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Now that New Mexico finally has a statue of Pat Garrett, our state’s best known lawman, Lincoln County War researcher Mike Pitel notes that the score on Billy the Kid statues is Texas: 2, New Mexico: 0.
We recently mentioned San Elizario, Texas, just down the river from El Paso, has erected a Billy the Kid statue in its business district designed to increase tourist traffic to the village. Then there is a statue of the Kid and a small museum in Hico, Texas and a grave marker in nearby Hamilton, Texas.
Hico, pronounced High-co, claims that local character William Henry Roberts was really Billy the Kid. According to promoters of that story, the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett conspired to kill someone else and split the $500 reward offered by Gov. Lew Wallace. Garrett claimed the entire reward but Gov. Wallace never paid off.
Roberts also went by other names. After a cousin named Oliver P. died, Roberts took the name Ollie and sometimes used “L” as middle initial. He also went by Brushy Bill after coming up with the claim he was Billy the Kid.
Brushy also claimed to have been a member of the Jesse James Gang, a Rough Rider, a Pinkerton detective, a buddy of Pancho Villa and numerous other characters from Western history. His 15 minutes of fame came in 1950 when he asked New Mexico Gov. Tom Mabry for a pardon. Mabry granted him a private hearing in the presence of two historians of the governorís choosing. Brushy did not do well on history. He completely failed at speaking Spanish, in which Billy was fluent. The pardon was not granted.
The San Elizario statue commemorates a popular local story that the Kid freed a friend from the local jail. The claim appears in Pat Garrett’s book, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid.But historians have not been able to corroborate the story and are very skeptical it actually took place.
It appears, then, that the two Texas statues, which seek a place in Billy the Kid’s story, are very dubious. They both are meant to attract tourists and likely are doing well at it.
New Mexico had a Billy the Kid statue at one time. Mike Pitel’s research indicates that a life-size statue of the Kid was placed in downtown Fort Sumner on September 20, 1999.
Pitel says Fort Sumner artist Steve Sewell created the statue, at his own expense, out of chicken wire and concrete. It was situated so it could be noticed by tourists heading toward the Billy the Kid Museum in town or heading toward the turnoff to the Kid’s gravesite, the Fort Sumner Museum and the Fort Sumner state monument.
A plaque accompanying the statue read”There was a young man who came this way, changed many lives, then was taken away. BTK 1859-1881.”
Pitel says the statue disappeared. The local word was that vandals tore it down one night. The story is believable in terms of accounts of the Kidís tombstone being stolen so often.
But the statue never was replaced. Other events have indicated that most people in Fort Sumner donít seem particularly supportive of anything involving Billy the Kid. He was a criminal and they donít want anything to do with him.
The Kid was shot on the rambling property owned by the Maxwell family that had moved from Cimarron, along with 25-40 other families, in late 1870. That was the beginning of what became, decades later, the village of Fort Sumner and the creation of De Baca County.
But that important piece of county history is not to be found anywhere in the area. It is sometimes difficult for a community to acknowledge its past. And yet the nearby Bosque Redondo, where over 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apaches were interned from 1863-1868 is a state monument with a memorial and museum.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based out of Santa Fe.