Still no Pardon for Billy the Kid

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetI guess I ate too much on Easter Sunday … well, I know I did, so I decided to resurrect one of my favorite blogs (no pun intended; now if you believe it then I have the Waco Bridge for sale).  This is one of my favorite blogs.  Please remember, that Bill Richardson has been out of office in New Mexico since 2011, and Billy the Kid is still an outlaw, although there were a lot of rumors that Gov. Richardson was going to pardon him.

As I did a tad, or what I thought would be just a little, research on William Booney, I learned quite a bit that I Billy the Kidwant to share.  Billy the Kid was born in 1859 in New York City and his real name, as we all know, was William Henry McCarty, Jr.  He was also known as Henry Antim and of course the alias of William H. Booney.  It was believed that he father either died of left the family when William was very young.  His mother died when he was very young from tuberculosis; thus leaving him an orphan.  That’s when he and his brother go involved in petty theft.  There is little, if anything, known about his early years.

The “Kid” as he was known by other outlaws had a slim physique, sandy blond hair and blue eyes to kill for. He wore a “sugar-load” sombrero hat with a wide decorative band. He could be charming and polite one moment then go into an outrage without warning, a sort of an intoxicating nature he used to great advantage during his heists and robberies.

On the run, “Billy” moved to Arizona briefly before joining up with a gang of gunfighters called “The Boys” to fight in the Lincoln County War.  Known as “The Kid”, McCarty switched to the opposition to fight with John Tunsall under the name “the Regulators”.

Pat GarrettBarely escaping with his life, McCarty became an outlaw and a fugitive. He stole horses and cattle until his arrest in 1880 for the killing of Sheriff Brady during the Lincoln County War.  After being sentenced to death, he killed his two guards and escaped in 1881.  He was hunted down and shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

This is what I found interesting most of all.  Shortly after the shooting, Sheriff Garrett wrote a biography of “The Kid”, the hugely sensationalized The Authentic Life of Bill, the Kid.  The book was the first of many accounts that would turn the young outlaw into a legend of the American frontier.

I sure wish I could get my hands on a copy of this book.  Wow!

In his last day in office in 2011,  New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced on New Year’s Eve he would not grant a posthumous pardon to the infamous Old West bad guy, after drawing international attention by entertaining a petition on Billy the Kid’s behalf.

The pardon request had centered on whether Billy the Kid, who was shot to death in 1881 after escaping jail for the killing of County Sheriff William Brady in 1878, had been promised a pardon from New Mexico’s territorial governor, Lew Wallace, in return for testimony in killings he had witnessed.

But the descendants of Wallace and Sheriff Pat Garrett, who fatally shot the fugitive, were outraged over the proposal.  Pauline Garrett Tillinghast expressed her concern that a pardon would tarnish her grandfather’s legacy. Though the pardon might have been narrowly tailored, she said, “It’s ridiculous to pardon a murderer. Hollywood has turned him into some sort of a folk hero.”  Pat Garrett’s grandson J.P. Garrett and Wallace’s great-grandson William Wallace also publicly opposed the possibility of pardon.

According to legend, Billy the Kid killed 21 people, one for each year of his life. The New Mexico Tourism Department puts the total closer to nine. The Kid was a ranch hand and gunslinger in the bloody Lincoln County War, a feud between factions vying to dominate the dry goods business and cattle trading in southern New Mexico. Billy the Kid killed two deputies while escaping jail.

The person filing the request for pardon argued that Lew Wallace promised to pardon the Kid, also known as Gov Lew WallaceWilliam Bonney or Henry McCarty. She said the Kid kept his end of the bargain, but the territorial governor did not. But, J.P. Garrett of Albuquerque said there’s no proof Gov. Wallace offered a pardon — and may have tricked the Kid into testifying.

“The big picture is that Wallace obviously had no intention to pardon Billy — even telling a reporter that fact in an interview on April 28, 1881,” he wrote. “So there was no ‘pardon promise’ that Wallace broke. But I do think there was a pardon ‘trick,’ in that Wallace led Billy on to get his testimony.”

Garrett also said that when the Kid was awaiting trial in Brady’s killing, “he wrote four letters for aid, but never used the word ‘pardon.”‘

William Wallace of Westport, Conn., said his ancestor never promised a pardon and that pardoning the Kid “would declare Lew Wallace to have been a dishonorable liar.”

According to historians, The Kid in fact wrote Wallace in 1879, volunteering to testify if Wallace would annul pending charges against him, including a murder indictment in Brady’s death.

A tantalizing part of the question is a clandestine meeting Wallace had with the Kid in Lincoln in March 1879. The Kid’s letters leave no doubt he wanted Wallace to at least grant him immunity from prosecution.  Wallace, in arranging the meeting, responded: “I have authority to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know.”

But when the Las Vegas, N.M., Gazette asked Wallace shortly before he left office about prospects he would spare the Kid’s life, Wallace replied: “I can’t see how a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me.”

The historical record on the pardon is ambiguous, and there are no written documents “pertaining in any way” to a pardon in the papers of the territorial governor, who served in office from 1878 to 1881.

Of interest, Governor Richardson’s office set up a web-site so citizens could weight in on the subject of the pardon. His office received 809 e-mails and letters, with 430 favoring a pardon and 379 opposed. Comments came from all over the world.  I’d say the issue was fairly split down the middle probably along moral and political line, I suspect.

Governor Richardson said that he decided against a pardon “because of a lack of conclusiveness and the historical ambiguity as to why Gov. Wallace reneged on his promise.”  Richardson states said the Kid is part of New Mexico history and he’s been interested in the case for years. .

