Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Texas Bent on Stealing Most Famous New Mexican


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Unless Gov. Bill Richardson is elected president, Billy the Kid remains our most famous New Mexican. But Billy is now in danger of being caught dead in Texas.

      The danger really isn't that great. Texas is just doing its usual thing of trying to steal stuff from New Mexico. First it was land. Then it was water. Now it's Billy.

      Back in 1950, an 90-year-old Texan named "Brushy Bill" Roberts came to Santa Fe to try to get Gov. Tom Mabry to grant him the pardon territorial Gov. Lew Wallace had promised Billy. Mabry listened but wasn't convinced.

      Roberts died shortly thereafter, but his legend didn't. Some locals still believed him and that has led to a monument at Brushy's grave in Hamilton, Texas; a museum in nearby Hico, where he lived and another museum along an Interstate, in Canton, Texas.

      We warned in a recent column that Billy's ghost is stirring in Texas. We now learn that Lincoln County Deputy Sheriff Steve Sederwall has asked the Hamilton City Council for permission to dig up Brushy Bill and test his DNA.

      Sederwall was one of the three sheriffs who were trying to dig up Billy and his mother three years ago in New Mexico. Court action stopped those two exhumations, although a judge in Silver City ruled that if Billy's DNA can be obtained, he'll reconsider exhuming his mother.

      The Texans have themselves a bit of a problem. Since Brushy is buried in a town that doesn't have a museum taking advantage of his bogus claim, the city council isn't particularly interested in letting anyone dig in its cemetery.

      So the Hamilton City Council rejected the exhumation request after two hearings and considerable discussion. New Mexicans might be interested to know that the objections raised by the Hamilton councilors were almost identical to those raised in Silver City and Fort Sumner three years ago.

      They were worried about relatives who might object. They had trouble believing that a carpenter's bench recently pulled out of an Albuquerque chicken coop really contained Billy's DNA. And they wondered about who has sufficient interest in the exhumation to underwrite it.

      But it isn't over yet. Hamilton officials expect those interested in digging to go to court to obtain an exhumation order.

   The only place Sederwall and his associates have been able to dig is in Prescott, Arizona. John Miller, whom many thought to be Billy, was buried at the Arizona Pioneer Home cemetery. His exact grave location is unsure because it isn't marked.

   But the investigators dug anyway, with a backhoe, and unearthed two skeletons. DNA from the one thought to be John Miller was tested over a year ago to determine if it was identical to that found on the carpenter's bench.

   Since no report has yet been made public on that test and since the investigators now want to dig in Texas, it seems reasonable to assume that no DNA match was found in Arizona.

   The people who are wanting to dig now have a different motivation than they originally did. In the beginning, Sederwall said they wanted to prove that Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett did shoot Billy, thereby preserving the reputation of New Mexico's most famous lawman.

   Sederwall had visited the Hico, Texas, Billy the Kid Museum and was incensed that it was claiming that Garrett, whose image is on the Lincoln County Sheriff's emblem, killed someone else and lied about it.

   But a few years later, Sederwall is saying he has "a lot of stuff that says history is different than what is reported." He now says he has an open mind and wants to "let science show us the truth."

   If the truth is that Billy went to Texas to live nearly 70 more years, the title of most famous New Mexican becomes a race between Smokey Bear and the Roswell aliens.

FRI, 5-18-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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