Billy the Kid letters donated to public library

Billy the Kid wrote to New Mexico’s territorial governor Lew Wallace twice asking for a pardon.

In the first letter, he offers to turn state’s witness on a murder he didn’t commit in order to secure a pardon for the murders he did commit.

In the second, he threatens to reveal that the governor’s been making deals with him if he doesn’t get that pardon.

They were written in the aftermath of the so-called Lincoln County war, a bloody, five-month feud in 1878 between mercantile interests in the southern New Mexico village of Lincoln. The Kid, a ranch hand, was aligned with one of the factions.

In the first letter, undated but believed to have been written in March 1879, the Kid tells Wallace he was a witness to a murder the previous month that had shattered the peace in the county.

He says he will testify in court if he’s protected from his enemies, and indictments against him stemming from the Lincoln County War are annulled. […]

After the governor and the young outlaw met a few days later, there was a carefully arranged, staged arrest and the Kid testified. But no pardon ever materialized.

Hence the second letter in which an imprisoned and condemned Billy suggests the governor to make good on the deal or face public revelation. Billy the Kid seems to have been a bit of snitch.

He managed to break out of jail, killing both his guards, before his scheduled execution, but just 4 months after writing the second letter, he met his end at Pat Garrett’s hand. Since then, the letters have remained in the Wallace family or with private historical societies.

Now they’ve been donated to the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe where they are open to the viewing public, much to the delight of all Wild West aficionados.