Gary Herron

Like most of you, I feel gypped this year, mostly because I’d been unable to take a legitimate vacation.

I saved five vacation days for just that, but used 10 during my surgery and ensuing recovery days in the spring. I still have five days remaining, but I’m not planning to enjoy them like I would normally do.

The “gypped” part refers to us missing Wyatt Earp Days in Tombstone, Ariz., at the end of May and what was to be our fourth annual trip to Creede, Colo., over Labor Day. I guess you could add in the Rio Rancho High School football opener, originally set for late August in Flagstaff, but canceled — like so many other things — because of the pandemic. In fact, 10 of my 15 vacation days for 2020 were spent during my spring surgery and week of recovery.

So, to celebrate the end of my 12 sessions of chemotherapy, we took a day trip last Saturday, headed to historic Lincoln, possibly my favorite place in the state.

If you aren’t familiar with Lincoln, think Billy the Kid. He survived being in a home, belonging to shopkeeper Alexander McSween, that was besieged by gunfire and then burned to the ground in 1878. And three years later, he made his “final escape” from where he was being held on April 28, prior to being hanged on May 13, in the two-story courthouse.

Along the way, he killed his jailer, Deputy J.W. Bell, after requesting a trip to the outhouse and then battling Bell on the steps back to where he was being held; The Kid — often called William Antrim and William Bonney in the history books — got Deputy Bob Olinger’s loaded shotgun.

Then the Kid went back to the second story, where he’d been shackled. And he waited.

Olinger was reportedly across the street, where a handful of less-troublesome prisoners were under his watch and eating lunch at the Wortley Hotel. Olinger, of course, couldn’t miss hearing the gunshots that killed his buddy and headed toward the courthouse.

This building was once the Murphy-Dolan store, then the courthouse. The Kid shot Deputy Bob Olinger from the second-story window in the shade, at left. A marker below it shows where Olinger died from the double-barrel blast — from his own gun. Gary Herron photo.

Looking up at the second-floor window, he saw The Kid and heard him say, “Hello, Bob,” or something like that before he, too, was killed. The Kid later told villagers he didn’t want to kill anyone, although Olinger had been a mean, nasty deputy, and would kill anyone who attempted to stop him from fleeing.

After being tossed off a horse he planned to use for an escape, The Kid had one of Olinger’s prisoners bring him another steed, and he reportedly rode off, singing happily.

Although friends he later stayed with after his escape had advised him to seek safety in Mexico, The Kid instead headed to Ft. Sumner, where he had a girl friend, Paulita Maxwell.

On the night of July 14, Sheriff Pat Garrett and his men surrounded the home where The Kid was, and Garrett eventually entered the dark bedroom, where he killed The Kid.

Lincoln still looks much the same as it did 139 years ago; I like to think if The Kid was resurrected, he’d see a lot of familiar sites, although nothing is left of where the McSween home once stood.

After visiting the Lincoln cemetery at the east end of town, we drove to White Oaks, where The Kid apparently enjoyed shooting his gun into the air, and capped it with green-chile cheeseburgers at The Owl Bar in San Antonio.

It made for an enjoyable 390-mile round trip — and I was back home in time to see Game 5 of the World Series, with channel-surfing to the Michigan-Minnesota football game.

I need more days like that. And, without a pandemic and the governor’s latest orders, the building that was once the Tunstall-McSween store and the two-story courthouse, now a museum, would have been open.

Of all the books written about The Kid — and there are dozens — I’d recommend Robert M. Utley’s “Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life.” (University of Nebraska Press, 1989)

Ironically, in the months preceding my move from Michigan to the Land of Enchantment in 1975, I read and enjoyed the 1926 book by Walter Noble Burns, “The Saga of Billy the Kid.” But I’ve since read that Burns’ book is more fictional than accurate, so I won’t recommend it.

I heartily recommend a day trip, and you could do worse than a trip to Lincoln and White Oaks, and, if open, Ft. Stanton, west of Lincoln.

And do your homework; read about this historic site.