Apr 9 - Chasing Billy the Kid

  • Explored  Sacramento Mountains, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, Lincoln State Monument Historic Site
  • Toad Miles Today: 285
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12: 318
  • Tonight's camp: Bottomless Lakes State Park
  • Weather: low: 50  high: 88 (cooler in the mountains); some sun, some clouds, distant thunderstorms later in the day.
  • Notables: 1. Pondering the lives of early natives; 2. How tenuous "law and order" is... how close we are to anarchy when just a few things go wrong; 3. "just a short distance" means one thing in the East and something completely different in the wide-open West.

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William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid.
It was a miscalculation on our part... got suckered in with the "it's just a little further to..." line of thinking when we planned our exploring day today. First stop was the visitor center in Roswell to pick up the latest maps and some info on the Sante Fe area, where we're going next. Then, of course, there was a not so quick stop at McDonald's to get online and post a couple updates to the blog. So it wasn't till after 10am that we were on the road, heading west from Roswell in the general direction of Ruidoso. The plan, faulty as it was, was to drive to the furthest point and work our way back.

The miles clicked by as we crossed the open range land that separates Roswell from the Ruidoso area... at least 60 of them before we were in the mountains and feeling like we were in new country. We slid through Ruidoso Downs (very touristy) and only stopped once to snag a quick lunch at a casino before continuing... another 30 or more miles to Tularosa. Then north on US-54 between Alamogordo and Carrizozo, about 20 miles, to the turn-off for the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Site.

Operated by the BLM, there's nothing fancy here. A small temporary-looking building that serves as an office, a volunteer that staffs the place, a gravel parking lot, and a small camping area where it's possible to stay overnight for little or nothing depending on your age and the credentials you happen to have. There's a path, about a half mile, that leads to the site. They say there are over 20,000 petroglyphs here. I didn't count them but I can report that there are petroglyphs on almost every other exposed rock on the hill that is the centerpiece of facility. The story is that they were done by early natives about 1,000 years ago. They were done by rubbing away the dark brown... almost black... weathered surface patina of the rock and exposing the much lighter material beneath.

We snapped way too many photos. At first, you snap one of anything you see. Then, realizing someone (Dar) is going to have to go through these, you become more discriminating. But then you see a really good one. And then you see one even better than that. The next thing you know there are hundreds of photos to process.

I picture young natives... just one, or a few, or a group?.. that were the "delinquents" of the time, escaping parents and the camp to be by themselves, finding satisfaction in expressing themselves by leaving these marks... drawings... something they could point at and feel satisfaction that they've created something outside themselves. Not unlike the taggers, graffiti vandals, and artists of our current culture. It's a natural thing, I believe, to create, to want to leave something that might endure... a legacy perhaps. Who knows, perhaps hundreds of years from now, after our culture has vanished, they'll have "ancient" scratchings on chunks of tile walls hauled to museums where future folks will gaze at in amazement... wondering who Sally was, what those numbers were next to her name, and why she was so well  known for a "good time".

By the time we were done exploring at Three Rivers, we knew our day was in trouble. Our initial objective for the day was to see Lincoln and learn more about the dark period in western history known as the Lincoln County War. But it was now after 3pm and we were still about an hour from Lincoln. Unsure what time they close the museums and buildings, we decided to "hot foot" it over there and skip the stop at Valley of Fires and Fort Stanton. And it was a good thing we did.

When we skidded to a stop in front of the first historic building we came to in Lincoln it was 4pm. We found out they close everything at 4:30pm. The next half hour was a blur... snapping photos of displays we'd read later... taking in the old structures... trying to capture the essence of the place.

The story of the Lincoln County War is a long and involved one. And there are plenty of online resources if you'd like to read more about it. Let me attempt here to provide an overview.

The "war" was essentially a battle between two business factions... one lead by a fellow named Murphy and the other by a new competitor named Tunstall. Other characters involved, on one side or the other, were William Bonney (Billy the Kid), Pat Garrett, John Chisum, General John Pershing, and many others. It went on for about 3 years, drew national attention, and involved Governors and a President. Of all the murders, thefts, and property destruction during the war, only one man, Billy the Kid, was ever tried, convicted, and sentenced. And in many ways, he was just a relatively minor player and bore an unfair share of the blame for what went on.

By the time we dragged ourselves back to camp we had logged 285 miles... far more than anticipated, and far more than ideal.




Historic building in Lincoln NM. One housed the Murphy business and later, the County Courthouse and jail. Billy the Kid escaped from here in 1881, killing two deputies in the process.

The Tunstall business, the newcomer that was the cause of ill feelings that began the Lincoln County War.

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