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SANTA FE — Mid-July is a momentous time in New Mexico’s history. On July 14, 1881, Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid. The Kid is arguably the world’s most famous outlaw. The news quickly traveled around the world.
On July 16, 1945, the world’s first nuclear explosion occurred at Trinity Site, north of Alamogordo. According to history, news of that event traveled nowhere but Los Alamos, Washington, D.C., London, Potsdam and Moscow.
The Trinity test came as a surprise to New Mexicans except for those in Los Alamos. Many family members of those at the site climbed a mountain above town and looked to the southeast for the explosion. Rain held it up. But at 5:29:30 a.m. it happened.
The official word was that a powder house near Alamogordo exploded and that no one was hurt. For years, it appeared that no one was hurt. But then residents near the site began developing cancer at a much higher than normal rate.
The government denied it for many years until the New Mexico congressional delegation began studying the results of the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment project.
The study was a 10 year effort to examine every document generated at Los Alamos since its inception that might relate to public health. It was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public briefings were held five years into the study and following issuance of a draft final report a year ago. This column reported on both of the hearings.
Both columns resulted in many contacts by residents near the site. These were forwarded to New Mexico’s senators with requests that New Mexico residents be added to the list of those eligible for compensation for radiation exposure.
All of our state’s congressional delegation now have become co-sponsors of bills to add New Mexico residents to those exposed by the Trinity test or the numerous Nevada tests.
This week the Alamogordo Daily News began a three-part series on the area’s downwinders. And, reportedly, health workers are going door-to-door to determine family medical histories.
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Billy the Kid’s death. Or was it? Over the years various pretenders claimed to be the Kid, arguing that Garrett shot someone else or that the Kid survived the shot through his chest.
Those claims were essentially put to rest in 1950 when the most vocal pretender, Brushy Bill Roberts, a Texan, requested a pardon from Gov. Tom Mabry.
It didn’t take long for Mabry and historians who interviewed him to conclude that Roberts had misremembered, or forgotten, too much of his past. Of special concern was Robert’s complete lack of any Spanish speaking skills. Billy was fluent.
But the doubt about the Kid’s death were reignited seven years ago when the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department surprisingly launched an official investigation into the Kid’s death. News of the murder case spread worldwide.
Newly-elected Gov. Bill Richardson got involved with promises to match DNA. He subsequently dropped out of that part of the case but has ignited debate again by expressing interest in considering the pardon for Billy that former Govs. Mabry and Lew Wallace had denied.
Gale Cooper, author of recent books about the Kid has told me of confusion created by the doubt being raised about the Kid’s death.
Now, Joe Micalizzi, of TheMotionPicture.com and producer of “Billy the Kid’s New Mexico,” has sent me an article from the Hindustan Times in northern India.
The Times reports Gov. Richardson pledging to pardon the Kid if it is determined that he was actually Brushy Bill Roberts, buried in Texas. The Times says it received its information from the Daily Express, presumably a major Pakistani newspaper.
That is not the way the pardon story started last April but that is what it has turned into in at least some parts of the world.
Jay Miller is syndicated columnist. E-mail him at insidethecapitol@hotmail