Politics & Government

Texas town seeks New Mexico pardon for Billy the Kid

HICO, Texas — The corner of Texas 6 and Pecan Street, in downtown Hico, is a curious place for a political rally aimed squarely at New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

But then this has to do with the slippery truth about Billy the Kid, so maybe nothing is really surprising.

Standing in front of a Billy the Kid statue, in which a likeness of the Kid is aiming a revolver at the antiques stores down Pecan Street, Hico Mayor Lavern Tooley brought whatever pressure she could to bear on Richardson's consideration of a pardon for the Kid, whose name was William H. Bonney, Patrick McCarty or Bill Roberts, depending on which version of history you're buying.

"In recent weeks, descendants of Pat Garrett met with you, Gov. Richardson, to make their case against a pardon," said Tooley, a school nurse by career. "I am asking for an opportunity to make the case for a pardon and to explain how Billy came to spend his final years in Hico. We would be honored to entertain you as a guest of the city of Hico, or we could arrange for a delegation to make the trek to Albuquerque." (Better not stop there, though -- the state capital is Santa Fe.)

One could legitimately wonder why Hico cares if a long-dead outlaw gets a pardon from the New Mexico governor. But if you wonder out loud in Hico, someone will surely bend your ear about the biggest thing this town has going for it -- a link with the most notorious outlaw in American history, a character so big that he didn't need a last name.

The widely accepted version of history is this: The lawman (and noted gunman too) Pat Garrett surprised Billy in a darkened room in Fort Sumner, N.M., on July 14, 1881, and put a bullet in his chest. Billy's last words, according to history, were, "' Quien es? 'Quien es?," spoken because he had no idea who shot him.

He was buried in the town cemetery next to a pair of buddies whom Garrett's posse had shot the year before.

True-blue history, right?

Not if you live in Hico, a small town about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

The folks here have a markedly different version of Billy's end. They contend that Garrett shot the wrong man and that Billy the Kid died of old age in 1950 after escaping from Fort Sumner, moving to Texas and assuming the name "Brushy Bill" Roberts.

A cemetery in Hamilton, 20 miles south of Hico, has Roberts' grave, declaring that Billy the Kid lies there.

Two towns, two Billy the Kid museums, both wanting a piece of the tourism that comes with his legend.

Read more of this story at Star-Telegram.com