This week, we are continuing last week’s article on the history leading up to the Lincoln County War. I have added another article, also written in 1917, from the Albuquerque Morning Journal. The purpose of both pieces is to signify the importance of turning the old Lincoln County Courthouse into a National Historic Monument. The one-mile stretch of road that curves through Lincoln was declared in 1878 by President Rutherford B. Hayes as “The Most Dangerous Street in America” because of the Lincoln County War.
We all need to help preserve our local history, just as they did in 1917. Many may not realize that much of the past and lore of the Old West comes from right here: From John Chisum’s ranch just outside of Roswell to the town of Lincoln and Ft. Stanton, which is just a few miles up the road. Lincoln has 17 historic structures and is primarily held in character and construction as it was in the 1870s and 1880s. Lincoln was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 when it was noted as being the “best-preserved cowtown in the West” by a National Parks reviewer.
It is lovely to “step back in time” by taking a short drive to Lincoln and Fort Stanton.
Review our local folklore and history by attending the “Billy the Kid pageant and Old Lincoln Days,” and always be aware and support the efforts of these small communities in any way possible to preserve our local history.
Carrizozo, Lincoln County, New Mexico
March 23, 1917
Lincoln County Scene of Exciting Early Day Events
By Mrs. Benj. F. Nabours
“At the first intimation of danger the other two men had made for the shelter of the hill where they were attacked and a general battle ensued. They stood off the posse until nightfall when they escaped and made their way to Lincoln and related the tragedy. Within two days the town was full of armed and excited men roused to the highest pitch of bitterness by the killing. Find what the opening event of the Lincoln was.
“The resulting fights and quasi legal contests could hardly be dignified with the name of war, since personal enmity and the spirit of feud were the pregnant elements of dispute. As always happens at such a time, the criminal class gladly allied itself with one party or the other, glad to stand its outlawry with some semblance of justifiable warfare. …
“It is the intention of this narrative to dwell chiefly upon the lawlessness of the famous … Billy the Kid, of whom nearly every person of mature years have heard, and upon whose record of having killed 21 men, one man for every year of his life at the time he was killed.
“The first murder in Lincoln County for which Billy the Kid was responsible that of Sheriff William Brady, who was shot down by the outlaw on the streets of Lincoln as the sheriff was hunting for the Kid, for whom he had a warrant for his After the death of Brady, Pat F. Garrett, who then ranched near Roswell, was elected sheriff as he was known to be brave and a good shot and who generally got the man he went after Kid for some murders he had committed and after having tried him at Las Cruces he was condemned to be executed at Lincoln to which place he was taken.
“One day, while walking down the corridor in the old Courthouse in the charge of his guard Bell, Billy the Kid asked to have his handcuffs removed for a moment and Bill did so, but soon Bill regretted his act, for the Kid sprang up the stairs and breaking the door of the room where the guns were kept, he grabbed one and turned and killed Bell with one shot.Then crawling to the edge of the balcony he called to the other guard Olinger who was bringing other prisoners back from dinner Across the street Olinger looked up and Billy filled him full of buckshot from Olinger’s own gun He then called down to a man who had charge of the courthouse stable and ordered him to saddle Billy Burk’s horse for him, and in the meantime he ordered an old man to file off the handcuffs which were still locked on one wrist, keeping him covered with a gun while the work was being done.
“As soon as he was free he rode out of town, shooting at everyone he saw toward Fort Sumner, his old stomping grounds. Sheriff Pat Garrett, who was in White Oaks at the time, at once set out to capture him, which he did in two weeks, when he killed the notorious outlaw at the home of Pete Maxwell, at Ft Sumner.So ended the career of one who helped to make the old courthouse in Lincoln one of the most historic spots in the country.This is therefore one of the foremost reasons why the people not only of Lincoln County, but of the whole state, would like to see this old building converted into a museum and preserved for the coming generations.”
Albuquerque Morning Journal
January 28, 1917
Wild West Museum
“Another bill by Mr. Whitmore will appeal strongly to all the old timers of New Mexico, especially those who lived through the stirring days of the Lincoln County war and hold recollections of that daring adventurer Billy the Kid. The measure proposes to convey to the state the historic old Lincoln County Courthouse and jail at Lincoln to be used as a museum and repository for relics of the pioneer days of the Southwest.
“There is no edifice in New Mexico that is surrounded with more vivid memories of the period when the West was really wild than the old courthouse and jail at Lincoln. It was there that Billy the Kid, after having been brought from Las Cruces under the sentence of death, slipped his slender hands through the manacles that bound him, took a pistol away from his guard, killed two of his captors and escaped to the hills. The Lincoln County was fought all around the country where the building is located, and almost every tree in the locality holds memories of some fierce gun fight or some grim necktie party.
“The building has been unoccupied for a long time now, though it has been taken care of by the citizens of Lincoln county and is in good condition. The removal of the county seat from Lincoln to Carrizozo has rendered it useless. Mr. Wetmore’s bill would make it the property of the state, to be taken care of as one of the most interesting of all state relics.”
Historian Janice Dunnahoo can be reached at [email protected]