Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Famous Ghosts of New Mexico: Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid—aka William Bonney’s image has been portrayed based more in myth than in fact over the years. 

History states he was the most ruthless outlaw the west ever knew. It is claimed he shot 21 men for each year of his life but he didn’t live to see his 21st birthday. The facts present a very different picture of Billy.

He was promised a pardon by the then New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace, which he never received. Billy actually only killed four men, the first two in self-defense one because he was bullying him. Billy was slight of build which often made him a target during this ruthless, bloody time.

The final two men he killed because of his participation in the Lincoln County War. He fought on what many people of the time considered was the wrong side. He added insult to injury by testifying in court against what was again considered the “right” side so circumstances made him a wanted man and he was placed in jail later for crimes he committed in response to the other side’s persecution of him. 

The last two men he killed were his jailers. History forgets to mention that Billy was also a duly appointed constable for the side he fought for during the Lincoln County War.

Some say Billy actually killed nine men altogether if you include men who were killed during the Lincoln County War but there is no proof it was his bullets that hit these men, plus many men killed and were killed during the Lincoln County War.

Billy has been betrayed as a prolific cattle rustler—he only rustled cattle once and that was to take revenge on John Chisum. Billy and Pat Garrett were never friends. The fact is Pat Garrett took Billy’s life in a ruthless manner—he shot him in the back.

Billy is betrayed as illiterate, but in fact he could read and write—his letters reflect a keen intelligence. Billy spoke fluent Spanish. He loved to sing and had a good voice. 

History betrays him as short, fat, and, ugly which wasn’t the case. * People who knew him stated that the famous photo of him was not accurate. 

He actually had a winning personality and was considered handsome. He was 5’9” tall and very popular with the girls. He was also known as being sweet not ruthless.

As a young teenager Billy was the town troublemaker—the crimes he committed during this time were all petty in nature. He knew how to use a gun-- he practiced for hours everyday. 

He lived during a very violent time but in his short life he never raped, drank to excess, got involved in fights, stole another man’s horse, or killed a man for pleasure. Many violent acts that history has attributed to Billy actually were committed by other men of the time whom history considers not as ruthless as Billy.

Lincoln, New Mexico is not a ghost town. But a very famous ghost wanders its streets today. Billy has been spotted in the old jail at Lincoln. He has also been seen in other parts of New Mexico where he lived and worked. 

There is good reason Billy haunts the areas where he once lived. He probably shakes his head in disgust at how his life has been maligned.

* The famous photo taken of him makes him look chunky because riders back then wore many layers of clothes while on the trail. It also makes him look shorter than he actually was. The hat he wears in this photo was not his, the photographer most likely placed it on his head.

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