Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

7-13 Billy the Kid's 126th


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- July 14 is the 126th anniversary of Billy the Kid's killing by Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner. Last year Fort Sumner hosted an observance of the event, which received some good publicity.

   At the request of Gov. Bill Richardson, the 2006 Legislature appropriated $200,000 for similar events throughout this past year to celebrate the 125th anniversary year throughout Billy the Kid Country.

   Fort Sumner kicked it off with a July 14 event. But poor coordination by the state and a delay of five months in getting Fort Sumner its reimbursement caused other locations to be a little gun shy about jumping into the act.

   We are going to get a series of four brochures for communities to use in explaining their part in the Billy story. The first two will be available soon. Other events will depend on whether last year's Legislative appropriation can be carried over into this year.

   But then, maybe Billy wasn't killed 126 years ago. Maybe he died of natural causes only 70 years ago, or even 57 years ago. Two Texas museums claim local character, Brushy Bill Roberts, was Billy.

   In 1950 Roberts came to New Mexico, claiming he was Billy the Kid and asked Gov. Tom Mabry for the pardon Gov. Lew Wallace had promised. Mabry wasn't impressed with Robert's knowledge of the Lincoln County War.

   In addition, Roberts couldn't speak any Spanish, whereas Billy was fluent. Roberts also was illiterate. Billy's letters to Gov. Wallace reminding him of the promised pardon were well written in very good handwriting.

   A niece of Roberts didn't believe a word of her uncle's story. She produced a family bible showing Roberts was born in 1879. Garrett shot the Kid in 1881. Billy was a young gun, but not that young

   John Miller died in 1937, at the Arizona Pioneers Home in Prescott. Although no one has ever opened a museum on his behalf and only one book has ever been written about him, Miller bore much more resemblance to Billy and shared most of his traits.

   The problem is that although Miller knew a great deal about Billy, he never openly claimed to be him. Occasionally he would tell a friend but take it back the next day.

   Miller died without ever standing for questions. But if he were the real Billy, he likely wouldn't have wanted to publicly reveal himself after killing three lawmen and incurring the eternal enmity of the Santa Fe Ring.

   A body, which may have been Miller's was dug out of the Arizona cemetery last year. DNA samples were taken to compare with blood from a bench on which Billy supposedly was laid. No announcement has yet been made about whether there was a match, but one would assume that if there were a match, the world would have heard about it.

   There is question about the bench on which Billy bled and whether his was the only blood on a bench used for carpentry. The provenance on the bench is shaky and the possibility of matching DNA this old for this purpose is dubious.

   But I will say, I was on the trail of the same bench, which had been sitting in an old chicken coop for many years. If the bench still is in existence, that is probably it. You can see it at the Albuquerque Museum until the Billy the Kid exhibit closes July 22.

   I've received some reader responses concerning a recent column about that Albuquerque Museum exhibit. In one, I was scolded for not mentioning that Bob McCubbin, of Santa Fe, was a major contributor to the exhibit.

   I should have mentioned McCubbin. I've been privileged on several occasions to see his outstanding collection of original photographs, books and artifacts of the old West.

   I had praised McCubbin's collection in previous columns and never had mentioned the other contributors to the exhibit because they were on the other side of whether Billy and his mother should be exhumed.

FRI, 7-13-07


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

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



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