranch lived the Zumwalts. Brothers Will and Alec Zumwalt were taking care of 1,200 head of cattle owned by Dee Harkey, a lawman from Carlsbad.

Harkey had come up to get the Zumwalts to drive his cattle to Kenna on the railroad for shipment. Ed and Tom Hall saw the Zumwalts gathering cattle and that’s where the trouble started.

Ed and Tom Hall had earlier gone to cut out their cattle from the Harkey herd. In that encounter, Ed Hall, 31, had whipped both the Zumwalts in a fist fight.

In a second clash, the Zumwalts saw the Hall brothers coming and rode to meet them out on the prairie. That’s when the shooting commenced. A few minutes later the Zumwalts rode back to the herd where Harkey was checking his cattle.

“We’ve killed the Hall boys and we are leaving these parts!” one of the Zumwalts told Harkey.

Harkey told them they were both under arrest.

Harkey then asked if both men were dead. He was told one was still alive.

“Let’s run over and see if we can save the one still alive,” Harkey said.

Will responded: “No, I don’t want to save him. I hope he is dead as hell!”

Both men died.

The young Tom Hall had 20 bullet holes in him.

Ed Hall had only been shot twice. His .45 six-shooter had five shells in it. Since he usually kept one empty chamber as a safety measure, it’s believed he never fired a shot.

The Zumwalts were armed with automatic .32-caliber pistols.

Immediately after the people of Kenna were notified of the killings, the liveryman, H. R. Bryant, hauled the bodies into Kenna where they remained until after the coroner’s inquest.

Later the bodies were embalmed by Ed Neer, undertaker of Portales, and taken to their homes near Dereno, 47 miles west of Portales.

The only witness was Shelton Haynie (or Haney in some historical accounts). He left after the killings to go to the home of the Zumwalts to notify their folks.

M. S. Servis rode horseback to notify the Hall families of the killings. Tom Hall, 24, was married but had no children. Ed was single.

At the trial in Roswell, on May 15, 1911, Will and Alec Zumwalt were charged with manslaughter. They both pleaded not guilty.

Witnesses called to testify were Joe Beasley, Bent Clayton, George Williams, R. L. Moss, Atlas Hall, Elza Horton, George Hollan, Charles Hyers, Harkey, Jeff Berry and Haynie.

The jury acquitted the Zumwalts for the killings.

Atlas Hall was the father of Ed and Tom Hall.

Ben Hall Sr., a brother to the victims, was among Atlas Hall’s 12 children. He came to New Mexico in 1893 at age 16 and later built a big ranch southeast of Fort Sumner.

When the elder Ben Hall died in 1935 one of his sons, Ben Hall Jr., who wrote, “My Family, My Life and Times,” took over the Canyon Blanco Ranch.

Another book of interest, “Mean as Hell,” tells the story of Harkey, a tough lawman who made up his own rules in the wild west.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
donmcalavy@plateautel.net