Thursday, 4/15/21: Billy the Kid

My drinking buddy at the Bonito Valley Brewing Company in Lincoln, NM.

Somehow, Billy the Kid, born in New York, ended up in the New Mexico Territory. We met up with his legend in the tiny museum town of Lincoln, New Mexico, in the county of Lincoln. The Lincoln County War, 1878 to 1881, brought some notoriety to the small town of Lincoln. Billy the Kid got mixed up in the War, which was actually a blood feud that got way out of hand.

James Dolan had cornered the market in dry goods, having the only store in Lincoln County. He did, however, until 1876, when John Turnstall and Alexander McSween, with financial backing from rancher John Chilsum, opened up a competing dry goods store in Lincoln. The competition wasn’t friendly. Both sides gathered a contingency of allies to harass each other.

Dolan was backed by Lincoln County Sheriff, Brady, and the Jesse Evans Gang. The Turnstall-McSween faction gathered a rival group that called themselves The Regulators. They included Town constable Richard Brewer and US Marshall Widenmann. Billy the Kid threw in his lot with The Regulators.

The Lincoln County War turned bloody when John Turnstall was gunned down by the Jesse Evans Gang. The Regulators retaliated by eliminating Sheriff Brady. That sparked a number revenge killings culminating in the Battle of Lincoln, a five-day gun battle (1878) that resulted in the death of McSween and the dispersing of The Regulators.

In 1880, Pat Garrett was named sheriff of Lincoln County. He hunted down and killed some of the dispersed Regulators, including Billy the Kid, who was a mere 21 years old. In all, 23 were killed and 23 were wounded in the War. The best I could gather, the Dolan faction came out on top.

Besides killing people, Billy the Kid was a very talented jail breaker. No jail could hold him. It took a bullet from Sheriff Garrett to finally stop Billy.

So, where do we come in? We drove the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway Loop. It pretty much included all of Lincoln County with the highlight being a stop in the town of Lincoln. The town is a combination of a handful of shops, bed and breakfasts, and a craft brewery plus a bunch of semi-restored buildings that were part of a network of museum pieces. We spent the most time in the Brewery. I had a wonderful Stout and Wanda enjoyed a glass of Jo Mamma’s Sweet Red Wine. She liked it so much that we bought a bottle of it. It was made just down the road in Alto, NM, a town also on the Loop.

The Bonito Valley Brewing Company. This brew pub conjured up a most intoxicating Stout. One glass’ll do ya.

The brew pub was named after the Rio Bonito, a tiny trickle of a creek that formed a good size valley in the Sacramento Mountains.

The following are buildings and houses in the historic town of Lincoln, NM. Some are still being used as businesses. Others are part of the museum that the town has become.

This church, La Englesia de San Juan-Bautista, was established in 1887. I loved the wood stove with the long pipe in the interior. I couldn’t imagine that stove ever warming up the large room.

This room was one of three rooms in a building where one room was the courtroom, another was a tavern, and the last room (this room) was the living quarters of the church priest. That seemed like an efficient use of space.

The Loop transversed the Sacramento Mountains. Unlike the Cloudcroft area with the thick Alpine forest, this part of the mountain range is drier desert. Right in the middle of the loop is the Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservatory. The fort part of the conservatory is an old military complex that started out being a Calvary outpost. It morphed into being an internment camp for captured German seaman during WWII. It further evolved into a hospital for tuberculosis victims. Now, it’s a museum.

The Snowy River Cave part of the Conservatory, is home to the longest cave in New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns has the enormous underground rooms with all the beautiful formations, but the Snowy River cave is one long shaft that never seems to end. Sadly, the cave isn’t open to the public.

One section of the byway loop, near Alto, looked like it suffered an extensive fire at one time. Sure enough, a few miles down the road we discovered that, not only had there been a disastrous fire, but it was the fire that started the whole Smokey the Bear campaign. A bear that was literally smoking from his smoldering fur, was rescued and became the poster boy for what is considered the most successful ad campaign of all time.

After driving the loop, we somehow ended up back at the bakery in Cloudcroft for another slice of Caramel Apple Walnut Chocolate pie. My intentions were to hike a 4 mile trail just outside of Cloudcroft, but the weather turned freezing cold and windy. Instead, we headed back down to Alamogordo, where it was 20º warmer.

Tomorrow - White Sands National Monument.

Scenes from around the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway. This area had a very different semi-arid look.

This little trickle is the Rio Bonito.

A small nature trail along Rio Bonito.

The area is known as a karst area - limestone prone to sinkholes and caves. Because this is so arid, sinkholes are not abundant, but caves do exist. The Snowy River Cave, just a few miles away, is scores of miles long. This is an entrance to a smaller cave that we stumbled across on BLM land.

Rio Bonito.

Part of a trail back in Cloudcroft that I wanted to hike, but it was just too cold and windy. Next time.

Dave and Wanda

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