February 1, 2011

February 1, 1896 - Remembering the Fountain Murders

Today marks the 115th anniversary of the murder of young Henry Fountain and his dad, Judge Albert J. Fountain. After securing indictments on Oliver Lee and his acolytes at the Lincoln County Courthouse for stealing cattle, Albert and his eight-year-old son, Henry Fountain, headed back home to Mesilla. They never arrived.

Henry Fountain was murdered at age eight, February 1, 1896

From all the blood and the signs of a struggle at Chalk Hill near present-day White Sands National Monument, they were presumed murdered. The bodies of Henry and his dad were never found.

After three years of evading authorities, and deft political maneuvering by Albert Bacon Fall, Oliver Lee and Jim Gililland came to trial, accused of murdering the boy. Knowing that public opinion was not in their favor in Las Cruces, the defense sought a change of venue -- to Hillsboro.

The trial in May of 1899 would be the most sensational event the town of Hillsboro would ever see, perhaps save for twice being occupied by federal troops during the Apache wars. After a three-week trial that made headlines in newspapers across the country, Lee and Gililland were acquitted. The prosecution faltered from the start; key witnesses didn't show up.

Some historians say they got away with murder. Others reason that the Territory tried the wrong men. The lens of time doesn't bode well for Lee and Gililland and Fall. Apologists for Lee cite the code of the times, where a man that needed killing got killed. Albert Fountain had a way of bringing out the hate in his enemies. Henry, we need to remember, was eight years old. No one ever stood trial for the murder of Albert Fountain.

Many good books have been written about these historic events that culminated in a stately Victorian brick courthouse on the rise above Hillsboro. Murder on the White Sands by Corey Recko is the most recent. History professor, Gordon Owen wrote, The Two Alberts: Fountain and Fall. C.L. Sonnichsen's Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West is a classic. Former territorial governor, George Curry, wrote about his personal experience in the matter late in his life from his home in Kingston in, George Curry, 1861-1947: An Autobiography.

Murder on the White Sands is the most recent book about the Fountain murders. Recko takes the reader through the disappearance and the trial, and offers analysis.

You can also visit Oliver Lee Memorial State Park .

1 comment: