The Last Escape of Billy the Kid — America’s Longest Running Folk Pageant

Lincoln County Courthouse where Billy the Kid was held prisoner
Photo courtesy Museum of New Mexico
Lincoln County Courthouse where Billy the Kid was held prisoner<BR>Photo courtesy Museum of New Mexico<SPAN id=fogstart></SPAN><SPAN id=fogend>
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It began about 60 years after the events that inspired it took place, and it has been going on for about another 60 years since. It is “The Last Escape of Billy the Kid” and it is held yearly at Lincoln, New Mexico, where it all happened. Started in 1940 as part of the Quatro Centennial, the pageant was, and is, staffed entirely by local folks, many of whom are descended from the actual participants being portrayed. The first local man to play Billy the Kid was renowned artist Peter Hurd of San Patricio .

Back in 1881, three years after the close of the Lincoln County War and less than three months before his death, Billy the Kid made what is considered to be one of the most spectacular jailbreaks that ever took place in the Old West.

On the 28th of April, 1881, about dinnertime, the Kid managed to get hold of a pistol, and after dispatching one of his guards to the hereafter with it, grabbed a shotgun and sent the other guard on his eternal way, too. As jailbreaks go, it was unique in that after killing the two guards, Billy hung around town for something like an hour chatting with various friends and well-wishers before mounting up and heading out of Lincoln to find his own violent end.

Every year, during the first weekend in August, Billy escapes again from the Pageant Grounds immediately west of the Old Lincoln County Courthouse .

And that isn’t all there is to see during Lincoln’s most festive weekend. Events may vary, year to year, but have included:  Weekend long living history demonstrations; Weavers weaving, and horseshoers shoeing; Mountain men, along with their black powder muskets and rifles, camping out in Lincoln and giving demonstrations of their skills all weekend long; The Fourth Texas Cavalry from Lubbock, wielding their sabers, resplendent in their retro-military finery as they prance their horses about the town.

In addition to all this, there are vendors of all sorts lining the streets, many of whom sell delectable delights with both historic and modern flavors. Others deal in souvenirs and interesting curios that grab the attention of children of all ages.

On Saturday afternoon there is a fiddlers’ contest held in the park, and on Sunday morning a parade that is, to say the least, unique, makes its way down Lincoln’s only street.

If Billy the Kid were to ride into Lincoln today, he would recognize it instantly. The Old Lincoln County Courthouse, from which he escaped, is perfectly preserved, as are the majority of the other structures from that period.

Give yourself and your family a treat that is unique. Take a trip back in time. See America’s oldest running folk festival. Come to Lincoln, where it all happened back in the 1800s and will happen again the first weekend in August.