The Most Dangerous Street in America

November 12, 2017

We spent the first 3 weeks of October in Ruidoso, New Mexico. We didn't know too much about the place before we went there, but we did know a few things. It's up in the mountains, so it's much cooler than the desert regions of New Mexico, and it's on the way to Tucson, where we would be spending the winter. We needed a place where Jane could work (yes, you heard right...) and where there would be enough to do to keep me (Steve) interested (and out of the house) and not too much to tempt Jane away from her writing assignment.

From Ruidoso, I was able to make a day trip to the Trinity Site, place of the first nuclear bomb test. You can read that post here. Today's post is about another day trip, this one to Lincoln, NM, dubbed the "most dangerous street in America" by president Rutherford B Hayes. This street in this tiny town doesn't look dangerous now, but at one time there was open warfare here.

Old Lincoln, as it's called now, sat in the middle of Lincoln county. which at the time covered the entire southeast quarter of the state of New Mexico.  Lincoln county had one law enforcement officer, which meant that getting caught for a crime was not too likely. A corrupt local government was controlled by the group that ran the only store in the county and enjoyed their monopoly on selling supplies to the nearby army fort, as well as buying cattle cheaply from rustlers and then selling at inflated prices. When a stranger came to town to establish a competing store, the war for control of Lincoln began.

The stranger who came to town to establish a competing general store was John Tunstall. Here's his store, which has been restored and restocked to look exactly as it did back in an 1878 photograph (aside from the tourists).

I don't intend to retell the whole Lincoln County War, but it's a fascinating bit of history that I never knew about, and I'm sure you'll find it interesting. Read the full details here. You probably won't recognize the names of most of the characters in this story except for one, Billy the Kid.

I didn't know much about Billy the Kid, except that he was an outlaw in west back in the 1800s. We encountered his history in Las Cruces back in the spring, where we saw the building where he was tried and sentenced to hang. 

Tunstall's store in Lincoln was competing with the established store run by James Dolan. Each side loaded up with hired guns (including the sheriff on the Dolan side and a US Marshall on Tunstall's side) to protect their interests. Billy the Kid was on the Tunstall team. After Tunstall was murdered in a dispute over life insurance proceeds, a war of revenge killings broke out.

You can now see the exact locations along the main street where various participants in the Lincoln County War were killed, including some who were gunned down just crossing the street after having lunch in the hotel.

After the Lincoln County War, Billy continued as a fugitive, and eventually was hunted down, tried, and killed. Unfortunately for Billy, he was not as lucky as the condemned man who managed to escape his execution, probably while they were taking this picture.

So I feel a bit conflicted about Billy. While he certainly wasn't a "good guy," there were no good guys in the Lincoln County War. He lived in a time when the law wasn't enforced, and the local law man might be as much of an outlaw as anyone else. Lincoln certainly lived up to the reputation of the wild west.

Preview of our next post: Germans build a swimming pool in the middle of New Mexico.

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