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Tuesday, April 7, 2015


I guess I ate too much on Easter Sunday ... well, I know I did, so I decided to resurrect one of my favorite blogs (no pun intended; now, if you believe it, then I have the Waco Bridge for sale). Please remember, that Bill Richardson has been out of office in New Mexico since 2011, and Billy the Kid is still an outlaw, although there were a lot of rumors that Gov. Richardson was going to pardon him.

As I did a tad, or what I thought would be just a little, research on William Bonney, I learned quite a bit that I want to share. Billy the Kid was born in 1859 in New York City and his real name, as we all know, was William Henry McCarty, Jr. He was also known as Henry Antim, and of course, the alias of William H. Bonney. It was believed that his father either died or left the family when William was very young. His mother died when he was a youngster from tuberculosis; thus, leaving him an orphan. That's when he and his brother got involved in petty theft. There is little, if anything, known about his early years.

The "Kid", as he was known by other outlaws, had a slim physique, sandy blond hair and blue eyes to kill for. He wore a "sugar-load" sombrero hat with a wide decorative band. He could be charming and polite one moment then go into a rage without warning, a sort of an intoxicating nature he used to great advantage during his heists and robberies.


On the run, "Billy" moved to Arizona briefly before joining up with a gang of gunfighters called "The Boys" to fight in the Lincoln County War. Known as "The Kid", McCarty switched to the opposition to fight with John Tunstall's men, "the Regulators".

Pat Garrett barely escaped with his life, and McCarty became an outlaw and a fugitive. He stole horses and cattle until his arrest in 1880 for the killing of Sheriff Brady during the Lincoln County War. After being sentenced to death, he killed his two guards and escaped in 1881. He was hunted down and shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

This is what I found interesting most of all. Shortly after the shooting, Sheriff Garrett wrote a biography of "The Kid", the hugely sensationalized The Authentic Life of Bill, the Kid. The book was the first of many accounts that would turn the young outlaw into a legend of the American frontier.

I sure wish I could get my hands on a copy of this book. Wow!

In his last day in office in 2011, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced on New Year’s Eve he would not grant a posthumous pardon to the infamous Old West bad guy, after drawing international attention by entertaining a petition on Billy the Kid's behalf.

The pardon request had centered on whether Billy the Kid, who was shot to death in 1881 after escaping jail for the killing of County Sheriff William Brady in 1878, had been promised a pardon from New Mexico's territorial governor, Lew Wallace, in return for testimony in killings he had witnessed.

But the descendants of Wallace and Sheriff Pat Garrett, who fatally shot the fugitive, were outraged over the proposal. Pauline Garrett Tillinghast expressed her concern that a pardon would tarnish her grandfather's legacy. Though the pardon might have been narrowly tailored, she said, "It's ridiculous to pardon a murderer. Hollywood has turned him into some sort of a folk hero." Pat Garrett's grandson, J.P. Garrett, and Wallace's great-grandson, William Wallace, also publicly opposed the possibility of pardon.


According to legend, Billy the Kid killed 21 people, one for each year of his life. The New Mexico Tourism Department puts the total closer to nine. The Kid was a ranch hand and gunslinger in the bloody Lincoln County War, a feud between factions vying to dominate the dry goods business and cattle trading in southern New Mexico. Billy the Kid killed two deputies while escaping jail.

The person filing the request for pardon argued that then-governor Lew Wallace had promised to pardon the Kid, also known as William Bonney or Henry McCarty. She said the Kid kept his end of the bargain, but the territorial governor did not. But, J.P. Garrett of Albuquerque said there's no proof Gov. Wallace offered a pardon--and may have tricked the Kid into testifying.

"The big picture is that Wallace obviously had no intention to pardon Billy--even telling a reporter that fact in an interview on April 28, 1881," he wrote. "So there was no 'pardon promise' that Wallace broke. But I do think there was a pardon 'trick,' in that Wallace led Billy on to get his testimony."

Garrett also said that when the Kid was awaiting trial in Brady's killing, "he wrote four letters for aid, but never used the word 'pardon'."


William Wallace of Westport, Conn., said his ancestor never promised a pardon and that pardoning the Kid "would declare Lew Wallace to have been a dishonorable liar."

According to historians, The Kid in fact wrote Wallace in 1879, volunteering to testify if Wallace would annul pending charges against him, including a murder indictment in Brady's death.

A tantalizing part of the question is a clandestine meeting Wallace had with the Kid in Lincoln in March 1879. The Kid's letters leave no doubt he wanted Wallace to at least grant him immunity from prosecution. Wallace, in arranging the meeting, responded: "I have authority to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know."

But when the Las Vegas, N.M., Gazette asked Wallace shortly before he left office about prospects he would spare the Kid's life, Wallace replied: "I can't see how a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me."

The historical record on the pardon is ambiguous, and there are no written documents "pertaining in any way" to a pardon in the papers of the territorial governor, who served in office from 1878 to 1881.

Of interest, Governor Richardson’s office set up a web-site so citizens could weigh in on the subject of the pardon. His office received 809 e-mails and letters, with 430 favoring a pardon and 379 opposed. Comments came from all over the world. I’d say the issue was fairly split down the middle probably along moral and political line, I suspect.

Governor Richardson said that he decided against a pardon "because of a lack of conclusiveness and the historical ambiguity as to why Gov. Wallace reneged on his promise." Richardson states said the Kid is part of New Mexico history, and he's been interested in the case for years.

