Today in History: Billy the Kid’s Last Jailbreak

Billy the Kid

On this day in 1881, the renowned Billy the Kid escaped from the Lincoln County jail in Lincoln, New Mexico.  Many have heard of The Kid, but not many know about his life story.   Most of his notoriety that grew into legendary proportions happened because of his numerous jailbreaks, and his accuracy in shooting, and illustrated stories that were published in dime novels popular in the day. In New Mexico, this was all a part of what became known as the Lincoln County War, where various merchants in the region vied for lucrative military contracts and their motley crew of employees, later glorified as Hollywood’s “Young Guns” were in frequent wild western gun battles.   In spring of  1881, toward the end of the Lincoln County War, William Bonney was jailed in Lincoln,  having been tried for the murder of Sheriff William Brady.  He would escape one last time from the courthouse jail on April 28th, killing Deputies JW Bell and R. Olinger on his way.  Billy headed out to lie low with friends near Fort Sumner.  It was in this area that a few short months later, Billy would meet his end when killed by the Sheriff Pat Garrett.

You can watch Billy the Kid related videos on our Youtube channel.

Today in History: Father José Manuel Gallegos

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives negative number #9982

A most interesting early civic leader of New Mexico was Father José Manuel Gallegos, whose life chronicles some amazing historical events.. He was born in Abiqiu in 1815, while Nuevo Mexico was still part of New Spain. He was ordained as a priest in 1840 after study in Durango, Mexico, and began serving a parish church in Albuquerque.  He then stood for election and served in the Mexican Legislative Assembly for the Department of Nuevo Mexico from 1843-1846, and then after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American War and New Mexico became a US territory, Gallegos was elected to the first Territorial Council in 1851. That same year, following a power struggle between local priests and the new Archbishop Lamy, Gallegos devoted himself to government entirely after Lamy removed him from his church. By 1853, Gallegos won election to serve as territorial delegate to Congress in Washington DC.  He was elected to a second term, but his seat was contested, as was his loyalty to the United States, and it was claimed that he only had a majority of voters because of fraudulent Mexican voters. Voter fraud was never proven, but he was denied the election because of these claims and Gallegos came home to New Mexico.  He returned to the New Mexico territorial government, serving as a legislator, treasurer and other offices, and one more stint in Congress. 

He died in Santa Fe on April 21, 1875.   

Today in History: Black Sunday

 Dust storm, by Dorothea Lange, 1935. It was conditions of this sort which forced many farmers to abandon the area. Spring 1935. New Mexico | Library of Congress (

 All but forgotten today, dust storms hit New Mexico hard in the 1930’s.  The Depression was difficult enough, but the dust bowl covered large swaths of the eastern New Mexico plains, as well as the midwest.  Come explore our exhibits on the lower level where we explore the impact of the Depression and the severe weather phenomena on life and survival in New Mexico. in the 1930’s.  Dorothea Lange took the photograph above when she worked for the Farm Security Agency and wrote, “Dust storm. It was conditions of this sort which forced many farmers to abandon the area. Spring 1935. New Mexico,”    Image Courtesy of Library of Congress     

Read more here:: The Black Sunday Dust Storm of April 14, 1935.   And watch this short video: The Dust Bowl | Black Sunday | PBS

Today in History

President Abraham Lincoln was born on this day in 1809.

The Library does not have any archival material from the 16th president*, so instead today we’re sharing the stories behind his namesakes in New Mexico.

Map of the Territory of New Mexico

Lincoln County was created by the territorial legislature in 1869 to honor the president. It was originally much larger than today (see pink county in the middle of the map). Chavez, Eddy and Otero Counties were carved out of it, reducing it to its current size today.

The town of Lincoln, formerly known as La Placita Del Rio Bonito, was one of the largest towns in the region that became Lincoln County. It was the county seat until the county offices were moved to Carrizozo in 1909. Lincoln county came to fame/ infamy with the Lincoln County Wars, 1878-1881.

Lincoln Forest Reserve, named for the town and county (both of which were named after the president, so we’re including it) was created in 1902, and renamed “Lincoln National Forest” in 1918.

For more information check out Lincoln Historic Site

*If you have something of President Lincoln’s and are interested in donating, please email us (

Information from “Place Names of New Mexico” by Robert Julyan.

Book cover of “The Place Names of New Mexico” by Robert Julyan

Today in History

Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts near Fort Union, New Mexico
Photographer: Wyatt Davis
Date: 1939?
From the New Mexico Magazine collection,Negative Number HP.2007.20.105

On this day in history, Jan. 29, 1822, William Becknell, founder of the Santa Fe Trail, returns to Franklin, Missouri, after his first trading expedition to Santa Fe. Legend has it that Spanish gold and silver coins fell from his leather pouch onto the streets, sparking a “trade rush.”