Lincoln Historic Site

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Old Lincoln County Courthouse and Jail, where Billy the Kid was held
The Torreon, a rock fort tower where settlers hid during Indian raids

Lincoln State Monument was established in 1937 as a New Mexico State Monument, and is a part of a historic district in the tiny hamlet of Lincoln, New Mexico. Seventeen of the forty-eight structures in town are protected as part of the monument. Properties comprising the monument include Wright House, Dr. Wood's Office, Watson House, Curry Saloon, Wortley Hotel, Penfield Shop and Home, Tunstall Store, Old Mill, Ellis Store, Old Courthouse, Montano Store.

The entire town (including the remaining privately owned structures) is part of the Lincoln National Historic District that extends along U.S. Route 380 for 10 miles (16 km). The district was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.[1][2] The National Park Service reviewer of the site, who visited in 1974, believed, then, that it was the best preserved cow town in the United States.[2]


Lincoln looks much as it did during the Lincoln County War (1878–1881) when its single street was peopled with characters like Billy the Kid, John Chisum and Lawrence Murphy. Nestled in a valley between the Capitan and Sacramento Mountains of southcentral New Mexico, Lincoln was the scene of Billy the Kid's most famous escape in April 1881. Billy had been sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead and was being held prisoner in the Old Lincoln County Courthouse. Somehow he got hold of a six-shooter, killed the two deputies who were guarding him (Bell and Olinger), then stole a horse and rode out of town—only to be tracked down in Fort Sumner and shot dead two months later by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Although Billy the Kid was the most famous character in Lincoln during its violent heyday, he had only a supporting role in the larger story of the Lincoln County War. The "war" was a vicious struggle between two competing economic factions for control of lucrative government contracts and local resources. The two factions, Murphy-Dolan and Tunstall-McSween, fought a series of escalating battles with such murderous ferocity that the repercussions were felt as far away as the state capital Santa Fe and even in Washington, D.C.


Four of the museum buildings are open year round and two are opened seasonally.

  • Old Lincoln County Courthouse - Billy the Kid was held here. Exhibits show the building's use as a store, residence, Masonic Lodge and eventually courthouse and jail.
  • Tunstall Store - The store's original 19th century merchandise is on display.
  • Torreon - a 20-foot (6.1 m)-high round stone tower originally built near the center of town in the 1860s, served as a refuge during attacks by Mescalero Apaches.
  • Montano Store - Features exhibits on adobe construction and the Hispanic culture that was prevalent during the Lincoln County War.
  • San Juan Mission Church (La Iglesia de San Juan Bautista) - Built in 1887, the Roman Catholic Church is open to the public and is still used for services today.
  • Anderson-Freeman Visitors Center - A non-historical building with exhibits about the town's history starting with American Indian pre-history up to the Lincoln County War. A video details the history of the war.

Lincoln State Monument is located on U.S. Route 380 about 12 miles (19 km) east of Capitan and 57 miles (92 km) west of Roswell. New Mexico State Monuments are a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.


  1. ^ "Lincoln Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-12. 
  2. ^ a b Richard Greenwood (February 10, 1975). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Lincoln, New Mexico / Lincoln Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service.  and Accompanying 16 photos, from c. 1880 and 1974 PDF (32 KB)

External links[edit]

All of the following Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) documentation is filed under U.S. Highway 380, Lincoln, Lincoln County, NM: