Oliver Lee ranch house tour

Saturday morning brought another beginning to a warm and sunny day. The campground started to fill up Friday afternoon. And even though there are only 48 camping spots and they didn’t all get filled it seemed busy after having it pretty much all to ourselves the last few days.

We didn’t have any plans other than joining in on a tour of the Oliver Lee Ranch. They only give tours twice a week,, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. And it is one of the main things this state park is based on so we didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

So until then we just went on the ½ mile nature trail again. Stopping at every small waterfall and enjoyed the sounds of the water and birds. And sat around camp enjoying the sun and sights around the park.

Purple Prickly Pear

Purple Prickly Pear

When it came time for the tour we drove the Jeep to the visitor center where we met and followed our tour guide to the ranch which was just through a couple locked gates and down a gravel road about a mile.

Oliver Lee ranch house

Oliver Lee ranch house

It didn’t take long to figure out that there are more stories about Oliver Lee than there are seconds in a minute so instead of creating my own story, which is pretty much what our guide did LOL,, I’ll just copy what I found online for you to read if you wish.

A lot of the house has been reconstructed but according to the pictures they had it looks like they did a good job. I always find it amazing how cool it is inside of the adobe houses with there think walls.

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Early life

Little is known about Lee’s life prior to his moving to New Mexico from Texas with his mother. His marksmanship even at an early age is mentioned in “The Fabulous Frontier”  Lee worked as a Deputy

US Marshal before turning to ranching. He was described in “Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West”  as “magnificently muscled, straight as a young pine, catlike in his coordination”. “He had his mother’s piercing black eyes which seemed to bore into you, and a chin like the rock of Gibralter, but he always spoke softly.” (A description of him at the age of 19.)

“Oliver Lee would turn a man off quicker for abusing a horse than for any other reason.” (Sonnichen.

“Dee Harkey in his “The Life of a New Mexico Lawman – Mean as Hell”  stated he had many dealings with Oliver Lee and “so far as I know or ever heard, he always dealt on the square.” Nevertheless, it was not long before a

range war of the Lincoln County type began to fester.

Early New Mexico life

Lee moved into the area from Texas with his half brother Perry Altman. They planned to raise and sell horses as well as to acquire land. C.L Sonnichsen relates that Oliver and Perry soon met Cherokee Bill. He suggested that they buy out “Frenchy” who had a place in Dog Canyon where he was raising fruit trees. He told them the area had a reliable water source. Perry is quoted as saying, “Well, Oliver this country is so damn sorry I think we can stay here a long time and never be bothered by anybody else.” Lee’s fair play ethics did not set well with the local powerbrokers. The local power brokers at the time were Albert Fountain, John Good and others, mostly Republican.

Lee later became friends with Albert Fall. The alliance would last for decades. It also put him on the side of the Democrats, who were at odds with the Republican faction led by Colonel

Albert Jennings Fountain. Fountain was a powerful rival to land owners Lee and Fall. The struggle between them was characterized in the book “The Two Alberts – Fountain and Fall” . The political party in the majority in the area was the Republican, and these were an extension of the Santa Fe Ring, a secret coalition of lawmakers determined to control public offices in the New Mexico Territory.

Albert Jennings Fountain murder case

The range war came to a boil in the winter of 1895-6. Colonel Fountain had gone to the Lincoln County court and obtained 32 indictments against 23 ranchers for theft of livestock or defacement of brands. Oliver Lee, Jim Gililland and William McNew were among the accused. This caused their being suspects in the February 1896 disappearance and presumed murder of Colonel Fountain and his 8-year-old son Henry. They were pursued by Sheriff

Pat Garrett and a posse. Garrett and posse engaged in a gunbattle with Lee and Gilliand near Alamogordo at Wildy Well, with Deputy Sheriff Kurt Kearney being killed. Lee later testified that Kearney and Garrett shot at Lee and Gililland, who were sleeping on the roof of the house at Wildy Well without even asking them to surrender. Lee and Gililland fired back in self defense. Garrett and his men were pinned down and Lee and Gililland allowed them to flee. Lee and Gililland attended to Kearney, but he died of his wounds.

It was almost three years before the matter was settled in court. These events led to the political maneuvering which led to the formation of

Otero County. Lee believed that if he surrendered to Garrett he would never make it to trial. This is attested to in Dee Harkey’s book “The Life of a New Mexico Lawman – Mean as Hell” . Lee’s friend, Albert Fall and other Democrats offered to honor Otero, the Republican Governor, with the creation of a county named after him. The boundary of this new county would put the location, and so the jurisdiction of the Fountain case, in the new county. The only thing the Democrats wanted in exchange was that the sheriff of the new county would be their choice. Once the county was established and Lee’s friend, George Curry was appointed sheriff, Lee promptly surrendered. Albert Fall and others defended Lee, McNew and Gilliland who were charged with the crime of killing Henry Fountain (Albert’s young son). No one was ever charged with the murder of Albert Fountain. Charges against McNew were dismissed, while Lee and Gililland were acquitted. Dee Harkey notes that it was interesting that none of the other ranchers indicted were ever pursued as suspects.

Oliver Lee later held office in the New Mexico Senate and continued operating his ranches until his own death in 1941. He has several descendants still living and ranching in New Mexico.

oliver lee2

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After our tour we just continued out kicked back attitude we practiced earlier in the day. Just soaking up the sun and waving and saying HOWDY to the people passing by.

Sunday is supposed to be another warm day so  our plan is to visit Cloudcroft. It is at almost 9000ft so it should be nice and cool!!

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