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A Short History of Ruidoso

Ruidoso is a place where the Wild West was the real thing. Cattle barons, Apache warriors and Billy the Kid figured prominently in the history of the city and county. When formed in 1869, Lincoln County accounted for one-fourth of the entire New Mexico Territory, sprawling over 29,000 square miles. It was the largest county in the United States. Fort Stanton was built in 1859 to protect white settlers from Apaches. Ranchers and farmers first settled on the low-lying prairies and along the Hondo River. Early tourists were attracted to the Ruidoso area because it offered a place to escape the desert heat.

The first county seat was a thriving village not far from the Bonito River called La Placita, renamed to Rio Bonito and renamed again to Lincoln to honor the president. The county soon found itself part of Wild West history. The infamous Lincoln County War in 1878 transformed saddle-hand Billy the Kid into an outlaw and folk hero. Today, ranching still represents a vital industry in the county of the cattle barons, with 338 ranches or farms covering 1.9 million acres.
Fort Stanton Live near Lincoln, New Mexico
Fort Stanton Live near Lincoln, New Mexico

The Mescalero Apaches have turned their 460,000-acre reservation, which borders Ruidoso in Otero County, into the control center for several businesses. In 1963, the tribe took over the operation of Ski Apache Resort, a 750-acre ski area that regularly reports over 200,000 skier-days. The tribe also operates a casino and resort on the reservation along with a forestry products business.

With the coming of the railroad, Carrizozo became the county seat in 1909, a title it retains today, although Ruidoso is the largest town in the county. During the summer, when Ruidoso Downs Racetrack opens for a season of 68 race days, the community population swells to an estimated maximum population of about 35,000. In 1994, the track had an attendance of 236,225. The track features the world's richest quarter horse race, the All American Futurity, and also has added a casino.

Tourism and related enterprises remain the cornerstones of the Ruidoso economy. Incorporated in 1945, the village is bordered by Lincoln National Forest. The beauty of the forested mountains, the mild summer weather and the ski opportunities in winter have ensured the community's popularity as a visitor's destination. Ruidoso takes its name from the Spanish word that means noisy. It seems an appropriate choice. Settlers, both native and non-native, were inspired by the sound of the Rio Ruidoso rolling down the mountainside.

For those who wanted to learn more about Ruidoso area history, make sure to visit the Ruidoso River Museum on your next visit.

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