Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Billy Battle Yields Some Good

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – People in the intellectual community as well as fans of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in this country and around the world have responded to the Billy the Kid case of the three sheriffs and one governor with gratifying strength and unity.
Like an old-fashioned case of chicken pox, once it’s over, it leaves you tougher because you developed an immunity. Good things can come out of bad.
The Billy the Kid Case is said to have begun when the three sheriffs took a trail ride or tipped a few drinks together, or both. What has been so bothersome to its observers over the past year is that something as ridiculous and consuming of public officials’ time and resources was allowed to go on so long.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, it seems from the conclusions of experts in history, science, and the law that there was an effort to hoodwink us. It really was The Lincoln County Hoax.
People have resented being treated like suckers, worrying that officials are taking a free ride with their tax dollars, and realizing that “solving” an already solved murder 123 years old has higher priority in Lincoln and De Baca County law enforcement than solving real murders for bereaved families.
And what was the result? First, nobody was taken in. The three sheriffs and one governor have been scooting between Silver City and Fort Sumner trying to sell their tale to courts and trying to get at the bones of Billy and his mother.
But so far no one is biting. Not a single expert, other than forensic specialist Dr. Henry Lee (being paid by the History Channel and of O.J. Simpson defense fame) has done anything but laugh or get outraged.
Secondly, we started to look closer at the perpetrators. Sheriff Graves is facing recall. Deputy Sheriff Sederwall now shows no sign of being a real deputy. Sheriff Sullivan is clinging to the hope that by saying he is conducting a real criminal investigation, he can shield his departmental finances from public scrutiny. And the governor’s attorney is still talking to dead Billy.
Meanwhile back in the real world, the communities of Fort Sumner and Silver City have taken another look at their heritage of historic sites, visited and cherished by tourists from around the world. And they have found pride, which has united not only the townspeople, but has brought together the towns.
On September 27th in Fort Sumner, when the judge will hear the motions to dismiss the Billy the Kid case, Mayor Terry Fortenberry of Silver City will be there to show solidarity with Mayor Raymond Lopez, standing for Fort Sumner. And last year Mayor Lopez did the same for him.
In fact the people coming in support of the opposition prove that good can come from bad. Frederick Nolan, the world’s expert on Lincoln County War history will be there from England. Leon Metz, Garrett’s famous biographer, will come from Texas. Shared economic goals brings Cissy McAndrew, executive director of the Silver City Chamber of Commerce. Lincoln County Commissioner Leo Martinez is coming too in an effort to heal any rift between Lincoln and De Baca counties.
In fact, the whole thing makes me proud. People have been talking for years about a Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett historic trail that would circle through our state and join the towns that were a part of their history.
That includes Silver City of Billy’s childhood and his mother’s grave, Santa Fe where he was in jail, Old Mesilla where he stood trial, Lincoln where he had his great escape, and Fort Sumner where he and Pat had their fateful showdown and where Billy is buried.
Maybe that trail ride that took a wrong turn could put New Mexicans back on the trail of their unmatchable history of the Old West and its historic sites.
SUN, 9-26-04

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


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