Last week, I discussed the man who shot Billy the Kid, who is buried in the cemetery behind my house. It turns out there’s a gravestone for the man who defended Billy the Kid at his trial as well. This one’s an interesting gravestone in that no one is actually buried under it. Albert Fountain and his son disappeared in 1896 and to this day, no one knows what happened to them.
Albert Fountain’s career started during the Civil War, when he was a sergeant in the Union Army’s California Column, which took New Mexico back from the confederacy in 1862. After the war, he moved to El Paso, Texas and became a Republican politician at a time when it was not popular to be a Republican in Texas. He served in the Texas State Senate and served as Lieutenant Governor for a time. His views angered many Texas Democrats and he was challenged to several duels. Some suspect his unpopular politics may have played a part in his disappearance some thirty years later.
He returned to Mesilla in 1873 and opened a law practice, making use of his fluency in Spanish. He also founded a newspaper called The Mesilla Independent in 1877. He defended Billy the Kid in 1881, but lost the case. Fountain would continue to be involved in the Lincoln County troubles until his disappearance. He disappeared near White Sands on his way home after bringing charges against Oliver M. Lee and William McNew, who were accused of altering cattle brands. All that was found of Fountain and his son was the buckboard wagon they rode.
Fountain makes a cameo appearance in my novel The Brazen Shark. In the novel he defends farmhand Billy McCarty and newspaperman Luther Duncan. They’re accused of breaking jail, which they did at the end of Lightning Wolves. Fountain is interested in the case because he sees it as the army trying to interfere with freedom of the press. In another play on history, although I never expressly say Billy McCarty is Billy the Kid, it is suggested. So, the novel presents an alternate version of the famous trial.
In this case, walking through the cemetery introduced me to a mystery that caused me to dig a little deeper into the history of the region. I found some interesting connections that made a good story, though I fear no solutions to this unsolved mystery.