The Territory of New Mexico, in the mid-1870-80's, experienced a wave of rampant lawlessness, unparalleled in the history of the United States. One must walk a mile in their shoes before coming to conclusions about the lives of men and boys in that era. Henry McCarty, alias Kid Antrim, alias William H. Bonney, alias Billy The Kid, born in the east, came to New Mexico in the 1870's and started out on his own from Silver City. Go where you will over the trails he rode, and you will agree, he is alive today. In Lincoln, he became involved in the famous Lincoln County War. This was a time of political strife and financial power struggles.
In most cases, one must kill or be killed. Upon the death of John Tunstall, Billy vowed vengeance on every man who participated in that cruel, wanton murder. Later, the Kid was involved in the death of Morton, Baker, McCloskey, Brady, Hindman and Beckwith. The vendetta led him through the heart of New Mexico. At Blazer's Mill, near Mescal ero, Brewer and Buckshot Roberts met their destiny. The Rio Ruidoso took them to Dowlin's Mill, the Hondo Valley led to the Chisum South Springs Ranch near Roswell.
The Pecos River trail winds up to Old Fort Sumner, where Joe Grant caused his own demise. A dim trail off east to Los Portales Springs hideout. Seven Rivers crossing, near Carlsbad, tallied 200,000 head of cattle from Texas following the Goodnight-Loving, Chisum trail. The highly publicized life of Bonnie was the catalyst for many other outlaws of his time. Jesse James another outlaw that roamed the same territory at approximately the same time got many of his tactics and eccentric antics from the Billy front. Jesse James, b.
Clay one of the most famous outlaws of the American West, acquired a Robin Hood reputation among the people of his region. At the age of 15, during the Civil War, h joined a band of pro-Confederate guerrillas led by William C. QUAN TRILL. After the war he formed a gang with his brother, Frank, and several other men. They held up banks, stagecoaches, and trains until 1876, when the gang was decimated trying to rob a bank in Northfield, Minn.
The two brothers escaped and formed a new gang. On Apr. 3, 1882, Jesse was shot and killed by a fellow gang member for a reward. Frank later surrendered; he was tried and acquitted twice. Patrick Floyd Garrett, born in Alabama, led a successful life as a buffalo hunter in Texas, before drifting into New Mexico.
His election as Sheriff of Lincoln County drew him into this legend. He was a good Sheriff at the time New Mexico needed such a man. The White Oaks skirmish on December 1, 1880 caused an accidental shooting at the Great house Stage Station, near Corona. The trail goes on to Anton Chico, Puerto de Luna, Sunnyside Spring and Old Fort Sumner, where Tom O'Folliard fell in an ambush.
The connections of Wilcox-Yer by ranches and Brazil Spring played a part in the surrender at Stinking Springs, and the end of CharlieBowdre. On to Las Vegas, by wagon, to Santa Fe by railcar, through Albuquerque, on to Old Me silla for trial. Under heavy guard they trudged through La Luz, Alamogordo, and back to Lincoln, where Billy performed his daring escape, after the death of Bell and O linger. Now, with a wanted poster for Billy The Kid, Pat Garrett was hot on the trail back to Old Fort Sumner. There, on July 14, 1881, Pat Garrett, in the Maxwell house, killed the famous Outlaw. In the old fort cemetery a vagrant wind whisks across the plain, a tiny dust devil will spin for a moment madly, futility, and is swallowed up in the nothingness.
This was the life of the Kid, and certainly, he is buried there, in Old Fort Sumner. Garrett's trails continued to the Roswell area, where he made his home. He made trails to the gold and turquoise mines in the Jicarilla Mountains, he followed the trails of Albert Fountain, trying to solve his mysterious disappearance. On the trail from Organ to Las Cruces, Pat Garrett met his death, in 1908, and is buried in the Masonic cemetery in Las Cruces. Garrett left his mark on New Mexico in many ways; one of significance is, his daughter Elizabeth wrote O Fair New Mexico, the state song. So the Legends live on!
