History of the Casey/Tunstall/Dolan/Flying H/Felix Canyon Ranch
by Marilyn Burchett
Did you realize that both the Dolan and Tunstall houses have survived the decades of time since the Lincoln County War? Also did you know that the ranch that was owned by John Tunstall was ironically later acquired by his enemy, Jimmy Dolan? Many people have never realized this, and even less know that the ranch was actually first claimed by Robert Casey.
Robert Casey and his family, including his well-known daughter, Lily Casey Krasner, were one of the first Anglo families in what later became Lincoln County. He traded 280 head of cattle for a ranch on the Hondo River near Picacho, NM, in 1868. Robert later discovered some real good grazing land on the Felix/Feliz River about 40 miles south of his Hondo Ranch. Robert and his sons claimed squatter’s right to it by building a half-dugout of creek rocks and logs so the sons would have shelter while caring for the small herd of cattle that were moved there. Tragically, Robert never filed on that land. On August 2, 1875, Robert was murdered in Lincoln by William Wilson, resulting in the first legal hanging in Lincoln County.
In 1876, John Tunstall, an Englishman, displaced Robert Casey’s widow from the Felix River land by using the Desert Land Act. He drove his herd of cattle to the Felix Valley and occupied the dugout until he could build a four-room adobe house at the upper springs of the Felix River. The dugout was then used as a rider’s camp for his men. It is believed that Billy the Kid stayed there while working for Tunstall. The murder of Tunstall, in 1878, saw the beginning of the Lincoln County War.Meanwhile, in Lincoln, things were going good for Jimmy Dolan. In July, 1879, he married the beautiful Carolina Fritz, daughter of Charlie Fritz and the niece of Colonel Emil Fritz, the former partner of L. G. Murphy. Dolan had even become a partner of L. G. Murphy after Emil Fritz died. After Tunstall’s death, Charlie Fritz had acquired the Tunstall store from the Tunstall estate, and when Charlie died in 1885, Carolina inherited that Tunstall property, which now gave Jimmy Dolan control of the old Tunstall store. He reopened the Tunstall store in 1883 and built a family home across the street from it in 1884, now known as the Dolan House. Jimmy and Carolina had four children, but things turned tragic when two of them died, and then his beloved Carolina died after the birth of their fourth child. A heartbroken Dolan eventually married the children’s longtime nurse, Maria Eva Whitlock. By the time of this marriage, Dolan and some partners acquired John Tunstall’s old ranch on the Rio Feliz. Memories of his two dead children and lovely wife surely played into his decision to move away from Lincoln to Tunstall’s old ranch. Jimmy named the ranch the Felix Cattle Company. Here he built a beautiful house, finishing it in 1894, but he didn’t get to enjoy it for long, as Jimmy Dolan died in that house of cerebral hemorrhage on Feb. 26, 1898, and was buried at the Fritz family cemetery between Hondo and Lincoln.
After several changes of hands, the ranch sold to Mr. and Mrs. AC Hendricks in 1929, and they changed the name of the ranch to the Flying H. The “Dolan house”, with adobe walls nearly two-feet thick and covered with white lumber siding, became their home. The “White House” as it became known became the headquarters of a small settlement of ranch workers. Most of the Flying H Ranch is still owned by the grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Hendricks, but the headquarters is now owned by some people from Germany, and that part is now known as the Felix Canyon Ranch.
Dolan Ranch, circa 1900
Dolan Ranch, circa 2012,
courtesy of Marilyn Burchett