Travel back in time to the days when the West was a lawless place, overrun with gunslingers. See where the events you were supposed to pay attention to in history class actually took place! This road trip offers dramatic stories, fascinating stops, and absolutely no pop quizzes. So what are you waiting for?
This drive traverses the state, covering 643 miles, with a driving time of 10 hours and 49 minutes, without stops – you’ll want to break this up over several days. Here is
1. Clayton Cemetery, Clayton
Meet your first outlaw. His real name is Thomas Edward Ketchum, but he’s better known as Black Jack Ketchum. He led his own gang and committed several train robberies, scoring $60,000 worth of gold and silver in one haul alone. His train robbery habit earned him the death penalty – although it didn’t help that he admitted to having committed murder-for-hire. Ketchum was killed in Clayton in a botched official hanging that resulted in decapitation.
2. Cimarron (the town as a whole and the St. James Hotel in particular)
You might have heard of the Lincoln County War, but did you know there was also a Colfax County War that took place between 1875 and 1878? On one side of this range war were the owners of the Maxwell Land Grant and on the other side were settlers who’d occupied the land for years. This accounted for some of the violence for which Cimarron became infamous.
However, legends of the Wild West also passed through town, including Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Black Jack Ketchum, and the Earp brothers. These men stayed at the haunted St. James Hotel, a place that saw a lot of violence – bullet holes are still visible in the ceiling. Hanging on the hotel’s walls are short bios of some of those who lost their lives here.
3. Las Vegas
At one point this northern New Mexico town was one of the most notable places in the Southwest. Since Las Vegas was a travel hub, many people came here, including folks like Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate, and Wyatt Earp.
Las Vegas' most notorious gang leader was Vicente Silva, a local businessman who secretly ran a large criminal enterprise. When his respectable façade began to crumble, Silva killed one of his gang members, along with his brother-in-law, and his own wife. Silva’s men turned on him, shooting him to death.
Las Vegas is one of the best-preserved places in New Mexico and the hundreds of historic buildings help you to imagine what life here was like at the end of the 19th century – be sure to check out the Plaza Hotel.
4. Old Fort Sumner Cemetery, Fort Sumner
Both Charlie Bowdre and Billy the Kid are buried in Fort Sumner; Pat Garrett shot both men.
The final resting place of Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney or Billy the Kid, is in in the Old Fort Sumner Cemetery… somewhere. During a flood grave markers drifted away so, although his remains are in this cemetery, they may not be under his headstone. Incidentally, the grave is surrounded by bars because people kept stealing The Kid’s headstone.
It’s not entirely clear what crimes Charlie Bowdre may have committed. However, he was friends with Billy the Kid and took part in the Lincoln County War.
President Rutherford B. Hayes once called Lincoln’s main street "the most dangerous street in America." This was because of the Lincoln County War, which occurred here between 1878 and 1881. What was basically a dispute over business dominance turned bloody when John Henry Tunstall was murdered.
The town split into two groups. Those who wanted revenge for Tunstall’s killing were called The Regulators (this included Billy the Kid). Those on the Murphy/Dolan side included the sheriff and his deputies, along with the Jesse Evans gang.
Over the following five months roughly a quarter of Lincoln’s population was murdered.
Wander around the 17 structures and outbuildings that remain and imagine the events that occurred here.
If you’re looking to break up your drive in Lincoln, you might want to stay at the
Ellis Store and Co. B&B (U.S. 380 Mile Marker 98, Lincoln). Here you can book into a room where Billy the Kid was held captive for two weeks.
6. Fox Cave, Ruidoso Downs/Glencoe
Fox Cave is now a wonderfully kooky roadside attraction where you can pose with giant hands or dinosaurs. Inside this cave gift shop, you’ll find plenty of rocks, geodes, salt lamps, jewelry… and one of Pat Garrett’s guns. Billy the Kid is rumored to have used Fox Cave as a hideout when he was on the lam!
7. Flying J Ranch, Alto
To really bring history to life, make a pit stop at Flying J Ranch, where there’s a mock up of an Old West town. The supper and music show here includes a gunfight in the street (family-friendly). The season runs between Memorial Day and Labor Day and it’s best to make a reservation.
For more info.
8. Blazer Cemetery, Mescalero
Here you’ll find the graves of two men who lost their lives during the Lincoln County War. Andrew L. Roberts, a.k.a. Buckshot Roberts, got involved in the dispute. During the Gunfight of Blazer’s Mills, he killed Richard (Dick) Brewer. Roberts was on the Murphy/Dolan side of the war, while Brewer headed up the Regulators. Roberts was then shot and died from his wounds. Roberts and Brewer are buried next to each other.
In terms of Billy the Kid lore, Mesilla is famous because the outlaw was sentenced to death in the town’s courthouse - part of which is now the Billy the Kid Gift Shop. This charming village is also brimming with history and lovely architecture.
10. The Masonic Cemetery, Las Cruces
The last stop on your road trip through history is at this cemetery, where Pat Garrett was laid to rest. Garrett was actually murdered and, despite a confession, many historians view this crime as unsolved.
Even if you don’t have time for an entire road trip, you might be able to squeeze in a visit to one of these
10 Wild West towns in New Mexico.