Lincoln County to host big fandango

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By The Staff

SANTA FE – What is the most interesting county in New Mexico? Is it Rio Arriba, with its political intrigue and 400-year-old cultural traditions?  

Is it Doña Ana, with its southern Rio Grande Culture? Is it Grant County with its mining history, Black Range Tales and the most colorful Madame in the West? Is it bustling Albuquerque or historic Santa Fe?

It would be possible to name every county in some category but I seem to find myself writing about more unusual happenings in Lincoln County than any place in our state.

I’ve lived many places in New Mexico but never in Lincoln County so it isn’t hometown loyalty that focuses so many of my columns on Lincoln County. It has to be the people and what they do.

Catching my eye this week was a news release from the New Mexico Department of Tourism about a fandango in old Lincoln town, a state monument that has been seeing action since the building of Fort Stanton in 1855.

Back at that time, fandangos would attract nearly everyone in the community. Americans had been enjoying them since the days of the Santa Fe Trail, beginning in 1821.

Early merchant Josiah Gregg described them in 1840. Everyone was welcome, even Anglos, and all classes of people danced together. Often there was a gambling hall that was part of the same building.

Somewhere along the way, fandangos became a little raucous and were outlawed by the state Legislature, presumably after statehood in 1912, when temperance unions came in full swing.

At times in the last 40 years, I remember bills introduced to lift the ban on fandangos. Much joking ensued but I can’t remember it ever involving the passage of one of those bills.

To tell you the truth, I can’t find reference to a fandango in the statutes but then my computer isn’t treating me right these days and I may somehow have missed it.

But there is a strong likelihood that on May 16, the Lincoln State Monument Visitors’ Center will host an illegal fandango to welcome participants in the seventh annual Billy the Kid Trail Ride.

That ride traces the 125-mile route that Billy the Kid took back in 1881 to escape from the Lincoln County Jail to Fort Sumner, probably to meet his girlfriend Paulita Maxwell.

This year, as in the past few years, the route will be ridden backwards, from Fort Sumner to Lincoln. It’s an eight-day ride with nights spent under starry skies at host ranches along the way.

The trail ride offers a true Western experience with historically accurate reenactments, story telling, chuckwagon dinners and safe horsemanship.

It isn’t at all likely that this year’s fandango in Lincoln will be raided. Publicity for the fandango says after trail riders have a well-earned opportunity to freshen up, they will join Lincoln residents and visitors in old-fashioned fun.

This isn’t quite expected to be the same as the old-fashioned fun of the Santa Fe Trail and territorial days but a later form of fun, say from the 1930s.

Advertising says participants will be served green chile stew, frijoles, tortillas and homemade cobbler with ice cream. Storytellers and musicians will provide the entertainment.

It doesn’t say anything about booze, gambling or dancing girls. But, hey, how often do you get to tell your friends that you attended an illegal fandango? And this one is on the exact site of the famous Lincoln County War.

The Department of Tourism says lodging is available in Lincoln for riders and visitors. It says to contact The Ellis Store Country Inn at 800-653-6460 or the Dolan House at 575-653-4670.

The other piece of Lincoln County excitement awaits the signature of the governor. It involves whether county officials throughout the state will have to collect nominating petition signatures just like all other candidates. More on this later.