Thursday, May 29, 2014

US Hwy 70: Lincoln, NM — A Cautionary Tale

A short drive west of Roswell lies Lincoln, NM, a lovely little historic town and one of the Old West's most storied areas.

It has a long and complicated history, which you can Google — or read any of the umpteen books about — if you find yourself interested in the details.

For our purposes, I'll synopsize it as a cautionary tale of opportunity, ambition, greed, corruption, violence and political intrigue. Here goes:

In 1855, federal troops established a fort in the area, with a mission to protect settlers from attack by previous inhabitants who were none too pleased about the invaders' adverse impact on their native land, hunting grounds, lifestyle, etc. Manifest destiny, after all, is never to be hindered in the least.

We all know there's a ton of money to be made supplying the military, just ask the folks at Halliburton, Blackwater, KBR or any other modern defense contractor.

This opportunity wasn't lost on some ambitious young men who set up a mercantile in a nearby settlement that later became known as Lincoln.

Surprise, surprise, they were backed by powerful local politicians (who were also investors) and a deputized group of gunmen known as "The Boys."

Too bad for them, their monopoly was soon challenged by a second set of entrepreneurs, one of whom was quickly murdered for his efforts. Go figure.

His allies — including the illustrious Billy the Kid and a local cattle baron — sought revenge by forming their own arm of the law called "The Regulators." County residents chose up sides and violent anarchy reigned.

Thus Lincoln gained the dubious distinction of being the most violent town in western America, prompting president Rutherford B. Hayes to call the single road through town "the most dangerous street in America."

To solve the problem, the president appointed a new governor of the territory who dispatched the local military to intervene and bring order and peace to the chaos and violence. Send in the cavalry!

Surprise, surprise, the military was quickly corrupted and backed one of the gangs. The havoc continued apace until ultimately resolved by a subsequent combination of civil/military authority which was motivated to quell the violence as a precursor to achieving statehood for New Mexico.

So what we have, in essence, may be America's earliest example of organized crime, mob/gang warfare, political corruption and military intervention. It's a cautionary tale, I think, of how government can cause a problem, use that problem to justify intervention, then exacerbate the problem in the process. To say the least, I had an enjoyable and informative day delving into the story!

My exploration was greatly aided by two factors. First, modern day Lincoln is a very well preserved historical locale, with many original or faithfully restored buildings. They are well documented by signage and include ample exhibits. If you're ever nearby, I strongly recommend a lengthy visit.

If you visit, take full advantage of the second great aid to exploration: the people who live and work in Lincoln. I found everyone in the lively community of state history employees, local shopkeepers and various artists to be well-informed, enthusiastic and generous with their time and knowledge of the town and its history. No matter how good the "stuff" is, the people are always better!

I'd like to give special thanks to Annmarie "Little Annie" LaMay for fueling my exploration with caffeine and knocking me out with the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had. Also to Linda Caperton for sharing her exquisite fabric art and her infectious joie de vivre. Thank you, ladies!

After all the nothingness of the Texas panhandle and the disappointment of Roswell, my visit to Lincoln was truly a bright spot in my exploration universe. Later today I'll post a story about my visit to the nearby fort that was the cause -- or at least at the center -- of the Lincoln drama… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great write-up,Mac! We all really enjoyed your visit and hope you'll make Lincoln a regular stop whenever you're in southern NM. Don"t forget "A Taste of Thai" while you're in Roswell,it is truly a bright spot! Best to you and Happy,Annie & Linda