I’m not writing this post from a political point of view, strictly from an historical one. The interesting part is a century and nearly a half years after killing numerous people, including lawmen, and being shot to death, the life and legend of Billy the Kid still can’t be put to rest.

So tell me who is your favorite controversial historical figure?

The Troubled Texan Good


To one reader who leaves a comment, I will send your choice of a trade size copy or an iBook of The Troubled Texan, the first of the Kasota Springs Romance Series, from Kensington.  If you’d prefer an autographed copy of any one of the six anthologies that sister filly, Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, the late DeWanna Pace, and I wrote that is an option, too.

 Update: “The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid.” Just a few hours ago, I found the book in various conditions, hardback and paperback on second market. Of course, I grabbed a hardback copy that appeared in good shape. I am eager to get it and possible, if I have time to read the book between now and next month’s blog, I’ll have more Billy the Kid history to share. There are a number of copies on the second market, so if you’re interest I’d hurry and get your copy. Hugs, Phyliss

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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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16 thoughts on “Still no Pardon for Billy the Kid”

  1. What a great post Phyllis. I learned a lot I didn’t know. I’ve always thought things surrounding Jesse James was controversial. I’ve never really taken the time to delve into his life story but maybe one day.

    I would LOVE to win a copy of your book. Thank you for the chance.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Hi Cindy,

      Good to hear from you. I love your choice of outlaw, too! Billy the Kid ran in this area of Texas, especially Old Tascosa and Old Mobeetie, so I’ve always been interested in his story. I was thrilled to find a copy of Pat Garrett’s book on the second market. I think it’ll be so interesting, since all we really know about is what people “think” happened. I don’t know enough about Jesse James, so need to add him and the James Gang to my “to research” list. You are definitely in the Stetson for the drawing. Hugs, Phyliss

      • Alisa, good to see you and hope you weren’t late for work. I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! That’s certainly on my list of good-bad outlaws. Kinda a Robin Hood of sorts. Have a great day, my friend. Hugs, Phyliss

  2. I’m supposed to be getting ready for work. Instead, I was drawn into your post. Amazing how old west outlaws still draw us in. Maybe it’s because of the movie, but I’m drawn to stories about Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

    • Hi Alisa, I love Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, too. I’m like you, it could be because of the movie. Who can resist Paul Newman as any character. Thanks for commenting and you’re name is definitely in the Stetson for the drawing of my new contemporary Book #2 in the Kasota Springs series. Hugs and have a great day, Phyliss

    • Hi Janine, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Glad you enjoyed the blog. There are so many historical outlaws, it seems unreal; but I guess it’s no different than today in many ways, except for different reasons. Got you in the Stetson for the drawing! Hugs, Phyliss

  3. cant think of any off hand but I dont feel a criminal alive or dead deserves a pardon,,no one pardoned their victums,,enjoyed the post very interesting

    • Good to see you today, Vickie. I totally agree with you, especially with someone like Billy the Kid. I’m so excited to get my copy of Pat Garrett’s story about killing “The Kid” and see what his point of view is on it. I might have another blog about Pat Garrett! Hugs and have a blessed day, my friend. Phyliss

  4. Phyliss, I just love learning more and more about these western baddies. I don’t know what it is about me and outlaws. I guess I wish we would get them all redeemed. I, gulp, admit Jesse and Frank have always been favorites.

    Love to you and best wishes with the book! xox

    • Hi Tanya,
      I think we all like baddies and want them to have redemption; that might well be the reason Billy the Kid and people like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are so famous. Then you have Pat Garrett and the like.

      I know you know it; however, some of the ladies who commented don’t, but my new series (I’m writing on book #2) is the Kasota Springs Romance and is a contemporary series based on two of the anthologies that Linda, Jodi, our friend DeWanna, and I wrote. “Give Me a Cowboy” and “A Texas Christmas”. This series is about the 4th and 5th generation of families who are in these two western historical romances. It’s been fun to write; and thanks for giving me a lead-in to tell everyone about the books. The one I’m giving away is the first in the series. Big hugs and much love to a great Filly Friend, Phyliss

  5. Such interesting things you ladies find out and share with us! I love these little peeks into history!

    • Hi Colleen,

      On behalf of all of the Fillies and our special guest bloggers, we thank you. I read every blog and always find little tidbits of history that I pray I’ll remember when the time comes to use it. I think most everybody loves history, be it their family or other people … even outlaws. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Phyliss

  6. Great post on “the kid”, Phyliss! I never have heard about the pardon scuffle, so that was interesting. Also, didn’t realize he had so many different names.

    I’m not sure you could classify my historical figure as “controversial”–fascinating to me would be more like it… but I’ve always been interested in Juan Sequin–the leader of the Mexicans that were fighting for a free Texas at the Alamo.

    Thanks for an interesting post!

    • Hi Kathryn, I’ve got to check out Juan Sequin more. I have little knowledge of him, although I’ve spent a lot of time in San Antonio at the Alamo (kids lived there). Thanks for the tip. I knew of two names for Billy the Kid but sure didn’t know about his biological name. I thought it was cool. Thanks for commenting and your name is in the Stetson for today’s drawing. Hugs, Phyliss

  7. I’ve thought about James Hickock. I live just a few miles from Rock Creek Nebr. – Hickok’s iconic status is rooted in a shootout in July 1861 in what came to be known as the McCanles Massacre in Rock Creek, Nebraska, I wonder.. was he good man or bad. Enjoyed your post!

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