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The Bloodiest Street in America

There is a small, tranquil city nestled in between two mountains in a narrow canyon. This is the town of Lincoln, NM. It appears to be a small, rural, and peaceful town on the outside. But this street has many dark stories to tell. The historical fight that earned that street the bloodiest street in America lasted four days and is depicted so that it could be called the epitome of a Wild West Shootout. 

The Bloodiest Street in America

In the 1800s, the town of Lincoln had about 800 people. It doubled in size in just a few short years. Ranching opportunities and mining were some of the reasons this area of the country was growing so quickly. It didn’t take long for it to attract outlaws and nefarious criminals of all kinds, all of them looking to take advantage of the hard work of others.

(Photo by iStock)

The Beginning

The chaos began with an argument between two influential men in the town. A businessman named Alexander McSween and an attorney named Lawrence Murphy. The two men had business dealings and began to argue over cattle and a mercantile business. It was pretty common knowledge that Murphy was a crime boss in the area. The disagreement between the two first occurred in the mid-1870s. The two men didn’t see eye to eye on how business should be conducted in the small town. McSween wanted to be sure that law and order were upheld, but Murphy wanted something else. Their bickering went back and forth until it grew violent. 

As time went on, a few infamous gangs began to surface in this area. These included Jesse James and, eventually, Billy the Kid. The bickering between the two men continued to grow until it came to a head in the summer of 1878. By that time, the two men had already prepared for war. McSween and Murphy both had hired gangs for protection. Murphy hired The “James Gang,” and McSween chose a group of men known as the “Regulators.”

These men were under the direction of John Chisum, who was a local cattleman, and they took the law into their own hands. They referred to themselves as a group of vigilantes but were outlaws of the worst kind. The star of the Regulators was Billy the Kid; he quickly became the head of the gang as he was highly prolific with guns and was intelligent and crafty. Murphy also had Sheriff Brady and deputies in his pocket. The townspeople were also divided in the crossfire of the fight between McSween and Murphy. 

The Heat Increases

The pivotal moment between these two parties was when one incident sent Billy the Kid into an uncontrollable rage. That moment was when Sheriff Brady shot and killed McSween’s partner at the behest of Murphy. It is unclear whether this move was calculated or a last-minute decision. Either way, it certainly made an impression. The murder didn’t sit well with Billy the Kid, and he decided to take matters into his own hands. He first attempted to confront Brady about the incident and call him out on what he did. Instead, the Sheriff would have nothing to do with Billy, so he shot the Sheriff, killing him. It was that murder that spurred the actual “Battle of Lincoln County” and made that street so dangerous at one point in time. 

Today the town is quiet, maintains each historical building, and is in a beautiful, tranquil setting.
(Photo by Skillset Staff)

The Battle Starts

From the point of the confrontation between Billy the Kid and Sheriff Brady, the battle began. The brutal shootout lasted for four entire days, from July 15-19, 1878. Murphy, who had law enforcement in his pocket, even called out the Army to help his side of the fight. As the battle continued, McSween and his gang were eventually trapped in their own homes. Many of them died in this location, including Mqueen, but Billy the Kid remained alive. 

From there, there was a bounty of $500 for Billy for the murders he had committed. After being on the run for a few months, he was eventually caught, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. Though caught and in custody, the violence did not stop there. While the new Sheriff, Pat Garrett, who had become Sheriff after Brady’s death, was looking for the lumber to use to make gallows to hang “Billy the Kid” was working on a way out. 

The Great Escape

While sitting in his jail cell, he slipped his handcuffs off and left the Lincoln County Courthouse building from the second floor. While doing so, a deputy spotted him, and Billy shot him with his duty rifle. Today, there is a marker where the deputy bled out next to the courthouse.

As he continued to make his escape, he retrieved a gun that had been hidden in an outhouse by a cohort of his.  

He managed to avoid capture for three months before being spotted in southern New Mexico. Sheriff Garrett traveled to the Fort Sumner area where Billy the Kid allegedly hid. It was there at that spot that Sheriff Garrett shot and killed the outlaw. Billy was said to have killed 21 people before his death at 21 years old.

The death toll in the little town of Lincoln was so high in such a short amount of time, which is the reason it was named the Bloodiest Street in America at one time. However, the Battle of Lincoln and the homicides of deputies were not the only sources of dark history associated with this town.

Weird History

There is a reason New Mexico was once considered the Wild West. Another famous murder that has some connection with Lincoln, NM, was the murder of the Fountains. The Fountains were a prominent family in New Mexico who resided originally in Lincoln. They later made their way south in the state, but their connection to the town that held the epic Wild West battle is intriguing. Though this family was not involved in the Battle of Lincoln, they did have a connection to this town and later experienced bloodshed. The incidents have yet to be officially figured out to this day.

Today there is a marker where the deputy bled out next to the courthouse.
(Photo by Skillset Staff)

The Deaths Continue

Albert J. Fountain came from New York but found his way to New Mexico, like so many others, in search of fortune.  He was a lawyer and made more enemies, apparently, than most. He soon found that a group of men were illegally branding cattle. Fountain went to the Lincoln County Courthouse to make a formal complaint in 1896. His son, Henry, was with him at the time. While at the courthouse, Fountain received death threats. The threat stated that Fountain should drop his complaint about the illegal cattle branding activity, or he may not make it home to Las Cruces (a town a few hours south of Lincoln) 

As father and son traveled home from the courthouse, they disappeared a few miles from their destination. Twelve miles down the road, their wagon, which appeared to have been robbed, sat. The only evidence at the scene was blood and a few random horse trails.

The Sheriff brought in to help with the investigation was none other than Pat Garrett. Three years later, a few suspects turned themselves in. However, they were found not guilty. Many rumors have circulated regarding these murders. Were they robbed and killed as retaliation or just random happenstance? Unfortunately, we may never know the truth.

Ghost Towns

Today, the town is quiet, full of historical buildings and old ghost stories of the Wild West. One would never guess it was once considered the most dangerous and bloodiest street in America.  Wild West towns full of shootouts and murder lie in every state in the American northwest. These towns represent an era of a time gooney when people would do anything to stake their claim to fame and fortune.

If you enjoy this Wild West tale, consider reading: The Hole in the Wall Gang

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