February 15, 2016
Billy the Kid Trail
Road trip today through Lincoln County, NM—scene of the Lincoln County Wars and the Billy the Kid Trail. Yes, the county was named after Abraham Lincoln and encompasses a large area running through the Lincoln National Forest. One word to describe this county is diverse.
After leaving the high desert, we began climbing and drove through the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Feeling the independence of a very proud nation, we viewed small modest homes with one or two horses pastured on adjacent plots. Just imagine the Apache coming home, saddling his mount, and galloping along these mountain trails and passes. These Native Americans have not lost their land and their allegiance to it. However, as a reminder of their entry into modern society, we also saw casinos on the edges of their reservation.
The Hondo Valley, within the triangular 65 miles of the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway, is rich farmland due to its proximity to mountain water run-off—a perfect place for livestock and farming. This abundance of resources drew settlers who staked claim to the Indian lands causing heated conflicts between the Indians and settlers.
At the same time that settlers were establishing claims surrounding Apache lands, a monopoly (Murphy & Dolan) of entrepreneurs was established in Lincoln County having a tremendous amount of power and influencing the law, politics, and economics of the county. Enter a foreigner who wanted a piece of the pie (Dunstall)! He opened his own store and partnered with a lawyer (Sweeney); the store gave unwanted competition to the establishment. Where the gun was the law of the land, animosity led to skirmishes between the rivals, and then murders and more murders; ultimately a war between the two factions caused bloodshed right and left. Murphy & Dolan's Sheriff Brady hired thugs who ruled with a heavy hand. On the side of the Dunstall were a group of loyal supporters called the Regulators of which Billy the Kid was one. Early victims of the war were Sheriff Brady on one side and Dunstall on the other; scores more followed. To end the conflict Colonel Dudley, who supported Murphy/Dolan, led his troops from Fort Stanton to Lincoln. Troops did end the war, but Billy with a few other Regulators escaped the carnage. However, Pat Garrett, who was appointed sheriff in the aftermath, vowed to apprehend Billy along with the other renegade Regulators. He did so, and Billy was sent to Santa Fe for trial. Convicted for the murder of Sheriff Brady, Billy was transported back to Lincoln County by Pat Garrett to be hanged there. He escaped from the second floor jail in the Murphy Store and overpowered guards, killing them, and escaping. Pat Garrett hunted him down and shot him according to official records. Many movies have been created depicting the Lincoln County Wars. The most recent was Young Guns; another was Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. How appropriate was it that Bonnie found a rocking horse at an antique store in Lincoln that nearly replicated her own childhood rocker bringing back memories of riding Black Beauty dressed in her cowgirl outfit, hat, boots, and six guns while watching the Lone Ranger on TV.
Driving from Fort Stanton to Ruidoso and dining at an Irish Pub, we couldn't help but wonder at the diversity here—for a few moments we felt like we were driving through New England with its pines, valleys, hills, and quaint little town storefronts sporting ski supplies, but when we saw the cowboy hats, boots, and life-sized stuffed bears, we knew we were not in New England anymore. Notwithstanding, the Apache Ski Resort in the Lincoln National Forest is a popular destination for vacationers from around the state and outside it, too—adding to the diversity of the county.
Lou and Bonnie Janelle (LBJ) are career professionals who are currently pursuing life-long interests in photography and digital imaging techniques, respectively.