Summer 2021 Tour Ruidoso, New Mexico, Episode 2: Billy the Kid, Fort Stanton, and Lincoln

One day we took Billy the Kid Trail to Capitan, Fort Stanton, and the Village of Lincoln

Smokey Bear Historical Park

We missed seeing the Hubbard Museum, but were lucky to find the Smokey Bear Historical Park open for business in the Village of Capitan. The Historical Park contains a museum with various fire prevention displays, Smokey Bear memorabilia and trinkets to purchase, and a garden filled with native trees, plants, and flowers.

Smokey Bear memorabilia
Available for purchase
Firefighting displays
Photo of CCC crew. The first time I saw this photo, the guy leaning off the stake bed truck in the far right center drew my attention. He brought the picture to life for me.

After wandering through the museum, we headed out back to the shady garden where they buried Smokey Bear and where little plaques identify plants and trees and flowers.

Tiny cactus
Cactus bloom
Image of Smokey as a cub in the garden
Firefighter memorial
JT poses with Smokey

Here are a few Smokey Bear fun facts we learned:

  • While fighting a fire in the Capitan Mountains, a group of soldiers from Ft. Bliss, Texas, found a badly burned bear cub clinging to a charred tree on May 9, 1950.
  • Ray Bell, a New Mexico game warden, flew the injured five-pound cub to Santa Fe where veterinarian Dr. Ed Smith treated him.
  • Ray Bell’s wife and daughter, Ruth and Judy, helped nurse the cub back to health.
  • An article written by Dorothy Guck, a Lincoln County newspaper reporter, and photographs taken by Harold Walter brought national attention to the plight of Hotfoot Teddy, Smokey’s original name.
  • A formal fire prevention campaign began in 1942 by the USDA-Forest Service, adopting a bear as its symbol in 1944 and the message “Remember . . . Only YOU can prevent forest fires” in 1947.
  • Once recovered, Hotfoot Teddy became Smokey and sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., becoming the “living symbol” of fire prevention.
  • The Secretary of Agriculture controls the image of Smokey, which has allowed the collection of millions in royalties for forest fire prevention education efforts, including the Junior Ranger Program.
  • Smokey had received so much fan mail by 1965 the postal service gave him zip code, just like the President of the United States.
  • Smokey Bear was buried at the historical park, as is the original 1993 Smokey Bear Balloon, which was destroyed during a flight on October 10, 2004.

The message “Remember . . . Only YOU can prevent forest fires” must have worked on me all these years because whenever I’m near a forest, those words pop into my thoughts. In April 2001, the slogan was updated to “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” I think the shorter version has more punch.

Fort Stanton

We said goodbye to Smokey and headed down the road to Fort Stanton. Fort Stanton is one of seven New Mexico Historic Sites and is managed by the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Main Museum and Visitor Center, originally constructed of local stone in 1855 and used as barracks for enlisted soldiers. Extensive remodel occurred during the hospital years and used as an administration building.

Founded as a military fort in 1855, it served a number of functions during the past 166 years including a tubercular hospital, Civilian Conservation Corps camp, state hospital, drug rehab, correctional facility, and since 2001, a living history museum.

The colors on the jackets symbolize the rank. Not sure which color goes with which rank.

There are 25 locations or buildings surrounding or near the parade grounds, nine of which are open to the public. The open buildings we went in contained equipment and furniture of the times along with information posters and signs detailing the history and people that worked there.

Photos and historic stories
Saddle and photo room inside visitor center
Parade grounds
Originally built in 1883 as a duplex to house two officers and their families. It’s now used by the Bureau of Land Management.
Fort Stanton Marine Hospital built in 1936 for up to 85 tubercular patients. Doctors were also tubercular patients.
Period furniture and equipment occupy the hospital rooms
X-ray machine in an exam room
A dentist office.

I lost interest in the buildings when grazing horses appeared on the parade grounds, and I set out photographing them instead of browsing inside buildings. I seem to remember that hunger was also a factor that kept us from exploring the fort in more detail.

One of the grazing horses
This building, built in 1855 as a single story building, was used for Fort Administration. During hospital years, it became the amusement building, with a general store, telephone exchange, post office, and a theater.

Lincoln Historic Site

Settled in 1849, the village of Lincoln became the county seat when Lincoln County was established in 1869. Except for the paved main street, the town has preserved the look and feel from the late 1800s, with a few alterations. The site boasts 17 territorial-style adobe structures and outbuildings, 6 of which are open for touring (4 opened yearly and 2 seasonally).

