Lincoln - Wild Wild West Frozen in Time
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A walk down Lincoln,
Main Street is a step back into the
Wild Wild West. It was here that such men as
Billy the Kid
Pat Garrett left their marks; here, that
Indians, Mexican American
gunfighters and corrupt politicians made themselves known;
it was in this small settlement that the violent Lincoln County War
erupted, which resulted in the deaths of a number of men and made
Billy the Kid a legend.
And today, it is here, that the modern tourist can still taste the flavor
of those earlier times in century old adobe buildings, hear the tales from
the voices of old-timers, and walk those very same dusty streets that were
made infamous in the late 1800's.
The area that would become Lincoln was roamed only by
Americans until Spanish Pioneers began to settle the lush green valley
of the Rio Bonito around 1849, first calling their new "city” Las Placitas
del Rio Bonito, meaning "the village by the pretty river."
However, when Lincoln County was formed in
1869, and the fledgling settlement became the new County Seat, the town’s
name was changed to Lincoln.
February, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
Image available for photo prints editorial downloads
Before long the county and the town
were populated by a number of cattle barons and cowboys, in addition to
the Spanish settlers. In the early 1870's two men, by the names of
Lawrence Murphy and
James Dolan owned the only store in Lincoln County,
the largest county in the nation, covering 1/5 of
New Mexico territory. The pair not only owned
Mercantile and Banking, they also owned large cattle ranches, and having
influential territorial ties to officials in
Santa Fe, the merchants were able to obtain several lucrative
contracts with the military at Fort Stanton.
Before long, the two men
monopolized the trade of the county, controlling pricing, making immense
profits on their goods, and virtually having a hand in nearly every part
of the economy of the large county. The merchants, along with their
allies, who included local law enforcement, were familiarly known as "The
For obvious reasons,
Murphy and his
allies were disliked by the small farmers in Lincoln County, as they were
forced to pay high costs for their goods, while at the same time,
accepting low prices for their cattle.
a rival store was set up in 1876 by
Alexander McSween and
John Tunstall called H.H. Tunstall & Company near
the one owned by Dolan and
Murphy, it soon spawned what became known as
the Lincoln County War. The feud
between the two factions for political and economic control of the area
would last for the next two years, fought sometimes in courtrooms, but
more often through cattle rustling, gunfights, and murder. The feud came
to a head when John
murdered on February 18, 1878. Battling on the side of Tunstall and
Company, referred to as the "Regulators,” was none other than
Billy the Kid, who had been employed by
Tunstall as a ranch-hand.
The feud became an all-out "war” as
Tunstall's employees swore to avenge their boss’s murder, and began to
retaliate against the "House.” The Lincoln County War came to a climax in
July 1878 in a five-day battle when the
Regulators holed up in
house and the Ellis Store. Soon, they were besieged by the
Dolan faction in a battle that wouldn’t
end until the arrival of U.S. Troops. When the smoke had cleared, five
Alexander McSween, had been
killed and several wounded. Of the Dolan
faction, one man was killed and several wounded. The "House” declared a
victory as the
the area. The famous battle made
Billy the Kid not only a house-hold
name, but also a fugitive.
President Rutherford B. Hayes called
Lincoln’s main street "the most dangerous street in America” and in
September, 1878, he removed
New Mexico's corrupt Governor Axtell from office and appointed Lew
Wallace as the new governor. The United States attorney, the sheriff and
the local military commander were also replaced. At first, Governor
Wallace felt that conditions in Lincoln County might call for martial law.
The President, however, advised lawbreakers to return to peace. On
November 13, 1878, Governor Wallace proclaimed an amnesty for all those
involved in the Lincoln County War if they were not already under
indictment. This proclamation; however, did not include
Billy the Kid.
Continued Next Page
Murphy & Dolan Mercantile would later
become the Lincoln County Courthouse. Photo around 1930.
The old Lincoln County Courthouse now serves
as a museum, February, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
Image available for photo prints
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Towns (America's Lost World) 2 Disc DVD
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