Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Billy the Kid Rides Again

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 15, 2010

Billy the Kid died 129 years ago Wednesday. But his restless spirit had to be stirring.

Author Mark Lee Gardner wrote Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times about Billy. Gardner, whose book To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West wrote about Territorial Gov. Lew Wallace’s infamous broken promise to Billy.

Wallace had said he’d pardon the Kid for his role in shooting Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady if the young outlaw would testify before a grand jury investigating another murder stemming from the Lincoln County War. The Kid testified, but Wallace never granted the pardon.

Subsequent to his testimony, he was tried and convicted of Brady’s murder. As he was awaiting hanging in the Lincoln County jail, he escaped, killing two deputies in the process. Less than three months later, on July 14, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy in Fort Sumner.

Gardner also talked about nearly forgotten promise by New Mexico’s current governor. “In 2003, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced that he would consider making good on Wallace's promise and issue a pardon for Billy,” Gardner wrote. “Richardson's announcement came in the midst of international media attention over a modern-day forensic investigation looking into the circumstances of the Kid's death. But as the hoopla subsided, so did the talk of a pardon.”
At Billy museum in Ft. Stockton, NM
I was at that press conference. There Richardson announced new scientific investigations including testing the DNA of the remains of the Kid’s mother, who is buried in Silver City, as well as those of a Texan who claimed to be Billy.

Richardson the state would hold a series of mock trials around the state related to Billy the Kid’s death and various crime.

But this never came to be. The theory that “Brushy Bill” Roberts of Hico, Texas — who died in 1950 — might actually be Billy had been discredited years before. Residents of Fort Sumner and Silver City pushed back hard against plans to exhume Billy and his mother.

Richardson’s investigations, the mock trials and the possible pardon seemed to dry up and blow away.

But on Wednesday, Gardner wrote, “Now the governor, whose term expires in January, is reportedly again giving serious consideration to Billy's pardon.”

Could this be? Is there a new move on the Fourth Floor for a Billy pardon? Nothing new, said Richardson spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia. “The Governor has always said that he may consider making good on Governor Wallace’s promise to Billy the Kid.”

I guess we’ll find out sometime before Dec. 31.
The Billy hoopla: Most agree that Richardson’s Kid stuff was a bid for publicity in 2003. It worked. The story ran in media outlets all over the world. I personally received several emails with various theories, including one from a gentleman who suggested Billy’s body was claimed as a medical cadaver in Las Vegas, N.M. and his head placed in a jar of formaldehyde. Nobody ever produced that jar.

There also were several books published. Columnist Jay Miller in 2005 published a scathing book of his columns about the matter called Billy the Kid Rides Again: Digging for the Truth. Last year Gale Cooper, who had written a novel about Billy, published an even more critical Mega Hoax: The Strange Plot to Exhume Billy the Kid and Become President.

But my favorite book title sent to me during the exhuming Billy period has to be a 2005 novel called My Erotic Adventures with Billy the Kid by Pamela Brown.

They don’t write obits like this anymore: While going through old e-mails for this column, I came across Billy the Kid’s obituary published in July 1881 in a paper called The Santa Fe Democrat (an old rival of The New Mexican)

“No sooner had the floor caught the descending form, which had a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other, than there was a strong odor of brimstone in the air, and a dark figure, with the wings of a dragon, claws like a tiger, eyes like balls of fire, and horns like a bison, hovered over the corpse for a moment, and with a fiendish laugh, said, ‘Ha! Ha! This is my meat!’ and then sailed off through the window.”