Lincoln County was created in 1869, by act of the territorial legislature, from the eastern portion of Dona Ana County. Named after the great Civil War President, the new county, comprising over 27,000 acres, covered nearly one-fifth of the entire territory. It was the largest county in the United States. Its area was estimated as being greater than that of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont combined.
The county seat was located in the New Mexico village known as La Placita del Rio Bonito, settled by Hispanos in the early 1850's. It was in the old Mescalero Apache range. The Mescalero strongholds lay in the Sacramento, Guadalupe and Davis Mountains, and they ranged east across the Pecos to hunt buffalo. The Mexican settlers, after three failed attempts, established a permanent settlement of small jacales, or huts of upright poles bound with withes and then plastered with mud, around a plaza in which stood a stone torreon, constructed in the first attempt at settlement as a place of refuge during Indian raids. The Spanish name of the town meant "the little town by the pretty river", however, the settlement was more commonly referred to simply as La Placita. In 1869, when Lincoln County was established, the name of the town was changed to Lincoln by the territorial fathers.
This land area included the Pecos River, one of the five major river drainages in the territory and the only significant one in the southeastern portion of New Mexico. Because riparian land was essential to the growing agricultural and stock businesses, the Pecos, with its tributaries, including the Rio Hondo, Rio Bonito and Rio Penasco, became the focal point for economic development in Lincoln County. Gradually, more and more stock enterprises moved west from Texas into the open territory of southeastern New Mexico with its abundance of native grasses and available water. Both the large numbers of men engaged in cattle stealing and the infrequent raids by Comanches and discontented Mescalero Apaches were continuing headaches for ranchers and farmers.
These disturbances form a general background to the county's most notorious outbreak of violence known as the Lincoln County War. It began in 1878 and dragged on until 1881. The war really began with the prominent ex-soldiers in the west side of the county. Most of these men were foreign-born and had come into the area with Carleton's California Column during the Civil War. They saw the opportunities for profit in land and business, and they stayed. They were newcomers pushing and shoving to make a place for themselves; not one of the principal actors in the Lincoln County War was a native of New Mexico. Learn More...