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The Fountain Murders: Sites Today
By Corey Recko
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the end of January 1896, Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain assisted in
bringing indictments against several men, including Oliver Lee and William McNew, to combat the cattle rustling that raged in
New Mexico territory.
His work done, Fountain left Lincoln with his eight-year-old son Henry.
The father and son headed southwest towards their home in Mesilla. It was
a home they would never see again, for on the third day of their journey
they disappeared near the White Sands. What became of them remains one of
Fountains’ murder caused outrage in
The sheriff, whose deputies were the prime suspects, was useless. To top
it off, his right to the office was being challenged in the courts due to
charges of election fraud. Governor William T. Thornton took quick action.
He worked to resolve the sheriff’s contest and then appointed
gained fame fifteen years earlier as the man who killed
Billy the Kid.
He had cleaned up a bad situation before and it was hoped he could do it
Thornton then called on the
National Detective Agency to assign a professional investigator to
put top operative John Fraser on the case. Fraser began undercover, but
eventually brought his investigation out in the open and interviewed
anyone with knowledge of the case. Fraser and
not always get along, but managed to work together for the common goal.
The evidence pointed at three men,
former deputies William McNew, James Gililland, and Oliver Lee.
The problem was that these three men were very close with powerful
ex-judge, lawyer, and politician Albert B. Fall. It was even said
by some that Fall was the mastermind behind the plot to kill
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believed that he would never get a fair showing with Fall in control
of the courts. As a result,
waited two full years for a change in the political landscape before
presenting his evidence to the court and securing indictments against
McNew was quickly arrested after
indictments were secured. Lee and Gililland, however, were a different
story. Lee claimed that
only wanted a chance to kill him, with a warrant for the murder of
Fountain as an excuse. He and Gililland remained on the lam.
finally tracked down the fugitives at one of Lee’s ranches. Lee and
Gililland got the best of the Sheriff’s posse in the ensuing gun
battle. One of
deputies was killed and
his two remaining deputies were forced to retreat.
Fountain began his trip in the town of Lincoln. Located high in
the Capitan Mountains, the historic Lincoln has remained much
unchanged in the last 100-plus years. The town gained fame as the
center of the Lincoln County
War. The courthouse, where
Billy the Kid
made his daring last escape, still stands. In fact, it was this
courthouse where, fifteen years after
escape, Colonel Fountain worked as a special assistant to the
prosecutor to bring charges against some of the same cattle
rustlers who would later be accused of taking his life.
Lee and Gililland would finally surrender
months later, under the condition that they would never be in the
The trial took place in the secluded town
of Hillsboro. The murders of the Fountains were all but forgotten as
the defendants, along with their attorney Fall, became media darlings.
Some witnesses went missing, and the defendants’ armed supporters, who
packed the courtroom, intimidated others. A verdict of "not guilty”
was found. Lee, Gililland, and McNew, their attorneys and many
supporters celebrated into the night.
The bodies of
Albert Fountain and his
young son Henry still lay in an unmarked grave, the location of which
remains a mystery.
Over one hundred years have passed since this saga unfolded. The
participants are all gone, but the story and many of the places where
it happened live on.
Continued Next Page
The old Lincoln County Courthouse now serves
museum, February, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
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photographic prints and downloads
New Mexico, 2004, photo by
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