For all of you Wild, Wild West aficionados out there, here is a post that is sure to be interesting!
Billy the Kid has long been one of the many names associated with the Wild West, alongside the Bob Dalton Gang, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cole Younger, Jesse James, and more. What you may not know is that the long dead Kid may be up for a pardon from current New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. So, why is the notorious Billy the Kid up for this pardon, you ask? Well, let me explain by starting with a little history lesson.
Billy the Kid—born William Henry McCarty, but also known as William H. Bonney—originally came from New York. While still young, his family relocated to New Mexico. Unfortunately, by the time the Kid was fifteen years old his mother had passed away from tuberculosis. It was at this point that many sources say the Kid began his life of crime—starting with stealing and progressing to murder. Other sources state that without parental guidance, the Kid simply got a bad start in life. He joined the wrong groups and wound up running from the law. One particular misstep in the Kid’s life was his affiliation with the Lincoln County War. As a result of one of the many ambushes that occurred, Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady and one of his deputies were found dead, having been shot by the Kid. Billy became a fugitive.
At some point after these murders, Lew Wallace became governor of New Mexico. Now, the stories of what actually happened next seem to clash, so suffice it to say that the Kid ended up in custody. He made a deal with the governor that should he testify against persons involved in the Lincoln County War, he would receive a full pardon for involvement in Sheriff Brady’s death and other misdeeds. The Kid testified as promised, but the pardon was never granted. So, the Kid escaped custody and eluded the law for the next two years.
During the Kid’s time as an outlaw, Pat Garrett was elected Sheriff and sent after him. Once again, Billy the Kid ended up in custody. This time however, he was sentenced to hang for the death of Sheriff Brady. While in prison, the Kid escaped again—this time killing two guards in the process. Once more, Sheriff Garrett was sent after the Kid. The next time the Kid encountered the sheriff however, it would be his last.
On July 14, 1881, Sheriff Garrett, under the cover of shadows, shot Billy the Kid dead in a residence in Fort Sumner. Some believe that the Kid lived on as “Brushy Bill” Roberts, but others believe that the Kid was in fact buried the next day in the Fort Sumner cemetery. At some point, due to the debate, there had been a movement to have the supposed bodies of the Kid and his mother exhumed for DNA testing. A judge apparently ruled against the efforts, but that hasn’t stopped present Governor Richardson’s interest in the case. He continues to look into whether the Kid rightfully deserves a posthumous pardon as promised by Governor Wallace. As you can imagine, there is much controversy arising from this investigation—which side will you join? Click here to sign a petition for the pardon of Billy the Kid, or click here to sign a petition opposed to that pardon.
For a look at Sheriff Garrett’s account of Billy the Kid’s death, see here. For additional information about the Kid and/or his potential pardon, please click here, here, here or here. Or, if you’re looking for a bit more adventure, you should come to the museum and check out our Wild West exhibits—including a look at the infamous Billy the Kid!
Read all our entries about Billy the Kid