Lincoln County Range Wars, Billy the Kid
This was the blog intended for posting on Blogger, which has archived another ‘older’ post about a trip through the interesting and historic ‘Lincoln county’ Territory.
The historic little village of Lincoln New Mexico is fun to prowl around, as we have done over the years. Mountainous Pine forested Ruidoso NM (about 40 miles south west of Lincoln) also has many documented locations for parts of the conflict. Today due to interested supporters and historians, Lincoln also includes the reconstructed, rock ‘Torreon’ (tower) from where the famous long distance, open ‘iron sights’ ‘sniper’ shot was made.
Lincoln has volunteers doing live reenactments during tourist season and many of the buildings are still there (some are thriving little shops today) with story placards identifying their original residents and their part in the day by day battles. Ironically ‘The House’ is the museum and info center for Lincoln today. Billy tried to go working businessman and operated a laundry in Lincoln with a friend…for a while. Like today, he was no match for the ‘Chinese’ :>)
Interesting thing about the historic little town of Lincoln, almost Every other house was the residence of a LAWYER in the late 1800′s. The County Seat, Courthouse was over 80 miles away …in Las Cruces. Any legal issue demanded a ride of days to settle in court. Famous Albert Bacon Fall, of the ‘Teapot Dome’ scandal family, was involved in the mystery of Albert Jennings Fountain with his young son, disappearance without a trace, on their way from Lincoln to the Las Cruces courthouse. Although an intensive search with rewards ensued, their bodies, buckboard and horses were never found. Foul play (political) was suspected… Albert Bacon Fall, whom Fountain was involved in legal conflict against, was the Attorney defending …..the primary Suspects, ‘pro bono’. (who would have guessed?)
Govt corruption was rampant back then, just as today. The military (including cannons) from nearby Ft Stanton, was illegally used to supervise the burning out, of the home of Commissioned Lawyer McSween, who’s partner John Tunstall owned and started ‘The Store’. He came from Scotland and became the despised competition to ‘The House’, whose owners, Murphy-Dolan (Irish) worked with the Ft Stanton supply quartermaster as sole (overpriced) provider to the Federal govt.
Tunstall and his atty Mc Sween were competitive (cheaper) in prices, especially selling Tunstall’s beef and most importantly, ‘riding horses’ for the US cavalry. ‘The Murphy-Dolan House’ was blatantly corrupt and paying bribes to keep the Federal govt business overpriced. ‘The House’ owners were ‘in tight’ with the territorial govt ‘Ring’ in Santa Fe politics (The intensely corrupt Santa Fe ‘Ring’ thrives even today). The House hired ‘guns’ to drive Tunstall and McSween out of business. In response, Tunstall and partner lawyer McSween, hired Billy and friends (some defected from ‘The House’) to ride for his ranch, protecting Tunstall’s Horses and cattle from ‘The House’ factions. One day McSween’s partner, John Tunstall, was killed on the ranch road, by ‘gun fighters’ hired by ‘The House’.
Billy went slightly wild after that politically driven Murder of his boss John Tunstall and quick retribution was the result, giving Billy a reputation. He most likely only killed about six men. All of them were ‘The House ‘guns’ and involved factions, including the Lincoln deputies during the famous ‘escape’ from the two story jail….. conveniently across the street from ‘The House’.
The famous ‘Lincoln county Range Wars’ came later, after countless dozens of lawless factions created by ‘The Civil War’, drifted in from the east, after reading the glamorized accounts in the paper novels and viewed Lincoln county as a place where ‘Anyone could get away with anything’. They ran rampant for many years and created a terror driven anarchy, for control of the largest county in the US, Lincoln County.
New Mexico was a vast Territory at the time, which included Arizona. A book published by UNM Press, ‘Mean as Hell’, depicts day by day ‘incidents’ in the life of ‘Dee Harkey’, Territorial Marshall, Territorial Ranger, Sheriff and every other constabulary ‘badge’ that the local citizens bestowed on this true ‘Lawman’ from a hardened family of Lawmen, raised in extremely harsh, San Saba Texas. ‘Dee Harkey Days’ are still celebrated in Carlsbad NM where he retired and lived out his long interesting life. He was another ‘colorful’ ancestor of my wife.
The Ft Stanton troops were called to Lincoln by the territorial governor of NM, ostensibly to ‘protect the peace’. They did anything but. The McSween home was set afire with his family inside. Billy and the other ‘guns’ ran into the home to assist his Boss. The troops and cannons protected ‘The House factions ‘guns’, while they killed McSween, when he walked out the door carrying a white flag of Surrender. Billy and others seeing the deadly result of ‘surrender’, fled the scene, labeled now as hunted lawbreakers. McSween’s wife survived and moved away to live out her life on their ranch north of Carrizozo NM, about 50 miles northwest of Lincoln. She despised the politics that killed her Lawyer husband.
Ft Sumner, 100 miles northeast of Lincoln, was where Pat Garrett killed Billy in his friend Pete’s home. Ironically some time later, Pat Garrett, who was also a gun fighter, became famous for killing his acquaintance (they were Not close friends, as stories portray) Billy. Pat Garrett went political…. and corrupt. He in turn was killed by a young cowboy that he ‘reportedly’ tried to swindle, some say for land, rustling his cattle?The silent battle continues and hard feelings are still in parts of NM all this many years later.
Ft Stanton (as many old Territorial Forts in NM) is preserved and restored to historical status as a National Monument. It is now common for tourists to make a visit to ‘Every’ old Territorial fort as a vacation tour. Ft Stanton (not far from the Ruidoso Airport, was a special needs school for many years, a hospital periodically, as well as another ‘asylum’ for TB victims. The cemetery is filled with many ‘merchant marine’, many from WWII. Surprisingly many German sailors that were treated in the burn specializing hospital, are buried there alongside the US sailors. A big beautiful resident Hawk, for generations always stands guard duty over the graveyard by day. An Owl takes over after darkness falls.
Truth be told, if I was a young ‘gun’ at the time, I would have ridden….. with Billy.. :>) Blogengeezer. Enjoy life and Freedom under the US Constitution and guaranteed by ‘The Bill of Rights’. One Nation Under God, The United States of America.