For almost a century, people have been pondering what really happened the night of July 14, 1881, in Pete Maxwell's home in Fort Sumner. Did Pat Garrett really shoot and kill Billy the Kid Or did the Kid escape Garrett's gunfire and make a great escape to Mexico He could have either lived out his years in that country or made his way back to the United States. A recent news story from Las Cruces led me to request a copy of a letter written by Pat Garrett in 1906. The letter was donated to the Historical Museum of Lawmen at the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department by two granddaughters of Pat Garrett. Lt. West Gil breath, Lieutenant of Detectives, graciously sent me a copy of the letter. Written on an El Paso whiskey seller's letterhead, the typewritten letter is dated April 15, 1906, and actually is an affidavit by Pat Garrett, signed P.L. Garrett, stating that a Colt 44 pistol, Serial No. 55093, is the one he used to end the life of William Bonney.
But one or two lines in the letter are significant: .".. it should be known that the 'Kid' was killed that night and does not live in Mexico, as some have stated. I used the Colt 44 to end his depredation in the County". Garrett states that the pistol and an 1873 Winchester, Serial No. 47629, were both taken from the Kid's gang at the battle of "Stinking Springs", near Portales. "It was a strange turn of events that the very gun that was taken from his gang was later used to end his life, Garrett wrote. "Both guns were new and my position as Sheriff of Lincoln County, allowed me to take and use any equipment that I so desired... These guns are of the same calibre and were very handy, because only one kind of ammunition had to be carried".
Despite Garrett's own statements, there are many who question whether Garrett really killed Billy the Kid. It's almost become a part of New Mexico folklore that Billy the Kid really escaped. Some in this area even suggest that Sallie Chisum Robert's trips to Mexico were surreptitious visits with Billy the Kid. One man who lived in Hico, Texas, and went by the name of Oliver P. "Ollie" Roberts, aka "Brushy Bill", claimed to be Billy the Kid. His story has been told since 1955 in a variety of books. Dr. C.L. Sonnichsen wrote "Alias Billy the Kid" from materials furnished by William Morrison, who was Brushy Bill Roberts lawyer in Brushy Bill's attempt to procure a pardon for the crimes of Billy the Kid from Gov. Thomas Mabry in 1950.
Roberts died shortly thereafter, the pardon was not granted. Later, William A. Tun still of Roswell wrote "Billy the Kid and Me Were the Same". Judge Bobby E. Hefner has penned "The Trial of Billy the Kid", a fictional trial weighing the truth of evidence presented on behalf of Brushy Bill. Hefner, a former municipal judge, comes down on the side of Brushy Bill, concluding. "..
Billy will live forever in our hearts and minds. He died of old age. But he will forever be Billy the Kid". It should be noted that Hefner owns the Billy the Kid Museum in Hico, Texas.
While living, Brushy Bill claimed he was born in 1859. The left-handed, right-handed argument results from publication of a tintype of Billy the Kid, the only known photo of William Bonney, which is really a mirror image. When published correctly, Billy's pistol is on his right side. Besides speaking fluent Spanish, Billy the Kid was literate and did write in quite easy-to-read handwriting. He penned several letters to Gov. Lew Wallace, attempting to win Wallace's good will and perhaps a pardon. Bowlin said local Fort Sumner residents, who include a good number of descendants of those who knew Billy the Kid, generally believe Garrett killed the Kid.
One woman recalls taking Deluvina Maxwell, a woman who knew Billy the Kid, to visit Billy the Kid's grave. "That's what convinced me", the woman told Bowlin. "If Billy the Kid wasn't really buried there, I don't think she would have been visiting his grave". For those who still don't believe, ponder the winning lie in the annual Liar's Contest at the Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang's annual meeting. The two sentence lie was told by Clovis historian Don McAl avy, who beat out five other out-and-out liars (including Judge Hefner). It was this: "Judge Hefner says Brushy Bill Roberts was really Billy the kid.
I believe he's telling the truth!"
Lincoln County War - A Documentary History, New York, N.Y. 1984-9885 pp.
145 Frederick Nolan Violence in Lincoln County - William A. Kelleher, New York, N.Y. 1986 pp.
123 The Saga of Billy The Kid - Walter Noble Burns, Boston M.A., 1990, pp.
189 Authentic Life of Billy The Kid - Patrick Floyd Garrett, New York, N.Y. 1967 pp.
123. Bradley, L.C., Jesse James (1980) Ernst, John, Jesse James (1976).