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Historical Lincoln, NM


Walking along Lincoln’s 1 mile (and only) street is a ‘time  capsule’ stroll.  Unique among many renowned western towns, most of its  buildings appear today as in the turbulent 1870s & ‘80’s. Made  infamous by the 1878 Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid’s most  notorious and bloody jailbreak, Lincoln is an authentic open-air  ‘museum’. Aside from the road now being asphalt, you’ll savor a  realistic sense of “being there” when, and where, infamous legends of  America’s wild west walked its streets.

Undoubtedly America’s most famous western outlaw, Billy the  Kid’s fame was based upon his involvement in the Lincoln County War – a  battle between opposing business concerns competing         for beef and merchandise sales to the army at nearby Fort  Stanton and the Mescalero Apache Agency. This was in addition to a  battle over the alleged theft by lawyer McSween of money from the estate  of Murphy’s partner. The Murphy-Dolan faction (aka The House) did not  appreciate competition from newcomer English rancher and businessman,  John Tunstall, nor the antics of his friend and lawyer, McSween. Neither  side had “clean hands” in the causes of the War.

Working as a cowpuncher, upon the shooting death of Tunstall  (his employer) by The House’s gunfighters, Billy and other Tunstall  cowboys were deputized and formed ‘The Regulators’ to seek revenge for  the murder. Over the next year, fighting between the Murphy-Dolan  ‘House’ and the Regulators became a countywide battle. 

Billy’s allegiance to Tunstall, his indictment for the shooting  death of Murphy-Dolan supporter Sheriff Brady and the reversal of  promised clemency by Gov. Lew Wallace (author of Ben Hur) all  contributed to the Legend of Billy the Kid as it gained popularity.

On April 21, 1881, Billy, under arrest for Sheriff Brady’s  murder, arrived in Lincoln to be jailed in the County Courthouse (today,  Lincoln’s most historically prominent museum). One week later, as one  of his jailers (Bob Ollinger) had taken five prisoners across the street  to the Wortley Hotel for lunch, Billy asked the other  jailer (J. W. Bell) if he could use the outhouse. As they returned to  the 2nd floor holding area, Billy overpowered Bell and shot him on the  steps.  Hearing the shots, Ollinger rushed to the Courthouse where he  encountered Billy in an upstairs window and was killed with two shots  from his own shotgun.  

Less than 3 months later, on July 14, 1881, Billy was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Outlaw, deputized vigilante or devoted avenging employee, Billy  the Kid and the Lincoln County War stand tall in Western American  history.  And nowhere is this legend better recounted and accurately  illustrated than in Lincoln… a perfectly illustrated moment from the  1880’s that remains primarily the same today.


Lincoln has about 50 residents who are communally  dedicated to preserving its appearance and history.  It offers eight  frontier oriented museums and 17 historic buildings preserved as they  looked in the late 1800’s.