Hero or outlaw? That’s the question you are left with when you hear the real story behind Billy the Kid and his nemesis, Pat Garrett. Welcome to Lincoln, New Mexico, in the county of Lincoln, and at the center of the Lincoln County War, waged in the late 1870’s. Like most wars, it was all about one group wanting something that another group had – in this case, land, money and power. Same old, same old. There was really no law in the New Mexican territory at that time. The county is the size of Ireland, and it had one sheriff. Anything went, and the guy with the fastest gun and the most gunslingers under his control had all the power.
Well, one poor Englishman came to town and thought that he could change the entrenched power structure, or at least carve out a piece for himself. When the inevitable happened and he got his, the boys who worked for him took offense. One of those angry lads – Billy the Kid.
The story goes on and on and Billy eventually killed two lawmen before he got caught, escaped from jail by killing two more, broke out of his leg irons, hid out for a few weeks and then finally got ambushed by Sheriff Pat Garrett. But, were those lawmen righteous upholders of justice or just the hired guns of the other side? The lines were drawn in a very murky way, thus Billy is allowed to live in our imaginations as a hero who fought for truth and justice, if you believe one of the 60 movies made about him so far. They also put on a pageant every year behind the courthouse to tell the story. That would be a kick.
The town has changed little since those days, and that makes it kind of a spooky place. Nothing is tarted up here, and the history all feels very recent. When Don asked the docent at the courthouse if descendants of both sides still lived in town, the answer was yes, and she is married to one. When asked if resentments still prevailed, she rolled her eyes and said yes, but that it was mostly limited to verbal confrontations. Thank goodness we didn’t see anyone there who was armed.
The next legend is truly one of the good guys. We were honored today to visit the birth forest and burial stone of that famous fighter for us all – Smokey the Bear.
The concept of Smokey was dreamed up by some crazy ad guys in the 40’s, as FDR wanted a campaign to stop forest fires. But the campaign really took off when a little bear cub was found hanging in a tree, and badly burned after surviving a vicious forest fire. An icon was born.
Smokey was now real, and very shortly after recuperating, he found himself an object of adoration for many years in the Washington National Zoo. After he died peacefully of old age, his body was returned to the town near where he was found, and we paid our respects with great affection.
More wonders were seen today, but they will have to wait for tomorrow, as I think I am spoiling you with too many goodies at once. But just to leave you with one more amazing sight, how about the largest pistachio nut in the world? (The one toward the right.)
Who knew that they had pistachio groves in New Mexico? Well, they do and we just had to buy some of their crop. Yummy!
And by the way, if Billy the Kid and Smokey the Bear don’t get a comment out of some of you, then I do not know what it will take. Interact, guys!!!!