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SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson still has Billy the Kid on his mind. This time, instead of trying to dig him up, he’s wanting to pardon him for his sins.
The governor invited me to his office a few months ago to ask if I would help him gauge public opinion, especially among the Billy community, about his project.
It seemed harmless enough. There are an extensive number of Billy fans stretched around the world. When I was writing columns on the attempted exhumations back in 2003-2004, replies came from England, Iraq, Australia and many other far-flung places.
From them I received replies that the pardon seemed like a good idea if it would involve a panel of experts addressing the subject in a dignified and scholarly manner so that the conclusion would be respected.
Most Billy fans want to see the pardon granted that Gov. Lew Wallace promised but never got around to addressing. They saw Billy as a freedom fighter against the Santa Fe Ring and its Lincoln County operatives.
Numerous historians cautioned that any pardon consideration must be based on the information Gov. Wallace had at the time. Billy had not yet shot the two deputy sheriffs during his famous jailbreak.
Then there were those of us who wanted to increase the tourist traffic to New Mexico. Billy ranged over nearly all the state except the Four Corners area.
But as word spread from the historians, bloggers and fan club chairmen I originally contacted, responses became more negative. History is history, some in that business said. It happened. Get over it.
And then there were those to whom it wasn’t about Billy the Kid. It was about Bill the Governor. This was just some more grandstanding to give him a little bigger place in history.
Historians weighed in again, producing information indicating Wallace’s failure to pardon the Kid was not just an oversight caused by paying too much attention to writing “Ben Hur.” Wallace had no intention of pardoning Billy.
A conversation between the two took place in Squire Wilson’s home in Lincoln but no written agreement was made. Wallace is said by some to have felt that Billy didn’t carry out his end of the bargain. And others say Wallace was pressured by the Santa Fe Ring not to pardon Billy.
Whatever the case, much argument among the experts still remains with very little time to do it. Gov. Richardson’s term ends in just over six months.
It is unfortunate this conversation couldn’t have begun seven years ago when Richardson first expressed interest in Billy the Kid. He said at the time he would like to consider a pardon.
There are even those out there who fear that Brushy Bill Roberts may be brought into the picture as really being Billy who led a long and law abiding life following his non-death in Fort Sumner and, therefore, should be pardoned. Former New Mexico Gov. Tom Mabry considered that pardon 60 years ago and refused.
The above information has all been submitted to the governor’s office. As more comes in, it is sent along. Apparently no firm decision has been made yet.
There is still time for my dear readers to weigh in with their opinion. Please send them to inside
firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, N.M. 87505 will work. Telephone calls are difficult to forward — and for a guy well into his 70s, they sometimes are hard to report with precision.
The next column will be a reply I received from Dr. Gale Cooper, who helped me so much with the research for my book, “Billy the Kid Rides Again: Digging for the Truth.”
She has now written several books of her own on Billy. Her column will be a review of her latest book, “Mega Hoax: The Strange Plot to Exhume Billy the Kid and Become President.”
In the guest column, she makes the argument that the pardon trial should not be conducted.
E-mail Jay Miller at email@example.com.