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The Fountain Murders: Sites Today

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By Corey Recko

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Colonel Albert Jennings FountainIn 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 New Mexico's greatest mysteries.


The Fountains’ murder caused outrage in New Mexico. 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 Pat Garrett Sheriff. Garrett had 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 again.


Thornton then called on the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to assign a professional investigator to assist Garrett. The Pinkertons 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 Garrett did 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 Fountain.




Pat Garrett

Pat Garrett

This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!


Garrett believed that he would never get a fair showing with Fall in control of the courts. As a result, Garrett waited two full years for a change in the political landscape before presenting his evidence to the court and securing indictments against the suspects.


McNew was quickly arrested after indictments were secured. Lee and Gililland, however, were a different story. Lee claimed that Garrett 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. Garrett 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 Garrett's deputies was killed and Garrett 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 Billy's 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 custody of Sheriff Garrett.


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


Lincoln County, New Mexico Courthouse today

The old Lincoln County Courthouse now serves as a

 museum, February, 2008, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photographic prints and  downloads HERE!


Lincoln, New Mexico

Lincoln, New Mexico, 2004, photo by Corey Recko.


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