Lincoln, New Mexico—population 50—was made famous by one of the most violent periods in the state’s history. One of the reasons why the Lincoln County War resonates so strongly to this day is because this community is a 19th-century treasure, truly frozen in the 1870s-80s. For example, you can still find the original merchandise in shelves and cases at the Tunstall Store.

Renovation is an ever-present part of Lincoln. In 2009, the homes of the 1885 Sheriff James Brent and of Dr. Watson were both fully renovated. The work continued with plans to paint the exterior trim of the Old Lincoln County Courthouse (features museum exhibits on the 1878-79 War), the Tunstall Store and Montaño Store (a stronghold of the McSween faction in the War). The Torreon, a defensive tower where Murphy-Dolan sharpshooters were stationed, was getting re-plastered. And volunteers from Partners in Preservation were restoring the interior of the Fresquez House.

Three groups work together to preserve Lincoln’s history: Partners in Preservation, the Lincoln County Historical Society and the Old Lincoln Days Pageant Committee, which puts on the heritage festival every August. The groups also assist the State Monuments and the Department of Cultural Affairs on the 17 historic structures that comprise the Lincoln State Monument.

One of those buildings, the Old Lincoln Courthouse, is the birthplace of the legend of Billy the Kid, which is why Lincoln is a stop on the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway. Sheriff Pat Garrett captured the Kid near Taiban in December 1880. In April 1881, the Kid ended up in Lincoln, scheduled to hang for the murder of Sheriff William Brady. He was jailed in the second story of the courthouse when, on April 28, 1881, he escaped, killing Deputies James Bell and Bob Olinger on his way out.

Even the town’s bed and breakfasts are houses of history: the circa 1860 Casa de Patron, the 1876 Ellis Store and the Wortley Hotel, formerly owned by Pat Garrett and rebuilt on its original 1874 foundation in 1960. The favorite local eatery is the Dolan House, the former home of Jimmy Dolan, of the Murphy-Dolan faction.

To be able to walk into history is every Old West aficionado’s dream, and Lincoln affords you that golden opportunity. What the town could improve on is promoting itself better, especially on the World Wide Web. The State Monuments webpage is not enough to adequately share how unique and important the town of Lincoln truly is in the American West. Keep the town in the 19th-century, but utilize some of our 21st-century technology so that Lincoln will remain forever preserved.

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