Hillsboro and the Unsolved Fountain Murders

The ruins of the Hillsboro courthouse, site of the infamous Fountain murder trial.

One of the most notorious unsolved murders of our territorial days, that of Albert Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry, took place in 1896. They disappeared from a lonely road between Alamogordo and Mesilla, leaving only their abandoned buckboard and two pools of blood.

Albert Fountain had been a lawyer and politician. He was a New Mexico Civil War veteran on the Union side, and he joined the New Mexico volunteers during the Indian Wars. Seriously wounded in an encounter with Apaches, Fountain spent the night trapped under his dead horse with arrows in his arm and shoulder, and a bullet in his thigh.

After that, he became a legislator in Texas, but his previous views for the complete abolition of slavery had made him plenty of enemies. He moved to Mesilla where he practiced law and started a bilingual newspaper that specialized in uncovering political corruption. This made him more enemies — notably ranchers Oliver Lee and Albert B. Fall.

Albert Fountain defended Billy the Kid during his trial in Mesilla for the murder of Sheriff William Brady. He lost that case. Billy was convicted, escaped, and was subsequently fatally shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner in 1871.

Twenty-five years later, Garrett arrested Oliver Lee and two of his ranch hands for the murder of Albert and Henry Fountain. On May 26, 1899, the trial finally began in the courthouse in Hillsboro. On trial were Lee, Bill McNew and Jim Gilliland. The charge was the murder of the eight-year-old Henry Fountain. The attorney for the defendants was Albert B. Fall.  

Because there were no bodies, the prosecution had a difficult time. It took 18 days to present the evidence, but only seven minutes to return a verdict of “not guilty” for all three defendants. No one was even charged with the murder of Albert Fountain. Thirty years later, Albert Fall would be imprisoned for his part in the biggest case of political corruption before Watergate — the Teapot Dome Scandal.

The brick courthouse where the trial took place sits atop a hill on the south side of Hillsboro. The Fountains have a marker in the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces, but the actual whereabouts of their remains is unknown. And Oliver Lee died rich. He has a state park named after him outside of Alamogordo.  

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at  johnny_mango@yahoo.com.

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