Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Madam and the Outlaw


Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- Millie and Billy. Few towns in the world have the opportunity Silver City does to promote a madam and an outlaw as its most famous residents.

      Mildred Clark Cusey, immortalized in award-winning New Mexico author Max Evan's book "Madam Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan," and William Antrim, better known as Billy the Kid, give Silver City two of the most colorful characters imaginable to publicize their town.

      Feelings aren't unanimous in the community that this is what the old mining town should be doing. It's much like the situation in Roswell, where embarrassment exists that residents will become known as a bunch of UFO freaks.

   But a decade of tourism success as the World UFO Capital is beginning to convince the dubious that maybe there are some advantages to gritting their teeth and going along with the joke.

   Silver City isn't there yet, but the four-year-old Millie and Billy Ball, sponsored by the Mimbres Region Arts Council, is evidence that the idea is taking hold.

   The Arts Council isn't just any organization. It regularly is honored as New Mexico's top arts organization. The ball is held yearly in June. Tickets are $100 and include a barbecue dinner and $10,000 raffle. Attendees are invited to dress in period garb of the 1870s and 1880s for Billy or the 1920s to 1970s in honor of Millie.

   Millie, the madam, has a better reputation around town than Billy, the gunslinger. Millie was a generous donor to local events and charities. She ran as decent an operation as a brothel can be. My very proper mother had kind words about their meetings at the beauty shop and dress shop.

   Billy didn't shoot his first man in a cafĂ© at the corner of Broadway and Bullard as local lore had it when I lived there. But he was a juvenile delinquent as a teenager, running the streets after his father disappeared into the hills hunting gold and his mother died of tuberculosis. Surprisingly, Billy is said to have produced and starred in minstrel shows to raise money for his high school class.

   The visitors center in Silver City features cardboard cutouts of a young Millie and Billy that are used for picture taking at the ball. Next door to the center is a log cabin similar to the one in which Billy lived.

   When I lived there, we knew Billy's mother was buried in Memory Lane Cemetery, but we weren't quite sure where, because her grave was unmarked. Now, it not only has a gravestone, it has a historical marker.

   So do other graves in the cemetery. In fact, the county is full of historical markers, something it would be nice to see throughout the state.

   Fairview Cemetery in Santa Fe is full of famous gravesites. But they are unmarked and overgrown with weeds, including the grave of T.B. Catron, head of the Santa Fe Ring and one of our state's first two U.S. senators.

   We paid a visit to Silver City on Labor Day weekend to take in its annual Gem and Mineral Show. In return for a few hours of shopping, I got to show our group some of my favorite haunts from a half century ago.

   While in Silver City, I picked up a copy of Desert Exposure, a monthly magazine for Southwest New Mexico. The issue featured winners of a writing contest. The Grand Prize winner was Phillip "Pep" Parotti, a high school friend who recently moved back from a teaching career at Sam Houston State in Texas.

   It was an essay about high school pranks at Mildred's mansion on Hudson Street. Most any boy who grew up in Silver City has a similar bag of stories. It was a rite of passage.

   My story is of the night we bravely threw a can of cat food on Millie's back porch. She reported to police that it had broken a stained glass window and she had seen "Y. Toy" on a black delivery truck. Herb Toy took the rap for several of us who likely would be grounded to this day had our parents been notified.

FRI, 9-14-07


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

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



Post a Comment

<< Home