THE STORY OF BRONCO SUE
The story of Bronco Sue is a long and varied one. It is filled with one lawless deed after another. She left a dim trail and there are many missing pages. This is what we know of her story:
Born Susan Warfield in Wales on September 11, 1844, she emigrated to the United States with her parents and was raised in the mining camps of Nevada where she became a daring horsewoman and deadly shot with a six gun.
In 1870 at the age of 15 she married Thomas Rapier, a well to do mining man. She and Rapier had two sons. When Rapier’s money ran out so did Sue.
Known as Susie Rapier at this time, she took up with Col. Robert Payne, and they embarked on a cattle rustling business, headquartered in Elko County, Nevada. Her horsemanship and marksmanship served her well in her new business endeavor. She participated in a number of shootouts and became known as Nevada’s cattle rustling queen.
She was tried in court for various offenses throughout her career and used what was known as the “petticoat defense”. She would sob and wipe away tears and was known to rent children who would sit with her in court. No male jury could find it in their hearts to convict her, and they were all male juries at that time.
By 1875 she was living in Colorado and going by the name of Susie Stone. She operated a stage line for a time between Conejo and San Antonio in the southern part of the state. In 1882 she moved to New Mexico with a new husband, Jack Yonkers from Independence County, Arkansas. They opened a saloon and gambling hall at Wallace, 30 miles southwest of Santa Fe. They operated it until July 1883 when they decided to move to White Oaks, a booming mining town in Lincoln County. Susie arrived in White Oaks with a Robert Black whom she said she had met along the way. She said that Jack Yonkers had died of smallpox and she had to bury him along the way near Alkali Wells. The story was regarded with considerable suspicion as there was no smallpox in this part of the county at the time.
Black and Sue opened a saloon in White Oaks and prospered. They bought adjoining ranches in Lincoln County and stocked them with cattle. Then, in 1884 they moved to Socorro 70 miles west of Whit Oaks. Black opened a saloon & gambling rooms in a hotel and Sue opened a boarding house.
The two had been in Socorro a short time when they had an offer to buy the two cattle ranches in a single transaction. Sue persuaded Black to deed his ranch over to her, with the understanding that proceeds from the sale would be shared between them. Black never received his share.
On Sunday, August 24, 1884, Sue shot Black to death in a room of her boarding house. R. B. Featherstone, the town marshal of Socorro, told reporters that Sue had come to him on Saturday night and asked that Black be taken away from her house. At Sue’s insistence, he was locked in jail. Two of Black’s friends made bail for him Sunday morning, and the marshal warned him not to go to Sue’s house for she had purchased a .44 caliber pistol. “You bet I won’t go to the house for she is a shooter from away back”, Black told the marshal.
Featherstone received word later in the day that Sue had Killed Black after he had come at her with an axe and she had been arrested by Sheriff Simpson. The sheriff marched her before the Justice of the Peace who found her not guilty.
The citizens of Socorro demanded she be tried as all the evidence pointed toward premeditated murder. A warrant was issued for her arrest, but she had packed her belongings and those of Black and left town.
Sue next showed up in Tularosa, 60 miles south of White Oaks, where she married a cattle rancher named Charlie Dawson. She spent most of 1885 raising horses and working with cowboys on the open range, becoming known throughout the region as “Bronco Sue”.
Charlie Dawson became involved in a feud with a neighboring rancher, John Good, who had recently arrived from Texas. Dawson and Good, after an argument, had parted with an understanding that they would “shoot -on-sight”.
In December, 1885 the two met on a street in La Luz a short distance south of Tularosa. Good was accompanied by two other men. One of the men, a stranger named McFerrin, drew his six gun and shot Dawson three times before he fell dead. Good and McFerrin were tried for Dawson’s murder but were acquitted on the grounds of self defense.
Bronco Sue was in court in Las Cruces five months later, this time regarding some land litigation involving her late husbands ranch.
During one of her court appearances she was arrested and taken to Socorro to face a grand jury indictment charging her with the murder of Robert Black two years earlier. Bronco Sue hired attorney Albert J. Fountain to defend her. The trial was moved to Silver City.
Sue’s son from her first marriage, who was living with her at the time of the killing, testified against her. Albert J. Fountains stood before the jury and exclaimed, “Gentleman of the jury – this man wants to hang his own mother!” The jury quickly returned a “not guilty” verdict. The Silver City newspaper commented:
“ A jury could scarcely be had in America that would convict a yellow dog of the larceny of a beef bone upon the accusation of so depraved a witness who would have the woman hanged who gave him birth.”
Bronco Sue walked out of the Silver City courtroom and disappeared from history.