Lincoln, New Mexico
by Lori Goodloe
(first published in the 2014 Outlaw Gazette)
In its heyday Lincoln was a violent place to be—President Hayes declared it “the most dangerous street in America”. It was in Lincoln that Tunstall angered Murphy and Dolan and as a result was murdered; it was in Lincoln that the Five Day Battle occurred during which McSween’s house burned to the ground and he was shot to death; it was in Lincoln that a group of Regulators, hell bent on revenge, ambushed and killed Sheriff Brady; and it was in Lincoln that Billy made his escape from the hangman’s noose by killing his guards.
Today it’s a quiet little town full of memories from its bloody past. Preserved well, and without the cheesiness of a tourist trap, Lincoln is a mecca for those in search of Billy the Kid. The half-mile stretch of road that makes up the main part of town is dotted with museums and historic buildings:
1. Starting on the west side of town is George Peppin’s house. Peppin became sheriff of Lincoln County after Billy and several Regulators killed Brady on April 1, 1878. Peppin was a Dolan sympathizer during the Lincoln County War and is the one who sent men to set fire to McSween’s house. Along with his lawman duties, Peppin was also a stonemason and built many of the buildings in Lincoln including the courthouse, Dr. Wood’s house, the Dolan house, and the San Juan Church.
2. Continuing east is the Wortley Hotel. Although the original building burnt down in 1936, the current hotel was built on its ruins. During the Five Day Battle Dolan men were stationed at the Wortley and it was here that Deputy Olinger was feeding prisoners, blissfully unaware until he heard the gunfire that across the street Billy was making his escape from the courthouse. The Wortley still operates as a hotel today.
3. Next to the Wortley are the ruins of the Aragon Store. Built sometime prior to 1878, this structure also housed the White Elephant Saloon, a stage stop, various merchants, and a post office. It unfortunately collapsed in the 1970s.
4. A few buildings down is an empty field that was once the site of the McSween home before it burned down during the Five Day Battle (the building to the west was built on part of the land and was once used as an office by George Barber, Susan McSween’s second husband).
5. Next to the site of McSween’s home is the Tunstall Store. Built in 1877 by John Tunstall it was a store that also housed a bank and a law office for McSween and John Chisum, and living quarters for Tunstall. Behind the store are two crosses marking the approximate locations of McSween and Tunstall’s graves.
6. El Torréon was used as a defensive structure against raiding Apaches and in the early days it’s believed that it was located in the center of a plaza. During the Five Day Battle the torréon was utilized by the Murphy-Dolan faction.
7. Three buildings down from the torréon is the Lincoln Visitors’ Center. Once two separated houses joined together, it’s currently a museum with artifacts from Lincoln County. Along with portraits of the key players of the Lincoln County War there are also three paintings depicting Billy and the Regulators—one in particular is a stunning mural of Billy’s escape from McSween’s house, a gun in each hand, as it burns down behind him.
8. Catty-corner and slightly behind the Visitors’ Center is the site of Colonel Dudley’s campground. Nervous townsfolk requested aide from nearby Fort Stanton during the Five Day Battle but, being on the Murphy-Dolan side of things, Dudley and his men mostly served to antagonize the McSween faction. A furious Susan McSween marched down to Dudley’s camp during the battle to voice her feelings against the men attacking her husband; Dudley had her thrown out of the camp.
9. Further down the road stands the Ellis House. Now a hotel, the Ellis House was built prior to 1861 and was one of the first homes in Lincoln. Since then it’s been used as a ranch house, a store, a boarding house, and a tuberculosis sanatorium. Several McSween men were stationed here during the Five Day Battle and many more retreated here after leaving their posts at the Moñtano and Patrón houses.
10. A half-mile from the Ellis House is the Campo Santo (First Cemetery). You’ll find many Kid-related people buried here including Yginio Salazar. Salazar survived a should-have-been-fatal bullet wound during the siege on the McSween home and it was he who Billy came to after his escape from Lincoln to help remove his shackles. One of the longest-living members of the McSween side, Salazar’s headstone reads: Pal of Billy the Kid.
11. Now a private residence, the Juan Patrón House is another of Lincoln’s older buildings. The Patrón family operated a store and saloon out of the building and since Patrón sided with McSween during the Lincoln County War, several McSween men were hold up here during the Five Day Battle. Billy and Tom O’Folliard stayed in one of the outbuildings while under house arrest before the Dudley Court of Inquiry and it was here that Governor Wallace witnessed several locals serenading Billy at night.
