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Liberty Rainbolt, show me the money!

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Location of the old Rainbolt Ranch in the 1870's

It's a little known fact among many Billy the Kid fans that after the Lincoln County War Billy got mixed up with Dan Dedrick and his counterfeit money printing operation in Lincoln County. Well, it might be more accurate to say that Azariah Wild mixed up Billy with Dedrick's counterfeiting activities, whether or not there was any real connection to that particular venture. But Billy was involved in rustling with some of the Dedrick brothers who, along with William West, were most definitely involved in counterfeiting.

In 1880 Dedrick's money printing had gotten the attention of the Federal Government, thanks to Jimmy Dolan, and the US Secret Service sent out Wild to investigate. Wild seems to have had a knack for uncovering all the gossip and few of the facts, but his "investigations," such as they were, rolled Billy and his small-time cattle rustling in with Dedrick's crew and their nefarious activities. 

Dedrick and company had by now acquired several properties (at least one of which was purchased with printed money), including the livery barn in White Oaks, Chisum's old Bosque Grande ranch on the Pecos, and the old Liberty Rainbolt ranch east of Lincoln near Picacho. It was at the old Rainbolt ranch where Dedrick had set up his "counterfeit lodge."

Long before Billy and the Lincoln County War, and long before Dedrick starting printing money, Liberty Rainbolt moved to New Mexico Territory to start ranching cattle. According to Lily Casey, daughter of Robert Casey, "Lib" Rainbolt was one of the earliest Anglo settlers on the Rio Hondo and set up shop around 1860. The Casey's were there in these early days as well and ranched nearby. By the 1870's there were just four American homes in the Hondo valley around Picacho, and Lib's was one of them. His brother Jim Rainbolt also had a house nearby, as did Joe Haskins and his Hispanic wife who lived within view across the Hondo River. All was not well. Though the Lincoln County War was still four years off, the Horrell War was just winding down.

On January 30, 1874 the Horrell Brothers, who had been terrorizing Lincoln County for some time, were planning to mount a full frontal attack on the town of Lincoln in retaliation for themselves having been attacked and driven out. The brothers, along with perhaps dozens of bloodthirsty riders, were by all accounts intending to wipe out the predominantly Hispanic town of Lincoln. They were heading up the Hondo from Roswell to do just that when they dropped in unannounced on Lib and his wife at the ranch. While the Rainbolt wives and daughters frantically tried to prepare breakfast for the unwanted visitors, one of the riders named Ed "Little" Hart inquired about the house across the river that belonged to Haskins. When Hart learned that Haskins was married to a "greaser," he rode over with two men and shot Haskins dead when he answered the door. After getting their fill of breakfast, the riders rode on to Lincoln but ultimately changed their minds about the attack. The Horrells left for Texas never to return.

Robert Casey was shot and killed in Lincoln the following year by William Wilson, who became Lincoln's infamous "double hanging," but Lib himself lived to be 72 and died in Roswell in 1911.

When I set out to find Lib's old place I was armed with nothing more than a photo of the ranch ruins taken around 1930 by Maurice Fulton, an early Kid researcher and author, and the knowledge that it was somewhere near Picacho along the Hondo River. For months I tried to track it down, but even the locals didn't know what I was talking about. 

My big break came when a friend of a friend, a lifelong Lincoln County resident and historian, recognized the mountains in the background of the old photo and said, "oh I know just where that is." She was right on the [counterfeit] money. Turned out my friends also had connections to the modern ranch where we believed the site was located, and we were granted permission to go look for it.

​Well, we found it.

Rainbolt Ranch circa 1930, photo courtesy of the Robert M. Mullin Collection of the Haley Memorial Library, Midland, Texas.

Today there's a thick row of tall trees extending from the big tree in the 1930 photo all the way across and behind the old ranch site, so getting a photo from the exact same spot today wouldn't show the mountains. The flattened building site where the old adobe was is still there, though the building itself is long gone.  Walking across it and through the row of trees reveals the view shown in the top right photo. 

We kicked around awhile and found some old artifacts, all of us pretty satisfied we'd found the original building site. At long last, ol' Lib's original ranch and the subsequent site of Dedrick's money printing operation had been found. One more piece of the Kid puzzle was resurrected and put in place.

If you want to see the site today, it's very close to the road. In the 1930 photo, the modern highway would run right through the foreground. You can pull off the highway and look to the southwest and you'll have a great view of the mountains a little higher up from where the photo was originally taken. Remember the site itself is on private ranch land, so stay on the roadside.

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