TRUTHY GRIT: The Case Against Billy The Kid

CBS NEWS: Descendants of Old West lawman Pat Garrett and New Mexico Territorial Gov. Lew Wallace are outraged that Gov. Bill Richardson is considering a pardon for Billy the Kid, saying Wallace never offered a pardon, and a petition seeking one is tainted because it comes from a lawyer with ties to Richardson. Sheriff Pat Garrett’s grandson J.P. Garrett and Wallace’s great-grandson William Wallace submitted their objections after Richardson set up a website last week to take public comment on the possibility of a posthumous pardon for the Kid on a murder indictment. The governor plans to make a decision before his term ends Dec. 31. “I don’t know where I’ll end up. I might not pardon him. But then I might,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. As of Tuesday, the governor’s office had received 370 e-mails and about 20 letters, with sentiment so far running slightly in favor of the pardon, said Eric Witt, Richardson’s deputy chief of staff. The issue centers on whether Lew Wallace, governor of the territory from 1878 to 1881, promised a pardon in return for the Kid’s testimony in a murder case against three men. MORE

FINANCIAL TIMES: The case for pardoning Bonney does not make a lot of sense. It is true that Wallace wrote to him: “I have authority to you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know.” But this is not the same as a promise to use that authority. The claim of a promise comes from the letters of Bonney himself, hardly a neutral party. Bonney was involved in a number of murders before and after his one meeting with Wallace. Is he to be pardoned for those, too? If so, the pardon is an obscenity. If not, then it is a meaningless stunt.

Any promise that was made by Wallace was made in private, not in public. Breaking it would taint the personal honour of Wallace, not the institutional honour of the state Mr Richardson governs, which, anyway, did not exist until 1912. A modern-day New Mexico governor is simply not responsible for the way absentee US authorities imposed order in the territories in the 1880s. That would be a bit like Robert Mugabe apologising for the British South Africa Company’s conduct in the Matabele wars.

Descendants of Pat Garrett, the sheriff who killed Billy the Kid, have asked whether Mr Richardson would have pardoned a killer as prolific as Bonney if he were alive today. That question answers itself. The only grounds for doing so would be the worst kind of radical chic, the belief that authorities are somehow always crooked and that there is something cool and dashing about an outlaw, no matter how sadistic. But Billy the Kid was not Che Guevara. He basically provided muscle for one group of cattle capitalists ranged against another. The only thing that binds him to more “romantic” revolutionaries is his murderousness. MORE

BAD HOMBRES: During this period, not much is “recorded” of the Kid, although this is the time when Billy killed his first man.  This was 1877, when Billy was first called “Kid”.  On August 17, 1877, a blacksmith, Frank P. Cahill, an Irishman, was in George Adkins’ Saloon in Camp Grant, AZ.  Cahill was a huge man and had been drinking, he and Billy argued.  He called Billy a pimp and slapped him upside the head, which through Billy to the floor.  Billy, realizing that he was no match for Cahill, drew his gun and shot Cahill in the stomach, Cahill died the next day.  Billy was thrown into the camp guardhouse, but escaped and that’s when he began running. The Kid then drifted back to the New Mexico territory, to County, taking on the name William H. Bonney, this was late 1877.  He found work as a

Tunstall’s plans for the Kid were never realized.  On February 18, 1878, Tunstall was killed in cold blood by men deputized by Sheriff William Brady, who was appointed to his position by Murphy-Dolan.  These men, including Frank Baker, Jesse Evans, Jim McDaniel and Billy Morton, among others, who were at one time friends of the Kid’s when he worked for Murphy-Dolan, stopped Tunstall on a road and informed him that they were taking part of his cattle herd, stating that the cattle belonged to Murphy-Dolan.  Tunstall of course spoke out, saying that the cattle were his and to look at the brands to see he was telling the truth.  The men drew their guns, ordering Tunstall to surrender.  Tunstall climbed out of his buckboard and handed over his gun, stating “I don’t want any bloodshed”.  As Tunstall was handing over his gun to Jesse Evans, Evans shot the unarmed man and he fell to the ground.  Billy Morton then fired a second round, into Tunstall’s head, killing him instantly. When the Kid got word of the killing of Tunstall, he said “He was the only man that ever treated me kindly, like I was free born and white”.  Billy then said in a rage “I’ll get every son of a bitch who helped kill John if it’s the last thing I ever do”.  MORE

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