Inside the Capitol

Friday, June 04, 2004

How to Make the Best of Billy

SANTA FE - Here's my contribution to a positive resolution of current Billy the Kid controversy.
This column has said there are better ways that digging up bodies to prove whether Pat Garrett shot Billy or let him get away. There also are better ways to prove whether any of Billy's pretenders were the real thing. And there are better ways to improve sagging tourism in Billy the Kid Country.
The three sheriffs now are saying what they really want is to determine what happened in the Lincoln County Courthouse the day Billy escaped and left two deputies dead. Did he have an accomplice who left him a gun in the outhouse, with which to shoot the first deputy?
I'll admit to not having a ready answer for that. Billy already had been sentenced to death for killing Sheriff Brady so there wasn't much investigation done at the time. If the sheriffs would confine their investigation to that matter, and forget about digging up graves, everyone might be happy and the sheriffs might contribute something to the Billy legend.
Here's my proposal for other activities.
1. Compare Billy's handwriting and photograph with those of his pretenders. Tim Evans, who produced "Billy the Kid Unmasked" for the Discovery Channel recently, has had a photographic analysis done already. It is possible he would get a handwriting analysis done too, since he has told me he would like to do a second program.
2. Hold the four hearings around Billy the Kid Country that Gov. Richardson enthused about when he announced his support for the sheriff's project. Several Billy the Kid scholars have told me they are willing to help.
The scholars, the sheriffs and others, as appropriate, could serve as expert witnesses. In order to make the hearings interesting to a public conditioned to fast-moving TV specials, maybe the scripts could be written using Gov. Richardson's contacts in the film industry, assisted by students in the screen writing classes that will be funded by the $10 million appropriation requested by the governor and approved by the 2004 Legislature for beefing up the New Mexico film industry's infrastructure.
The governor also could use his contacts to promote the hearings as media events. Billy the Kid is better known around the world than O.J. Simpson was before his trial. Such extravaganzas aren't unknown to New Mexico. The trial of the accused killers of Albert Jennings Fountain, who defended Billy at his murder trial, drew hordes of reporters from all over the planet – and that was over a century ago, in Hillsboro, NM.
3. Some of that $10 million the Legislature appropriated for New Mexico's film effort could be used as a prize for the best film script on the life and death of Billy. And the state's kitty for producing movies in and about New Mexico would be quite an enticement for getting the movie shot here in the actual locations.
4. The History Channel and the Discovery Channel already have featured Billy's legend this year. With increasing interest in the current Billy controversy, network television may be ready for it.
5. Ask Gov. Richardson to find money for a major writing competition with prizes for the best new fiction and non-fiction books on Billy. The non-fiction category would be especially good for encouraging new research into the legend.
6. The state Tourism Department could develop a Billy the Kid Circle Tour of the state, featuring not only the communities that already promote their relation to Billy, but some like Silver City, Roswell, Las Vegas and Santa Fe that haven't featured him in the past.
7. And the capstone of it all would be a grand 125th Anniversary Commemoration of Billy's final months of life, featuring those communities in which the action was taking place at the time. July 2006 is the anniversary of Billy's death. Events could start many months earlier. And the grand finale would include awarding of the prizes for best research, best novel and best movie.
There's my ideas. I'd love to hear yours.


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