I’m not writing this post from a political point of view, strictly from an historical one. The interesting part is nearly a century-and-a-half after killing numerous people, including lawmen, and being shot to death, the life and legend of Billy the Kid still can’t be put to rest.

So tell me who is your favorite controversial historical figure?


  1. Phyllis I know very little about Billy the Kid. A family story that has been handed down through the years is that my great-grandmother Emma Kinkaid was out hanging clothes on the line when she was sixteen-years-old. They lived in St. Joseph Missouri at the time. The story goes that Billy ran through the yard and asked her to get him a pitcher of water from the well which she did. And then there is the legend that Billy and who ever he was running with at the time robbed a train outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa and ditched the gold as the posse chased them. It was said to be somewhere out by Big Lake Park. To this day the gold has never been found.

    1. Thanks Barbara for stopping by. That's the one thing I love about blogging, especially when "people who are in the know" comment ie "Researchers and Writers"! I think I did hear about his great-grandmother only because I have a grand named Emma. Thanks for the additional information. You're cool. Hugs, Phyliss

  2. Phyliss, what an interesting blog post--I see why it's one of your favorites, and since I've never read it before, I'm so glad you posted this.

    I saw a show on this very thing about the pardon, etc. on the History Channel one night--just fascinating.

    Another historical character I wonder about is one you mentioned in your post--Lew Wallace. He was a military man, but also was the author of one of the most re-told and best loved stories, Ben-Hur. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known how Hollywood would take that story and make films of it in the future? I know of at least 2 films that were made of it--who hasn't seen the classic one with Charlton Heston? My kids and I used to watch that about once a month when they were little. LOL But it is truly a mesmerizing story.

    I personally don't believe Billy the Kid should ever be pardoned. Sometimes when people die and Hollywood gets hold of their stories and changes them, the public believes things that are not true. (Oh, lands, I'd have given Geoffrey Deuel a pardon for SURE when HE was playing Billy the Kid in Chisum--who wouldn't? Or Paul Newman, in The Left-Handed Gun...sigh).

    My favorite controversial historical figure...that's a tough one. Seems most every historical figure is controversial from one standpoint or another, doesn't it? LOL So I would say, I have two that I enjoy hearing about and learning about--Geronimo and Abraham Lincoln.

    Very interesting stuff! I really enjoyed your post--made me think.


    1. Hi my friend, Cheryl. Thanks for the great post-post. You have such good thoughts on how come the bad guys of history are immortalized. I know even in my own family, my dad had a different idea of why our family came to the US and changed our family name during the overthrow of Kaiser Wilhelm. Oh yeah, I love Paul Newman in any movie. When he was in Claude (30 miles from here) doing "Hud" he was seen all around town. I only wish I'd been a few years older! LOL I love the History Channel, too. There is so much history it's unreal, duh! I saw Bonnie and Clyde the other night and literally had nightmares. Also thanks for doing my post for me. I saw what's wrong the minute I tried to do my first reply. My precious oldest grand who goes to North Texas in Denton changed my google account over to his, so he could use my computer. I reentered my info and we're ready to go. I always thought that grands were God's gift for getting through raising your own kids, but with college grands now who come home every other weekend (parents moved with their jobs to California, yeah for Cal and their beaches!) ... I wonder but couldn't do without him. Off topic for sure, but I feel like you all are friends, as I do with all of my readers and regulars to my blogs. Thanks for having a great blog spot. Hugs and blessings, my friend, Phyliss

  3. The "legend" of Billy the Kid makes great fodder for movies and History Channel specials. We romanticize him because he was a handsome outlaw, and probably because of the actors that portrayed him.

    He was a killer and he paid the price for his crimes in his time. His crimes were not disputed. And so, politics and surveys should not be used to decide if he's due a post-mortem pardon.

    1. Hi Alisa. Thanks for leaving a comment. I totally agree with you that "legends" like "The Kid" are fodder for movies and specials. Look at what many of the channels are doing today or more modern day fugitives...making them look like heroes instead of killers and worse. Totally agree with you on the pardon, and I'm sure that's the main reason it was dropped. I'm sure any of our families, if we dig back a couple of centuries might well find members who weren't exactly choir boys. Have a wonderful day and thanks for your thoughts. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

  4. Very, very interesting, Phyliss. I'm glad you re-posted this and I had the chance to read it. Well done!

  5. An endlessly fascinating story. So much seems to be lost to time, and so much speculation. Thank you for sharing this piece of history. If I told you who fascinates me, other than Helen (Hunt) Jackson and early women doctors, you might be surprised. Doris

    1. Additionally, If anyone has read "End of the Santa Fe Trail" by Sister Blandina, she relates an encounter with 'The Kid' Doris

  6. Fascinating post, Phyliss! I thought I knew a fair amount about Billy the Kid. It's true that we tend to romanticize the bad boys of history -- unfortunate, but I think fairly typical. My bad boy legendary character is Black Bart (Charles Bowles) fact, I was interviewed for the upcoming series to be starting April 12 on Fox (narrated by Bill O'Reilly) on Black Bart. The series is called "Legends and Lies." My interview will be in the sixth episode (of 10). It was a fun adventure to fly to Montana to be interviewed for this special!! :-)

  7. In today's justice system, The Kid could have entered a plea bargain and received a shortened jail time. He murdered people. He shouldn't receive a pardon, that's a great deal more than a plea bargain; that's like saying he never committed a murder. I'm certain his story will continue to be told in many ways, good and bad for many generations to come. It's fascinating to so many of us.
    This was such an interesting article, Phyliss. I'm sorry I bit late getting here.