New Mexico

In September 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes removed Governor Axtell from office and appointed New Mexico's new governor Lew Wallace. He was famous for having served in both the war with Mexico and the Civil War. A writer, Wallace became even more famous for his novel "Ben Hur".

At first Governor Wallace felt that conditions in Lincoln County might well call for strong measures. Such measures might even include martial (military) law. The president, however, disagreed. Instead he sent a proclamation to New Mexico. He advised lawbreakers to return to peace. He stressed that armed force might be use in the future to keep the peace. The president's proclamation helped calm Lincoln.

As for Wallace, his main act was to offer amnesty to persons involved in the Lincoln County War. It meant that those who had broken the law would not be punished. Amnesty was open to anyone who had not been charged with or convicted of a crime. It would be given only to those who would testify in court and who would remain at peace.

The people of Lincoln were ready for peace. There was one more victim of the Lincoln County War. This was Huston Chapman, a lawyer. Chapman wanted Governor Wallace to act against both sides in the war. He felt that McSween had not been solely to blame for what had happened. In speaking out, Chapman made enemies. He was gunned down on February 18, 1879. This was a year to the day after the Tunstall murder.

When shot, Chapman was standing in front of the Lincoln post office. Witness to the murder was William H. Bonney, alias"Billy the Kid". The two killers were well-known gunmen. The person behind the murder was likely James J. Dolan. But this cannot be proven. It was this murder that brought Wallace to Lincoln.

Arriving on March 6, Wallace had with him a calvary escort. He remained in Lincoln about six weeks. He talked with most of those who had been involved in the Lincoln County War. He even had a private meeting with Billy the Kid. Wallace hoped that the Kid would testify at the trial of the two men arrested for Chapman's murder. This, however, never came to pass. The two men escaped from jail.

Wallace returned to Santa Fe. Billy the Kid turned to a lawless life. Eighteen months after their meeting, Billy was arrested in San Miguel County. Moved to Santa Fe for safekeeping, Billy asked the governor for help. Wallace, however, ignored all three of the outlaw's appeals. Transferred to Mesilla, Billy the Kid stood trial for killing Sheriff Brady. It was now April 8, 1881. The court found Billy guilty. It sentenced him to hang in Lincoln on Friday, May 14, 1881.

Billy was jailed in Lincoln, but he was never hanged. On April 28 he escaped from the Lincoln County Courthouse. During the escape he killed his two guards. He shot J.W. Bell with Bell's own pistol. He then grabbed a shotgun. He gunned down Robert Olinger as Olinger ran across the street to the courthouse. A tombstone is set in the ground at Lincoln to show the exact spot Olinger fell dead. To this day a bullet hole in the courthouse wall reminds visitors of Billy the Kid's escape.

From April 28 on, Billy was a hunted man. Rewards were offered for his capture. Then on July 13, 1881, Billy entered Fort Sumner. It was late in the evening. Just after midnight on July 14, he was allegedly shot and killed. Pat Garrett, then sheriff of Lincoln, and a friend of Billy's, had hunted him down. His alleged death ended the Lincoln County War.

The Lincoln County War was one of the best evidence of lawlessness in frontier New Mexico. There was, however, much other evidence. There was Elfego Baca's famous October 1884 gunfight. Baca is said to have held off 80 Texas cowboys for 33 hours at Frisco, now Reserve, New Mexico.

There were the gangs in the early 1890s who terrorized San Miguel County in Northern New Mexico. The first gang became known as Las Gorras Blancas, meaning "the White Caps." Gang members wore white hoods over their heads and faces when they rode on nighttime raids. They cut the fences on grazing land. They set fire to the houses nad barns of those neighbors who did not join them.

From Las Gorras Blancas a second gang emerged. This was the gang of Vicente Silva and his 40 bandits. For 3 years the Silva gang roamed San Miguel County. It robbed, murdered, and set fires thoughout the region.

Then there was a disappearance. In 1896 Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain and his young son disappeared near White Sands National Monument. Three men were tried for the murder of the Fountains. All three were found not guilty because the bodies of the Fountains were never found. And there were many random acts of violence in frontier New Mexico. Because New Mexico long remained a frontier, law and order was late in arriving.

"A tidbit more on Billy here!"

Lincoln County War

Lincoln County Conflict Begins

NM Land Surface

NM Rivers

NM Water

NM Plants and Animals

NM Land


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