It may not be as well-known as Tombstone, Arizona, or Deadwood, South Dakota, but Lincoln ranks right up there with the toughest of the tough old towns of the Old West. Mellowing with age, the notorious one-street town has become a National Historic Landmark and a state monument. A single ticket ($5) still grants entry to all attractions (you can purchase the ticket at Historic Lincoln Center, Tunstall Store Museum, or Lincoln County Courthouse Museum).

The violent, gang-style Lincoln County War consumed this region between 1878 and 1881, as two factions, the Tunstall-McSween and the Murphy-Dolan groups, clashed over lucrative government contracts to provide food for the U.S. Army at Fort Stanton and area Native American reservations. The local conflict made national news, and President Hayes ordered Lew Wallace, governor of New Mexico, to settle the conflict. One of the more infamous figures to emerge from the bloodshed was a short, slight, sallow young man with buckteeth, startling blue eyes, and curly reddish-brown hair called Billy the Kid.

He is said to have killed 21 men (probably an exaggeration), including Lincoln County's sheriff William Brady—for whose murder he was convicted in 1881 and sentenced to hang. Billy managed to elude the gallows. On April 28, 1881, though manacled and shackled, he made a daring escape from the old Lincoln County Courthouse, gunning down two men and receiving cheers from townspeople who supported his group, the Tunstall-McSweens. Three months later a posse led by Sheriff Pat Garrett tracked down Billy at a home in Fort Sumner, surprised him in the dark, and finished him off with two clean shots. One of the West's most notorious gunmen, and ultimately one of its best-known folk legends, was dead at age 21.

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