Step back in time in Lincoln, New Mexico, one of the best preserved towns in the US. Visit the 19th century historic sites and find out why Billy the Kid was a wanted man in the Lincoln Country War.
Lincoln County War
It’s hard to believe now, but during the Lincoln County War this quaint small town was once home to the most dangerous street in America. This war in Lincoln, New Mexico involved two competing business interests led by established James Dolan and newcomers John Turnstall and Alexander McSween. The dispute escalated in 1978 when John Turnstall was murdered by the Evans Gang.
A tit-for-tat set of murders pursued over the next several months, and was highlighted by the presence of Billy the Kid with the Regulators that teamed up with Alexander McSween. This came to a climax in the Battle of Lincoln where McSween was murdered in a 5 day shootout.
Billy the Kid managed to escape, and was tracked by Lincoln Sheriff Pat Garrett for the next two years. The Lincoln County War ended when Billy the Kid was shot and killed in 1881.
Lincoln Historic Site
The Lincoln Historic Site consists of 9 buildings, with 5-7 museums open to visitors. You may walk up and down one-street Lincoln for free, but it costs $5 to enter the period buildings.
Pay at the Anderson-Freeman Visitor Center and Museum where you can also learn about the local history including Native Americans and the Lincoln County War, and watch an informative video that runs every half hour.
The restored buildings on display are open from 9 am to 5 pm each day. They are only closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Easter. Here are some of the historical buildings you will find.
- Montano Store – This previous store has been converted to a museum that focuses on Hispanic culture and adobe construction.
- Earliest Courthouse – This was the original courthouse, but now belongs to the adjacent church.
- La Iglesia de San Juan-Bautista – This church is still active today.
- McSween’s House Location – The original house was burned down, and never rebuilt. A sign marks the location.
- Courthouse Museum – This building served as the Murphy-Dolan Store, and later a courthouse and jail. There is even a bullet hole rumored to have been shot by Billy the Kid during an escape inside.
- Tunstall Store Museum – This store features original merchandise from the 19th Century still on display.
- Torreon – This defensive tower still stands guard over Lincoln.
Lincoln, New Mexico Hotels
Although you can stay and eat in Lincoln, you are better off staying in a larger nearby town. We chose to stay at Travelodge in Ruidoso to be close to our first stop of Smokey Bear Historical Park. Rooms start at $35.
Airbnb also lists many places to stay in Lincoln, Ruidoso and around but there are no hostels in the area.
Plan Your New Mexico Road Trip
There are plenty of excellent outdoor and cultural attractions in New Mexico – pick up a guidebook and start planning!
Before we visited Lincoln, New Mexico we made a quick stop at the gravesite of the original Smokey Bear.
After Lincoln we popped in for a quick look around Roswell and then spent the rest of the day at Carlsbad Caverns.
The day before we visited:
There are so many interesting national parks and places to visit in New Mexico that you’ll need as many days as you can spare.
Although the U.S. is a relatively safe country for travel, medical costs are high so if you’re an international visitor we recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip. We’ve been using World Nomads through 80+ countries over the past 12 years and have been really happy with their coverage and services.
For more details check out our World Nomads review here.
Know Before You Go
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
Fees: $5 per adult
Duration: 1-2 hours
Hotel: Travelodge in Ruidoso (starting at $35)
Nearest Large City: Roswell at 57 miles or a 1 hour drive from Lincoln
Website: Lincoln Historic Site
Phone Number: (575) 653-4025
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Visited in October 2018