Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 03, 2012

5-4 Fued for thought about Billy statues

50612 BTK statues

SANTA FE – The recent column carrying researcher Mike Pitel's conclusion that Texas has two statues of Billy the Kid while New Mexico has none has drawn some responses.
Retired Col. Stuart Pritchard of Roswell suggests I don't know what I'm talking about. The amateurish statue in San Elizario, Texas is of no value as permanent statuary, he says. And the one in Hico, Texas is obviously disqualified since it purports to be Brushy Bill Roberts, a proven impostor.
Pritchard says there is an excellent bronze of the Kid in Artesia by Robert Summers, the sculptor of the recently dedicated Pat Garrett statue in Roswell. The Artesia statue is titled "The Rustler" and is intended to portray Billy branding a stolen John Chisum steer.
Billy did rustle steers for Chisum and from Chisum. So it seems quite logical that the statue portrays Billy. But some people in Artesia don't like the idea of immortalizing a law breaking Billy in bronze. Regardless, Pritchard says, the score stands New Mexico 1, Texas 0. I agree with him and Pritchard says the sculptor does too.
But Pitel doesn't. He spent a career as the Billy the Kid expert at the state Tourism Department. Pitel has traveled to every spot in New Mexico that has anything to do with Billy. And he's written authoritatively about it in brochures and a website.
Pitel says the Kid didn't waste any time stopping to brand his stolen cattle. The branding also would have attracted attention. If he happened upon a friend who already was branding, Billy might stop but that's it.
Secondly, Pitel says, leave artistic merit out of it. If the statue says "Billy the Kid," it's Billy the Kid. If it says "The Rustler," it's just any old rustler.
Finally, Pitel says Wilbur Coe, son of Frank Coe, who rode with Billy, carved an eight-foot statue of the Kid that sat at the Coe's front gate. Pitel isn't sure what happened to it because he hasn't seen it in many years.
Does anyone have any information on that statue?
Then there is sculptor Bob Diven in Las Cruces, who has an idea for how to get people, downtown again. We all know how towns grow toward the suburbs and leave the city center looking pretty deserted.
City leaders have tried their darndest to keep things looking spiffy but they just aren't as lively as I remember them back in the 1940s, when I spent many summers there visiting both sets of grandparents.
So Diven, whose talents also include painting, singing, design, photography and who knows what else, has an idea for a 60-foot Plexiglas Billy the Kid to be incorporated into the exterior of a three-story structure housing shops, restaurants and a museum. Diven already has completed a life-size clay statue of the Kid, awaiting supersizing.
Now that sounds like a winner. People would be willing to drive clear across town to see that. Heck, think of the tourists who would come.
Billy didn't spend a lot of time in the Las Cruces-La Mesilla area. The Santa Fe Ring was boss in those parts. That's why they took Billy there to be tried for Sheriff Brady's killing. And it worked. They got a quick conviction.
But that hasn't stopped local stores from featuring Billy. So why not go with Diven's idea? He says he's moving right along with a site and drawings and estimates. He probably has everything he needs except financing. Any takers?
It sounds a little too much like Texas. But, hey, we thought of it first. If tourists will travel halfway around the world to see a UFO, why not Billy the Kid?
Pitel says Divens' project reminds him of the late Murray Cornell of Santa Fe, who long claimed he owned the store where Billy the Kid was held pending his Las Cruces trial. Murray would have loved to get involved in this project.


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