Thursday February 20, 2014 Socorro, NM Comfort Inn Room 203 5 PM MST
Hi all, this blog goes with yesterday’s adventures. I was just too tired to blog last night; as a matter of fact, went to sleep at 9pm without staying up to watch the ladies’ short program, which I love. Also didn’t catch Fallon but I hear his rap on the news was hysterical. Maybe I can find it on UTube.
Got up fairly early in Roswell and retraced our steps about 13 miles or so to visit the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge. Both of us love wildlife refuges, especially those with driving routes—in early morning or early evening they are so restful, serene and beautiful. We had been here before several years ago on our way home in March and so the refuge was pretty devoid of birds, which had already departed for points North. Actually, they will soon be doing that again but we lucked out and there were many snow geese still in residence along with several species of duck and at least one crane. Made us optimistic that we may see birds, yet,in San Antonio’s Bosque del Apache on Friday.Having decided to go there before heading to Belen and our friends, Bud and Gloria’s we left Roswell and continued West to Alamogordo. The route takes us through the Apache reservation and San Patricio, the home of the Peter Hurd museum. But it also took his past the turn-off to Lincoln, NM
Among the things I inherited from my parents were some of the brochures and postcards of places they visited on their many cross-country trips. There is one old glossy four page brochure with a blue and white picture of an old building in Lincoln. I don’t have it with me, since I don’t want to damage it , but I believe it says something about New Mexico State Historical Site. Always curious, I’ve wanted to visit Lincoln but we’ve always been on our way home and the ground has been covered in snow and it has been rather chilly so we’ve never climbed up the ten miles to the site. Yesterday, it was sunny, warm, very windy, with no snow on the ground and we weren’t hurrying home. With the stars so perfectly aligned the time had come.
Both of us were familiar with the Lincoln County Wars—rustlers and cattle barons and hired guns. Billy the Kid and Lew Wallace. We were not prepared for the amount of information presented here. We began in the Museum, the entry of which contains a huge charcoal and paper work by the fellow down the road, Peter Hurd. It depicts the death of DeVargas, who I gather was an influential Spanish settler in New Mexico and who lived in the early 18th Century—considerably earlier than the Lincoln County Wars! I imagine the work is there because the area was settled first by these Spaniards and because the artist lived in San Patricio. No other connection comes to mind, although I have since bought a book about the Wars and may find there is a greater connection of which I am not aware.
The museum traces the history of the area, the arrival of the army and then the white settlers who became rich supplying the army with food, particularly beef. I think most of the pictures from the museum are pretty self explanatory. Fort Stanton is farther up the mountain and was established there because it was close to the “ headquarters “ of the Apache tribes who inhabited the area. The role of the Buffalo Soldiers stationed there was to, with the assistance of Apache scouts, subdue the Apache and confine them to a reservation. I was absolutely amazed at the helmet like dress uniform headgear of the Army officers of the time. I’ve always associated such head dress with British Lancers and Prussian soldiers of the time. They are horrible and I’m pleased the uniform, which has gone through many permutations through the years, was improved by their removal. There is one parade ground photo of the troops at Fort Stanton which is quite amusing if you look closely at rifles and sabers.
The next exhibit featured the Hispanic influence of the area before the white settlers and business men, following the Army or otherwise moving West to seek their fortunes, arrived. Juana looks like she was a woman who would definitely be someone with whom the white women would have had to contend.
Soon, Lincoln County would be invaded by men other than the sheriff , who, by the way, was the only law in an area of Southeast New Mexico that covered as much territory as the whole of Ireland. Needless to say, what that basically meant was that there was no law of the land. When Chisum discovered the Pecos River Valley was a wet, relatively grassy path to the markets of Wyoming and Montana and to the army camps along the way, he hired a thousand Texans to drive the cattle through the valley. Lincoln is not very far off that beaten trail and so many of the cowboys made there way into town.
With a community already established, a Fort with many mouths to feed and ready access to beef and farm goods it did not take long for three enterprising young Irishmen to establish a store. Lawrence Murphy was a major in the Army. He and another soldier, Col. Fritz ran the sutlers at the Fort. They eventually established the first store in Lincoln. With his army connections, Murphy and another Irishman named Dolan, who became his partner upon the early death of Fritz, became the powers commercially and politically in the town, having no real competition even from the several smaller Spanish grocers.
Within several years, however, a young Englishman, John Henry Tunstall, arrived in town and with the financial backing of his affluent father in England, started up a rival store. He aligned himself with a Scot, Alexander McSween, an attorney and with Mr Chisum, the cattle driving man. John Henry also established a bank, through which local farmers could get low interest loans, which they quickly defaulted on , allowing the new British faction to acquire a great deal of the land in the area.
The two factions each hired enforcers, guns, to protect their cattle and lands – often, with the easy access to firearms and firewater, there would be fatal contact between the members of the two factions but when Tunstall was murdered by the Sheriff led Posse of Murphy sympathizers, all hell broke loose. After five days of intense battle the home of McSween was burnt to the ground and he was shot to death. Some records say he was skulking in a corner others say he was shot while trying to surrender. At any rate, Billy the Kid, who worked for the Tunstall faction escaped the flames as did McSween’s wife. The fighting,nevertheless, continued, with people being shot as they walked down the street simply because of their support for one faction or the other.
Eventually, word of the lawless conditions in Lincoln reached the ears of the President, Rutherford B Hayes , and he sent Lew Wallace, most recently a distinguished Union General during the Civil War and popular author of Ben-Hur, out to Lincoln to clean up the situation. Sheriff Brady was immediately relieved and murderers were rounded up. A meeting was arranged between Wallace and Billy during which Billy agreed to testify against some of his fellow cowboys. Supposedly, it was arranged that he would be arrested and sent to Fort Sumner for his protection but that the arrest was purely for show and he would be freed and exempt from all charges. It appears that Wallace got testimony from Billy and then promptly forgot all about their arrangement,forcing Billy to escape and thereby getting him killed by Pat Garrett with whom he’d once worked and who was now the new law in Lincoln County. There are all kinds of theories about whether or not Billy died and what his relationship to Garrett was. I also bought a book today about that.
After exploring the museum we watched a video which elaborated on the conflicts in the area: The Government attempt to subdue the Mescalero Apaches, the Spanish settlers’ resentment of the new comers who tried and successfully took control of the legal, political and commercial life of the community and the final brutal conflict among the men who then struggled among themselves to monopolize the entire life of the town. In this lawless, vast land that was Lincoln County New Mexico Territory there were fortunes to be made if one were lucky enough to survive.
By this time, we’d spent almost two hours absorbing the history of this fascinating chapter in American western expansion. Having bought a brochure with a map of the buildings of the town and their history we drove up the East side of the street and down the West side taking pictures of them in the order of the brochure. All of them existed prior to and during the Lincoln Wars except the 1932 WPA school, which I did not photograph and which is for sale. Nothing in the town is newer than that. It is now a designated Historic District with all the regulations that entails as to maintenance and change to any of the existing buildings and the area.
We returned to the main road and passed through the Mescalero Apache Reservation with the lovely murals on the retaining walls and over Apache Peak, over 7000 feet, where there were smaller patches of snow than there has ever been when we’ve passed this may before. With that we arrived in Alamogordo and headed to Eagle Ranch/Heart of the Desert Pistachios. One of our favorite places, we purchased three bottles of their new red wine and several flavors of pistachios--red chile with lime, green chile and onion-garlic. Ate at the first Applebee’s in a long time. Our Quality Inn was right across the street, so we checked in and as I already mentioned had an early night.
Stay tuned: today’s blog is on its way. Much shorter though just as interesting and very beautiful!