Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Billy continues his ride

BILLY THE KID – Columns causing greatest frustration
When former Gov. Bill Richardson called a press conference early in his 2003-2010 terms, to propose the exhumation of Billy's grave in Fort Sumner and his mother's grave in Silver City, he based his arguments on scientific and historical grounds.
The subject seemed like another natural for me to cover. I grew up on the Western edge of Billy the Kid Country in Silver City and Las Cruces, hearing many stories from friends and family.
Silver City is where Billy rather innocently entered his criminal career and Mesilla, a neighbor of Las Cruces, was where Billy was sentenced to death. Besides, friends from Silver City and Fort Sumner, where Billy was killed, encouraged me to enter the fray on the side of not digging up Billy or his Mom.
Several generations of my family had lived in Las Cruces, dating back to the late-1880s. My grandmothers had told me many stories about Billy and Sheriff Pat Garrett who lived in the Las Cruces area in his later years. The stories piqued my interest even though most of them turned out to be wrong. Books and movies of the era also got it mostly wrong.
And so it may be natural that events involving Billy during Gov. Richardson's two terms did not bear much semblance to reality. Everyone's motives seemed to be fuzzy.
What was it that grabbed Gov. Richardson's interest? He grew up in Mexico City and a Massachusetts boarding school so it is unlikely he developed a fascination during those years. But he says he always was interested in Billy.
Was it New Mexico tourism he wanted to promote? He occasionally hinted at that. Were there big campaign contributors who were fascinated with Billy or who wanted to be part of his story or wanted to move Billy's grave to their property? There were many stories along those lines. Did he think Billy's fame might help him in a presidential run?
And what about the three sheriffs who initially helped the governor in his quest to dig up Billy? Were they trying to prove Billy's pretenders were the real Billy? Or were they trying to prove they were frauds?
Were they trying to prove Sheriff Pat Garrett shot the real Billy and not someone else? Were they just trying to find the truth? Or were they just three good 'ol boys out to have some fun? The story kept changing.
It was a frustrating case to cover and it's not completely over yet? At least I turned those columns into a book.


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