History & Culture

USFS History:

The majority of the Lincoln National Forest is located within the Sacramento Mountains of southcentral New Mexico, but the forest boundary extends north into the Jicarilla Mountains, morthwest into the Capitan Mountains, and southeast into the Guadalupe Mountains. For more info about the Lincoln, visit our About the Forest page.

Click to watch a 20-minute video on the History of the Forest Service as a Public Land Management Agency. There is additional background on our National Website where you can dig deeper into the Agency's past.

Human Habitation in the Area:

Evidence dating from as early as 10,000 BC suggest that prehistoric humans hunted and lived in the areas in around present-day Lincoln National Forest.  Signs of their presence can be seen in the forms of rock art and petroglyphs they left behind. Prehistoric occupation continued until more modern Native American Tribes occupied the area. Modern man entered the area first with Native American Tribes such as the Apache and were followed by, Mexican, Spanish and European American settlers.

The Sacramento Mountains and the surrounding area were historically inhabited by the Mescalero and other groups of Apache prior to colonization. The Mescalero Apache lived a nomadic hunting and gathering existence. Their name for themselves is ‘Shis-Inday’ meaning “People of the Mountain Forest.

The name “Mescalero Apache” was given by Spanish Conquistadors meaning “people of the Mescal”. Mescal Agave was an important plant resource that they depended on. Groups of women would gather and process the plant to harvest the mescal agave nectar. Today, the Mescalero Apache Reservation lies in the Sacramento Mountains.

Lincoln National Forest History:

During Theodore Roosevelt's presidency in 1902 the Lincoln Forest Preserve was established and covered over half a million acres of forest around the towns of Capitan and Lincoln for which it was named. This was three years before the Forest Service was established in 1905.

At the end of Theodore Roosevelt's second presidential term he signed executive order 908 which combined numerous federally managed forests in the Southwest into larger units.

Under this Executive order the Gallinas National forest near Corona, New Mexico was absorbed by Lincoln Forest Preserve, Additionally the Guadalupe National Forest and the Sacramento National forest were merged into the Alamo National Forest.

During the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, the Alamo National Forest and the Lincoln Forest Preserve were combined to create the Lincoln National Forest.

In 1945, the tract of the forest in the Gallinas mountains was removed from the Lincoln National Forest and became a district of the Cibola National Forest. Creating the Lincoln National Forest boundary that we have to this day.

The Story of the Smokey Bear:

Smokey Bear, the fictional cartoon, is America’s longest running public service add campaign. Smokey was created in 1944 by the US Forest Service and the US Ad Council to help spread the message for citizens to do their part in preventing wildfires. However, in 1950 a real-life Black Bear cub was rescued from a wildfire by firefighters in the Capitan Mountains of Lincoln National Forest. Due to bad burns on his legs and feet, he was initially named “Hotfoot Teddy” by his rescuers.

The bear cub was flown to a veterinarian in Santa Fe, NM by Ray Bell, a State Game warden, and a pilot. Once the cub’s wounds were treated, he was taken in by the Bell Family for two months. The bear cub and his incredible story captivated people across the country and he was moved to the National Zoo in Washington D.C, renamed Smokey, and became the living embodiment of the iconic Smokey Bear cartoon. He grew to be a 400 pound bear and lived 26 years. He received so many letters and gifts that he was given his own personal zip code!

Smokey died in 1976 and was buried in Capitan, NM near his original home.