On a day off from riding we drove a short distance to visit the historic Lincoln, New Mexico. There are a lot of old buildings and things to see in town and we walked up one side of the street and down the other. Many places were closed inside due to the coronavirus but we could still look around the town and read all the information signs.
This area was first home to a group of indigenous people called the Mogollon, followed by the Piros and later the Mescalero Apache. When Spanish-speaking, Native New Mexican settlers from the upper Rio Grande began arriving in the 1850s, they named their new home La Placita del Rio Bonito (the place by the pretty river). In 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War, the county and town were renamed for the late President, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln County War
Lincoln, NM is best known as the site of the Lincoln County Wars. This was an Old West conflict between rival factions which began in 1878 and continued until 1881. The feud became famous because of the participation of the criminal Henry McCarty (“Billy the Kid”). This was basically a war between two groups over monopoly. As usual, it was about money! The Dolan faction had control over the dry goods trade, banking, and the lucrative government contract with nearby Ft. Stanton.
Alexander McSween, a lawyer, and John Tunstall, a wealthy 24-year old English cattleman and banker, set up a rival business called H.H. Tunstall & Company near the one owned by Dolan. Supporting them was a large ranch owner named John Chisum, who owned more than 100,000 head of cattle. Tunstall recruited Billy the Kid as a cattle guard. Stuff happened and Billy the Kid killed people. There, that’s the abbreviated edition.
Some of the cool things we saw:
The historic courthouse was the first building we walked to. Over its’ long history, it has contained a general store, Masonic meeting room, bar, billiard room, sheriff’s office, jail, living quarters, courthouse, city and county offices, school, and was the scene of Billy the Kid’s daring escape when deputies Olinger and Bell died at his hands.
The Torreon, a circular stone fortification was erected by the area’s earliest Hispanic settlers in the 1840’s or 1850’s. It was used as a look out and defensive structure for protection from raiding Apaches.
The San Juan Mission was built from 1885 – 1887 by the parishioners of the church. The church is built of adobes made on site and vigas (wooden beams) hauled in from the nearby Capitan Mountains. Impressive.
The Convento is next to the San Juan Mission. Built before 1868, this flat-roofed adobe building was a saloon, dance hall and community center both before and after Lincoln was designated the county seat in 1869. The Roman Catholic Church purchased it in 1885 and it was used as a local parish.
The rest of the town had a lot of other cool old buildings, some of which were abandoned or used as museums or even still lived in.