Monday, April 21, 2008

Chasing Down Billy the Kid

I awake to find Chris making coffee and saying that the posse is getting ready to get the kid. Ed saunters over and soon enough we see Whip come in. I get a quick shower and am excited because other then movies like “John Chisum", and “Young Guns”, I am only vaguely aware of the exploits of the Lincoln County Wars. Today is the day I am going to get the facts and with the Lawman in tow, I know justice will prevail.

Whip cleans his weapon of choice while Ed entertains us with stories from South Texas. Where is the Lawman? I mean we brought him along just to make sure we could really call ourselves a Posse.

He arrives not unlike great peace officers of the past. I can’t tell if it is more Barney Fife or Quick Draw McGraw with Ed being Baba Looey, Matt Dillon has nothing to worry about.

We get into a conversation about how Larry won’t carry at a gun in his store usually but it diverges into the fact that Larry is the last shop keeper in Texas that wants all shoplifters arrested and will prosecute them. The Lawman is adamant that if you steal you need to go to jail. I reason that some folks make mistakes and should be treated leniently. He won't budge on his position. This is important folks, the Lawman knows all about the justice system in the West.

We mosey on up to the bikes and saddle up to ride off to get some grub at the log cabin. Chasing a legend will be tough work so we better get some vittles.

Larry thinks this will be a picnic but looking at the Lawman’s eyes tells another story. We are going to look for clues and get to the bottom of this like all great posses do. I keep asking myself what would Dan Blocker do? Will I have the fortitude to not be scared if it comes to a fight. Should I get Belgian Waffles or Steak and Eggs?

We mount up and head off to find the trail. We come upon the first stop near the horse track. A note about Ruidoso, it is really famous for Ruidoso Downs which for many years had a larger purse then any of the triple crown races including the Kentucky Derby. They still race quarter horses there regularly in the summer.

We hear there are artifacts here from Billy The Kids adventures

A couple of cool wagons. I have never seen them in color which is interesting since my vision of the west is mostly black and white from growing up watching old movies.

They “pimped” their rides back then too it appears

This Kachina Chess set is worthy

A clue! Whoohoo we are on the trail! I better go find Whip and the Lawman. The lawman is real interested in my find. Like Hoss, I give him the ah shucks it was nothing routine.

Whip is daydreaming…I hope

He does eventually graduate to having a turn on Mr. Ed

The pony’s are ready to gallop but where to next? I have to think fast. I see a building across the parking lot that claims to be the Billy the Kid Visitor center. I go in and meet Jackie Stroud. She is a real pistol and tells me all about the history of the area and what I need to go see in Lincoln. She is wonderful and as soon as Larry and Chris come in we are chatting like old pals. I am sad now that I do not take a picture of her as she is one of the hidden gems of Ruidoso. We decide to follow the signs

The sign..

As I ride into the town of Lincoln I am surprised that it looks like a small town, not a tourist city like say Tombstone. We look at the place and decide to park in the middle of town.

This feels like the old West. I keep thinking that John Wayne walked these streets, heck Billy the Kid Walked these streets. Men died here by the Kids gun. Maybe even the one in the museum. Yet somehow I want it to be more immersive. Every time a Buick drives by I cringe a little.

This area is home to the Mescalero Apaches and they didn’t feel like sharing with the Spanish or the Anglos. Fort Stanton was founded near here and Kitt Carson commanded the troops which is pretty cool. This is also an outpost that had Buffalo Soldiers.
A better description of the tower above

The story of the real John Chisum

As we get into the State Park Headquarters we meet Beverly Hammond. Now Bev, I quickly get to be on first name basis with her, is one of those rare treats. Someone who you literately come upon traveling that in a few minutes tells you about her life and you completely memorized by it. I ask her about the town and the history. She is 82 years young and was born and raised in Lincoln. "Being a child in Lincoln was great" Bev says. She relates to us about how they sat in the tower and used to shoot cow pies with Daisy Air rifles. “The explode Tom” she exclaims as if she would be willing to take me out and show me right now if I could come up with the proper gun and obliging bovine.

We talk about the Lincoln county war and she has opinions about all the players which seems to make them all the more real. Like all things there are shades of gray with everyone involved in the fighting. We start to talk of films and I ask her if she ever saw John Wayne here when they made the movie “Chisum”. She hisses “The real Chisum was a cheat and a tyrant! But John Wayne used to send me Christmas Cards.” I tell her that I can’t keep Jennifer Aniston from calling me all the time either so I relate. She tells me “no I mean it” It appears that Bev was at one time a stewardess with United Airlines. And she had the great honor of spilling breakfast all over the Duke as he was returning from filming “The Quiet Man” in Ireland. That is one of my favorite films and her telling me about the incident makes it more personal now should I see it on Turner Classic Movies again.

Don’t fret Bev married a rich lawyer from Philadelphia and ran into Mr. Wayne several years later in Acapulco and they struck up a friendship on his yacht. That story is as glorious as the breakfast one and I don't want to leave. There is however a line at the counter now of those people from the damn Buicks waiting to get in. As much as I want to ignore them, etiquette gets the better of me and I move on to the museum. This lady is way better then finding the ghost of William “Billy the Kid” Bonnet. Her story and actions with us is the kind of gift you never see coming and reaffirms that almost anyone you meet has a glorious story if you take the time to listen.

We wander down to the Tunstall Mercantile to have a look at the store that started the war. It is stocked with merchandise from the era. Again the color seems so much more pronounced then I imagine.

Ok so marketing has come a long way since the 1880’s I admit

Not a lot of charts and graphs but the prices aren’t that far off considering it was 110 years ago. Not sure what the amount was though for the goods. While I think I may have been something of a rouge back then, odds are I would have been a merchant.

We came looking for a outlaw and leave finding a stewardess who knew the Duke. I am happy. Later on we ride through Cloudcroft back to Ruidoso on a fun road. The next morning it is up early and we make tracks back to Arizona while the Texans have one more adventure without us. As soon as Whip shares that with our motorcycle friends I will post the story.

The tale of the tape shows that I have ridden 1200 miles on the GT as I pull into the garage. Coming home we take the Northern route and fight the wind. We see one cop until the last 100 miles when I count 6 on the road. New Mexico never disappoints me.

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