Built in the 1850s, the thick walls of the Torreon (the keep) protected Spanish Americans from the Apaches. The Murphy-Dolan group stationed sharpshooters in the structure during the Lincoln County War.

So what is so special about Lincoln that earned the entire town as a New Mexico historic site designation?

The Lincoln War

In the early years of New Mexico Territory, range wars were common occurrences that pit one group of cattle ranchers against another or three or four. The Lincoln War, however, turned out to be one of the deadliest waged by both respectable and criminal types alike.

The saga is filled with a cast of characters with greed in their hearts, guns in their holsters, and in their minds, murder.

The Covento building, built in 1868 as a flat-roofed adobe building was used as a saloon, dance hall, community center, a county court, and a local parish of the Roman Catholic Church.

Instead of filling this post with a doctoral thesis on the Lincoln War, I present an extremely short synopsis.

Inside a portion shows the Covento as a courthouse.

Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan enjoyed an economic and political monopoly over the Lincoln area after procuring lucrative federal contracts to supply Fort Stanton and reservations nearby. They enjoyed the fruits of those contracts until November 1876. That’s when John Tunstall came to town with cattle rancher John Chisum and attorney Alexander McSween. They were intent on upsetting the monopoly by establishing a ranch, store, and bank to compete with Murphy-Dolan.

Additional displays tell stories about historic events or people. These panels tell the story of the Horrell War, which also resulted in numerous deaths.

Sides were drawn, gangs were formed, harassment and cattle rustling ensued, killings occurred, which led to more killings. Tunstall’s group formed the Regulators and Billy the Kid joined them. The Regulators and the Sheriff’s posse battle it out a few times and more men die.

San Juan Mission building

Then came the Battle of Lincoln. The Murphy-Dolan faction surrounded the Regulators in Lincoln on July 15, 1878. For the next three days, gunfire rang out in the town, along with a volley of taunts and shouts. The US Army troops arrived, pointed cannons at the Regulators, causing many of them to flee.

Inside the San Juan Mission building

The conflict culminated on July 19 when the Murphy-Dolan group set the McSween house on fire where McSween, two women and five children, Billy the Kid, and other Regulators were holed up. The women and children were allowed to leave, and the fighting continued until the Regulators fled. Some of them were gunned down during their escape. Billy the Kid escaped unscathed.

We missed seeing the Tunstall Store Museum as it was closed.

Not much resulted from the war other than the killing of at least nineteen men. The new governor of the territory declared amnesty for the remaining individuals involved in the war. As it turned out, the governor did not include Billy the Kid in the declaration. Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse tracked Billy and two of his compadres, killing all of them in July 1881.

Old Dolan House. A sign out front advertises it as a B&B, yet it was closed during our visit.

One might say the person who benefited from the war was Susan McSween, Alexander McSween’s wife. She amassed a large amount of ranch holdings that averaged between 3,000 and 5,000 head of cattle and became known as the Cattle Queen of New Mexico. She died on January 3, 1931, at 85 years old.

After reading article after article and falling into research rabbit holes, I’m still debating who was respectable and who was criminal. Both sides engaged in a deadly game of tit for tat, so it’s hard to tell. Maybe the Old West definition of justice meant something totally different from how it’s defined today. Or maybe it is the same, minus all the killing. Or maybe I just have a Pollyannaish sensibility, looking for the good guy where one does not exist.

Up next: We stretch our legs on a hike, visit a ghost town, and stumble upon a surprise.

Safe Travels

4 thoughts on “Summer 2021 Tour Ruidoso, New Mexico, Episode 2: Billy the Kid, Fort Stanton, and Lincoln

  1. Ray De Wit

    Great article.   The colors on the uniforms represent the Branch.  Blue is infantry, yellow is cavalry, and red is artillery.   Colors are still used today in the Army.  Just thought you might like to know.   Stay well you two,Ray

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All so interesting! “Only you can prevent forest fires” is forever in my brain as well. I did not know how it all started. Regarding the last section – it seems each side was looking out for their own. It sounds actions were driven by greed and terrible actions were justified since the other side was doing those things, too. I don’t really know. This is the first I’ve read about the Lincoln War. But it sure seems like such a waste. Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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