No Pardon for Billy the Kid

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has decided not to posthumously pardon Billy the Kid, aka William H. Bonney, aka Henry McCarty, for any of his many crimes. Richardson considered pardoning him because the historical record suggests territorial Governor Lew Wallace may have extended the promise of a pardon in exchange for Billy’s testimony against another murderer. Billy testified but the pardon never materialized. He escaped from jail killing two guards only to be caught again, escape again, then finally shot to death by Lincoln County sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881.

The Wallace and Garrett familys were not pleased that Gov. Richardson was willing to re-examine the question of whether Wallace made a deal with Billy the Kid that he welched on and whether Garrett had shot the wrong man. The descendants of Billy the Kid’s victim Sheriff William J. Brady, killed on April Fool’s Day, 1878, were also offended by the very notion of a pardon.

Sheriff Pat GarrettIn July of this year, Garrett’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren wrote to Mr. Richardson: “If Billy the Kid were living amongst us now, would you issue a pardon for someone who made his living as a thief and, more egregiously, who killed four law enforcement officers and numerous others?”

But history buffs who also happen to be Governor can’t be deterred that easily, especially when they can’t run again because of term limits anyway. Richardson set up a website about the Billy the Kid pardon, soliciting comments on the question from the general public. Out of the 809 emails received, 430 of them favored granting the pardon, 379 were against it.

Overwhelming pro-Bonney numbers notwithstanding, the Governor ultimately decided the evidence was just too inconclusive even for this level of tourism-luring stunt pardoning. After all, even if Lew Wallace did offer Billy the Kid a pardon, he could have been lying to get his testimony. There was never any guarantee, nor is there any formal record of Governor Wallace making any such offer.

Some historians suggest that Mr. Wallace never explicitly offered a pardon to the outlaw, who also went by the names Henry McCarty and William H. Bonney, and might have been trying to trick him. Shortly before Mr. Wallace left office, he told a newspaper: “I can’t see how a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me.”


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Comment by edahstip
2011-01-01 17:50:20

They should dig him up and hang him just to be sure that justice is served.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-01-02 23:16:05

It’s the only way to be sure.

Comment by Auron Renius
2011-01-03 17:40:19

Funny how people hero worship murderers just because they lived a while ago. I wouldn’t pardon him either.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-01-04 22:12:06

I think there’s more to it than just the passage of time. Billy the Kid is an icon of the “lawless West” mythos. There were many other murderers who did their business while Billy was doing is, but we don’t remember them at all today, never mind lionize them.

Comment by Auron Renius
2011-01-09 12:58:53

I didn’t mean to imply all murderers from the past are hero worshiped but the point is, if he was doing his thing today, he would be seen as no good, but as it’s in the past, people tend to forget the pain he caused and just the legend. We are all guilty of it too, genghis khan is the one for me, love reading about him and romanticising his story but the trueth is he was like Hitler on a bad day.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-01-10 00:30:38

Oh, I see what you mean. It’s true, I’m a horrible sucker for capable rulers, even if a large part of that capability involved mass killings.

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Comment by Mike M
2012-06-08 19:23:27

Oooh! I love me a good Billy the Kid story!

Here’s the thing: As far as I know, Billy the Kid was no murderer. By many accounts of his day, he, in fact, despised killing. Doing it purely out of self-defense. Beginning with his first so-called “victim” Frank Cahill. (Cahill was a bully of the first degree according to his contemporaries. He came at Billy, threw him to the ground, at which point, Billy shot Cahill, who died the next day.)

Fearing for his life from Cahill’s family, he fled further west, where he took up horse thievery. (I know that back then, stealing horses would earn you the death penalty. Which would be considered quite offensive to today’s sensibilities towards human rights. 19th-century America did not exactly have the best human-rights track record. Nor indeed did America all the way up through most of the 20th century!)

Anyway, after working for a ranch or two, and while working for a cheese factory a little later, Billy met and began working for the Coe family, which was near Richard Brewer’s ranch.

Bill, Brewer, the Coes, and a few other of their friends (forget their names, and should look it up,) was hired as cattle guards for one John Tunstall. (Tunstall was an English cattle rancher, and would prove to be the part of the cause of a Hatfield-McCoy-style family feud-turned-war. On the one side, was the Tunstalls and his hred help. on the other, were two Irish families calling themselves “The House,” who despised Tunstall for no other reason than he was an Englishman.)

Tunstall was murdered by Jesse Evans, Sheriff William Brady, and their posse of bullies. All working for The House. (How in the world the descendants of Brady can defend such a despicable murderer in the guise of a lawman, is beyond me! :blankstare: ) The sheriff’s posse called it a “justifiable homicide” (whatever the hell THAT means) while all the evidence points to Tunstall trying to avoid any conflict whatsoever.

Looking it up now in the Wiki, since I don;t remember all the names involved, (funny I am telling this story in the order the wiki tells it. Like I said, I like me a good Billy the Kid story!)

McSween, a man who apparently hates violence and is on the “side” of Tunstall, decided to go about bringing the Tunstall murderers to justice through the law. The justice of the peace, John B. Wilson, issued a warrant for the arrests of the Tunstall murderers. One of whom was Sheriff Brady himself.

Brewer, who was Tunstall’s foreman, deputized the Coes, Saunders, and Billy the Kid himself…a group calling themselves “The Regulators.”

Two of the men they were able to round up were shot on the way to taking them to prison. Reportedly (and most likely) for attempting to escape from the Regulators. (Billy the Kid was not one of the ones who shot either of those men, it should be noted!)

The Governor, Samuel Axtell, got himself involved in the conflict. He came into town, and turned the Regulators into outlaws. Now, Axtell, suspiciously, refused to recognize a group of famously corrupt policians known as the “Santa Fe Ring,” led by US Attorney Thomas Catron, who apparently was working for The House!!

Brady turned around and arrested Bill and Fred Waite (another man in the Regulators.) He arrested the two men, while they in turn were attempting to serve the warrant on Brady issued by the local justice of the peace Wilson! Brady arrested the two men for “looting the late Tunstall’s property,” and accused two other Regulators for murdering Tunstall! (So Brady is not only a bully, a murderer, a dirty cop, but he’s a liar to boot!)

Now, obviously what happens when you have two groups of armed men involved in a thick plot of conflict? One group of which is obviously a bunch of corrupt lying, murdering, dirty, low-down, no-good posse led by one who calls himself “Sherif?”

Several of the Regulators, with Billy the Kid counted among them, ambushed the no-good Brady and killed him and his deputy George Hindman, right in the middle of Lincoln.

This is where public opinion turned against the Regulators, and the myth that Billy the Kid was a notorious murderer comes down to us today. (Remember, Billy only killed one man in his life thus far, which was completely out of self-defense!)

Anyway, the conflict continued, with the House continuing to be the aggressors. One John Copeland became sheriff, who sympathized with the Regulators.

The House recruited several of Brady’s former deputies, formed another posse, and went after Sheriff Copeland, getting into an engagement with McNab (who was killed,) wounded Saunders, and captured one of the Coes.

The Regulators finally traded shots with the House men, as well as US Cavalrymen, who were contacted to help end the bloodshed. (Obviously, shooting at US troops will not end up well for you.) The only death that day, was one member of the House. George Coe killed him.

The Regulators eventually tracked down McNabb’s killer, and killed him a few weeks after their little skirmish with US troops, and House members. On the way, the picked up a new member, Tom O’Folliard, who became Billy’s best friend.

The governor of the territory removed Copeland as sheriff, and replaced him with House member George Peppin. Which was not exactly legal at the time.

US cavalry and House men were able to surround and trap the Regulators in McSween’s house. Billy and most of the Regulators were able to get out, and fled. McSween was shot and killed escaping the fire.

Eventually, Lew Wallace became governor, and offered amnesty to any who would testify as to what happened in Lincoln. Billy was hiding out in Texas at the time, but offered himself up. He met with Wallace, and they agreed to terms.

The House arrested Billy, despite Wallace’s orders anyway. But he, yet again, was able to escape on horseback. (This is why I love this friggin kid so damned much! Always able to somehow get himself involved in conflicts, get out of tight situations, get arrested, escape, get arrested some more, and continue to escape! :boogie: )

By this time, Billy was really becoming quite famous, and the entire territory seemed to be after him, especially with Lew Wallace’s bounty of $500. Pat Garrett took up the cause of capturing Billy. He became sherrif, formed a posse, and trapped him and the Regulators inside a shack outside of town. Eventually, they surrendered, and Billy was taken up to Vegas. He was then transferred to Santa Fe. He was held at trial, and being the only person thus far found “guilty” in the Lincoln County War, was sentenced to die by hanging by Judge Bristol.

Billy, being the escape artist that he is, killed two of his guards and escaped after the sentencing.

There are many other notable things that happened that I did not mention. Other men he killed. (Such as the man in a saloon who attempted to shoot at Billy while he purposely had his back to him. Again, he killed out of self-defense, only, giving that man the chance to stand down.)

He was a earnest, and attempted to plead his case to governor Wallace, who refused to treat with the kid after one of his escapes. Judging by his character, there is no reason to not believe anything of what he told and/or wrote. He seems to have been an honest man, surrounded by nothing but murdering liars.

If you look up “Billy the Kid” the on wiki, you will notice that I failed to give credit where I quoted certain phrases in this account, as used by Wikipedia.

But this is an interesting tidbit, that came later than this blog entry, IRT the original ferotype of the only photograph of Billy the Kid:

“The ferrotype sold at auction on June 25, 2011, in a three-day Western show. It was purchased for 2.3 million dollars, some six times the estimate. It was the most expensive piece ever sold at Brian Lebel’s Annual Old West Show & Auction,[117] and the 7th most expensive photograph ever sold.”

(Note: This took a while to write out, and did not go back to spell-check, or fact-check for accuracy in wording.)

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