One of the driving points of the Longmire series is the titular character’s struggle following the death of his wife. Never seen in the television series proper, she’s a specter that hangs over his decisions and provides many of the frowning lines across his sagging brow. Much of the early seasons hinged on Walt Longmire’s investigation into her death. Indeed, Martha Longmire had been dying of cancer, but it was clear she had been murdered. While the truth was revealed several seasons ago, we’ve waited until now to cover the extensive story of her death. Shows love introducing a final season retcon to wrap the end of the show around to the beginning (like the Evelyn Vogel storyline on Dexter). Martha Longmire died a complicated death, and this is how it happened.
Prior to her death, Martha Longmire was actively fighting the development of Jacob Nighthorse’s casino. The development represented a potential boon for the resident Native population, but to Martha’s thinking, Nighthorse’s corruption would allow for more crime and become a magnet for problems that would reverberate from the reservation and out to the surrounding counties. The casino would admittedly create new jobs for the Natives but also lead to an increase in drugs, violence, and prostitution. As a prominent member of Absaroka county, her voice was one people listened to; despite the often-severe racial divide, there were members of the Native population who sided with Martha. While in Denver, Martha was killed by meth addict Miller Beck in what looked to be a robbery gone wrong. Walt was suspicious, and eventually obsessed with a conspiracy once Beck himself was found murdered.
The prime suspects were Jacob Nighthorse, the businessman and potential proprietor of the presumptive casino, and his amoral head of security Malachi Strand. Longmire targeted the Natives because they had the most to gain from Martha’s death; he further assumed their guilt when, after digging up Miller Beck’s body (as most normal people do), he found a warrior's feather lodged in the killer’s throat. At that point, Walt’s goal was to prove their involvement and put them away. He made himself a nuisance to them to the point of harassment, which eventually led to Longmire’s near-removal from his role as sheriff. In the end, Malachi Strand and Jacob Nighthorse were involved in Martha’s death, but not in the way Longmire believed. In fact, the two criminals were nothing more than incidentals in another man’s plan.
A go-between named David Ridges hired Miller Beck to kill Martha Longmire. Ridges himself was hired for the job before outsourcing it to Beck as a kill screen and to provide insulation to the crime for himself and his employer. Ridges also then killed Beck for the same ass-covering reasons. Ridges was paid $50,000 through Big Pine Timbers (which was associated with Nighthorse’s casino). The owner of the company, Barlow Connally, paid Ridges to kill Martha Longmire. Connally was a local land developer who saw the casino as a foot in the door; an untapped resource he could finally have access to. Connally was richer and even more corrupt than Jacob Nighthorse, and was the casino owner’s business partner.
Connally hated the Longmire family for a variety of reasons. Walt refused to do business with Barlow and refused to bend the rules as a courtesy. Connally saw Walt as an unnecessary inconvenience, so he groomed his son Branch to take over as sheriff of Absaroka county. While Walt was a controversial figure to the public, his experience in law enforcement and with the sympathy he garnered from the recent death of his wife got him reelected sheriff again, even if it was by a narrow margin. Had Branch won, Barlow would’ve had more room for his illegal dealings to operate. Cady, Walt’s daughter, was involved with Branch and made him question his father too often. Finally, and most obviously, Martha Longmire’s vociferous and public protests against the casino was costing him money and time. Not only did he need the public on his side to get the casino built, he was spending money fighting against Martha. With her out of the picture, Connally could build the casino and develop the land around it: restaurants, hotels and the like; it would be a small-time Vegas run by one guy. Of course, Walt would be so overcome and distracted by her death that he would be less effective. That worked until Longmire became obsessed with finding the truth.
Of course, the hatred between the two men was mutual. Branch was also obsessed with David Ridges, after Ridges attempted to have him killed. Eventually tracing Ridges back to his father Barlow, the father and son confronted each other. Branch figured out Ridges’ connection to Barlow and their parts in Martha Longmire’s murder. When Branch wouldn’t stand by his father, Barlow shot his son dead.
When Walt and Barlow finally had their showdown, it was clear that Barlow would be going away. Angry and spiteful at having lost to Walt, Barlow came up with one last plan. He pulled a gun on Walt who was forced to shoot him down. The dying Barlow laughed, making Longmire realize the gun was empty. Barlow then revealed a knife and stabbed himself twice, further framing Walt for his murder right in front of him. While choking on his blood, Barlow growled, “Good luck explaining this one.” Of course, Longmire did end up explaining his way out of it because there were two more seasons left in the show and he’s Walt goddamn Longmire.