12. Next door to the Patrón House is the Moñtano Store, which, like many of the buildings in town, served as a store, a saloon, and a boarding house. José Moñtano and his wife Josefa sided with McSween and during the battle several of the McSween men were stationed here. Governor Lew Wallace also stayed at the Moñtano Store when he was in Lincoln arranging his meeting with Billy the Kid.
13. Continuing west is Squire Wilson’s office. Wilson was the Justice of the peace in 1878 and it was in his office that the secret meeting between Wallace and the Kid took place.
14. George Peppin built this house for J. J. Dolan in 883-1884. Today it’s a bed and breakfast and restaurant and houses many artifacts and photos from the days Dolan lived there.
15. The Old Lincoln County Courthouse was built by L. G. Murphy in 1973 as a mercantile store. “The House”, as it was known, was the headquarters for the Murphy-Dolan faction during the Lincoln County War. Afterwards it contained a Masonic meeting hall, a saloon, a billiard room, the sheriff’s office, the jail, living quarters, county offices, and a school. Most importantly, for us, it was where Billy the Kid made his daring escape by killing his guards Bell and Olinger. Today the courthouse serves as a museum to Billy and the Lincoln Country War; outside are the markers where Deputies Bell and Olinger fell dead.
Dick Brewer’s ranch was situated in Glencoe and after his death Susan McSween, who now owned the property, sold it to Frank Coe in 1882. The Coe descendants still live on the ranch and the big red barn that reads COE RANCH can be seen from US70.
Not far from the Coe Ranch is what's known today as Tunstall Canyon. Up here is the site of John Tunstall's brutal murder. For directions, visit our article about site here.
South of Lincoln is the small town of San Patricio. Billy and his friends spent a lot of time here, going to dances and hiding out. Billy in particular was well-liked and the locals were happy to have him in their little town.
Formerly named Ruidoso, the town was renamed when a Catholic Church named La Iglesia de San Patricio after Saint Patrick was built in 1875. As the oldest church in the Hondo Valley, it would have been a large part of the community in Billy’s day and still stands today.
At one time White Oaks was one of the larger mining towns in New Mexico and had a population of 2,000. There were saloons, an opera house, brothels, stores, a school, a town hall, and a church; it was a favorite for outlaws and rustlers.
In November 1880, a posse from White Oaks set out to capture Billy the Kid. After surrounding the Kid and his gang, James Carlyle, the leader of the posse, was shot, presumably by his own men; it was another death blamed on Billy. And it was in White Oaks where Garrett was collecting taxes the day Billy made his escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse.
Susan McSween (Barber) is buried in the town cemetery along with Deputy James W. Bell. Pay your respects and have a drink at the No Scum Allowed Saloon.
Between Tularosa and San Patricio, US70 cuts through the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. It was in this area that the Regulators stopped to eat at Blazer’s Mill and encountered “Buckshot” Roberts, one of the men in the posse who had murdered John Tunstall just two months before. In an epic firefight Roberts was fatally gut-shot by Charlie Bowdre and in turn Roberts wounded Bowdre, George Coe, and John Middleton, and shot the top off of Dick Brewer’s head.
Fort Stanton was built in 1855 to protect the nearby settlements during the Apache Wars but by 1896 the fort was abandoned and closed. A year later the US Public Health Service took over and converted it into a tuberculosis hospital. Since then it has been used as an internment camp, a state hospital, and a low-security women’s prison. In 1997 renovations began on the fort and today it can be toured as a state monument.
During the Five Day Battle in Lincoln, Colonel Dudley was called in from Fort Stanton under the guise of protecting the town. After the murder of Alexander McSween, Susan McSween sought justice against the colonel for his part in her husband’s death. She hired lawyer Huston Chapman to take up her case against Dudley and when they felt he was stirring up trouble again, Dolan men, Jesse Evans and Billy Campbell, shot him to death with Billy and Tom O’Folliard as witnesses.
After being arrested for the murder of Chapman, Evans and Campbell were held at the fort. Billy was also here when in April of 1879 he testified against Dudley, Evans, and Campbell. Billy was supposed to have been tried here as well (a formality as he waited for the pardon Governor Wallace had promised in exchange for his testimony) but once Evans and Campbell escaped and Dudley was acquitted, Billy got tired of waiting for Wallace and skipped out.
Best of the West, Bill O’Neal
The West of Billy the Kid, Frederick Nolan
“A Walking Tour of Lincoln Town”, the Lincoln Country Historical Society
“The Gunfight at Blazer’s Mill”, Lucas Speer
The Tunstall Store
The Ellis House
The Moñtano Store
The Dolan House
The "Big House"
The Guard House at Fort Stanton