Kats (wildrider) wrote,

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Posthumous Pardon

Recently there's been a lot of news here in the Southwest that Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico wants to "pardon" the outlaw Billy the Kid. His reasoning is because former Governor Lew Wallace of New Mexico promised the Kid a pardon for turning state's evidence after the Lincoln County War. Also, Lew Wallace promised amnesty to any man who had been both/either villain and hero in the Lincoln County War, and that included the Kid.

However, this never happened for several reasons, and it all depends on whose version of history you read (and agree with) as to why. What is certain is that the Kid DID provide testimony and on the strength of that John Dolan was indicted, but the charges against Kid were not dropped and he was forced to go on the run. This is largely because his side of the war lost, and history (and law) is often written by the victors.

It's understandable that the descendants of Pat Garrett do not want their venerated ancestor (well, grandfather or great-grandfather) besmirched. If the Kid is pardoned, then Pat Garrett shot down a perfectly innocent boy. Truth is, Garrett was doing his job, and while you can argue he did it in a cowardly fashion (he shot Billy unarmed, in the dark, without warning), still, he WAS the appointed Sheriff of Lincoln County and his job was to bring the Kid in, dead or alive -- and thus far, the Kid had proven to be extremely slippery and very dangerous when cornered.

Still, Garrett's grandchildren and great-grandchildren are, as many on "that side" of the fence do, painting the Kid much blacker than he probably was.

Now, I'll admit I'm one of those who tends to lean towards the Kid's side. I don't call myself an expert by any means; I'm an "aficionado," perhaps; I enjoy reading True West history and I've read a number of books on the Kid and the Lincoln County War, I've toured (read: dragged Barb through) Fort Sumner and the cemetery where he's buried, and I've created a fictional Billy the Kid who has lived in my head for well over a decade now.

Sometime back in the late 80's or early 90's I came up with the bare bones of a Billy the Kid story and it never really gelled into anything, so I just stored it in my head and held it there for years, sometimes shoring up walls or resetting foundations, but on the whole, it just sat there until a couple of years ago when it started to really take shape as I moved it into the universe I created for my characters, my Alternate Earth/Urban Fantasy setting, and then it came to life. For the 2008 NaNoWriMo, it finally all came together and I wrote it all down at long last, and have been on and off polishing it for the last year and have finally started showing it to Beta readers. My fictional Billy is someone who becomes aware that he has indeed done some seriously bad things, but in trying to put them in their proper time and place, well...

He was a boy who fell in with bad companions who led him down the wrong path. He fought in a war on what came out to be the losing side and ended up the scapegoat for a number of the wrongs that his side was blamed for having done--and, in the end, he did kill at least two men directly who likely didn't deserve to die, and his final total was probably four, maybe five, depending on who you believe killed Frank Baker. No one who was actually there told the same story as the others, and once it was lost to history, who could say? He certainly didn't "kill a man for every year of his life" (21), as some said and as is marked on his sensationalist tombstone; he did occasionally steal, he rustled cattle, and he was no saint.

However, going by accounts from everyone who actually knew him (including Pat Garrett), the Kid was a nice boy. He was easygoing, friendly, and outgoing. He could speak Spanish and play the piano. He liked to read. He was beloved of the ladies of Northern New Mexico and had "a sweetheart in every hacienda." He could dance and had a "nice singing voice." He was also intensely loyal, and once he'd thrown his lot in with the Tunstall/McSween faction instead of the Murphy/Dolan faction, he wouldn't change sides. When Murphy/Dolan ("the House") won the war, Billy the Kid went from hired hand to wanted outlaw.

His first proven kill was a bully named Frank "Windy" Cahill who reportedly attacked the Kid, shoved him, and punched him, and Billy sadly retaliated by shooting Cahill in the gut. When Cahill died, he went on the run. There's no denying he killed the jail guards James Bell and Robert Ollinger, and even saying it was largely due to the fact they were hauling him to be hanged (this AFTER the governor's promised pardon) and the fact that Robert Ollinger had proven to be vicious and abusive to the prisoner, doesn't really excuse this fact. And he might, MIGHT have killed a man named Joe Grant in New Mexico later, but there is some debate on that subject, and even how it happened if indeed it did.

Growing up in a time and a place where a gun was a matter of survival, one can argue in his favor; on the other hand, he could have chosen himself a different path. In my own universe, the Kid grows up, and attempts to make amends for what he did. He can't change the past, but he can change his future, and that's what he attempts to do, with the help of a Navajo Shamaness and some friends who are as loyal to him as he is to them.

As for the REAL Billy, well, I do believe that Pat Garrett shot him and he is buried in the Fort Sumner cemetery (I do not believe the "Brushy Bill" story -- there are far too many inconsistencies for him to have been the "real" Billy). And as for a pardon now?

Well, the Kid left no known children (it's distinctly possible that Paulina Maxwell's oldest daughter was Billy's, but that was never acknowledged and never admitted). He has no descendants, and all that's on his side are those of us who think he was largely used as a scapegoat by both sides of a violent range war. He was certainly not a hero, but he was also not a villain; he was an easy target who died far too young and that was the end of that story.

Pat Garrett, on the other hand, may have shot down an unarmed boy in the dark with no warning; however, he DOES have a living family.

The Kid won't be hurt if he isn't pardoned at this late date, and Garrett's family would be, so it's probably best that Lew Wallace's promise continue to have died with Wallace. (Who, by the way, forgot about his promises to the Kid and the rest of the boys from the Tunstall side of the Lincoln County War because he was working on his novel, Ben Hur. This is what happens to writers.) I understand Bill Richardson's desire to rid the governor's office of this broken promise (after all, the Kid is a HUGE part of New Mexican tourism), but really -- it wouldn't add anything to the Kid's mythos and it would hurt real living New Mexicans, so probably, in the end, it's best to let the dead lie.

In other news, the weekend is already over, but oddly enough, it was actually cool enough this evening for us to mow the back yard (a little warm, but not "OMG I'M GONNA DIE" as it has been); this was necessary as the rain from last weekend turned the yard into a waving prairieland. Poor Bo was trying to swim through the grass and I thought "Mmmm, not too hot. I'll try." And by golly, it wasn't horrid. We need to get a new edge trimmer, though, because the edges are still bad.

I actually went out to check for mushrooms; after a rain, a horrible spongy thing grows in Arizona yards which is toxic to everyone (like idiot dogs), and while I scream like a little girl when there are oversized insects around, I'm fine with pulling toxic fungus out of the yard and disposing of it where no one will be poisoned or traumatized by it.

On Friday I was coming home and 28th Street was completely closed off; I went around and checked the news to find out that an SUV loaded with teenagers had tried to pass someone stopped for a left turn, clipped them, rolled, and slammed into a wall and a yard; two of the kids died, all of them were badly hurt. Kids and driving is scary. God knows the worst accident I was ever in (knock wood) was caused by me thinking I knew it all behind the wheel when I was 16 years old. Sometimes when I think back on that, I'm truly lucky I made it, and maybe I learned something.

I'm having trouble getting my dragons to breed. I tried about seven times today and got one:

Adopt one today!

Tags: billy the kid, random stuff, weekend
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