Billy The Kid Escapes!

On Thursday, April 28, 1881 William Henry Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, escaped from the county jail in Lincoln, New Mexico.

Billy was 22 and loved reading books, singing, and dancing. He was fluent in the Spanish language and skillful with a rope, horse, and gun. He was a hard worker and not much of a drinker. He didn’t use tobacco either.

But Billy did have two problems: He was small for his age and he had a hair-trigger temper. Also, like most of us, he didn’t appreciate being made fun of. In August 1877, while he was working as a cowboy in Arizona, a bully taunted the Kid one time too many. Bonney shot and he didn’t miss.

When the man died, Billy fled to New Mexico. By November, he was in the Lincoln area. By early the following year, he had signed on at John Tunstall’s ranch. The rest is history. [link to Tunstall post]

Three years later, at the tail-end of the Lincoln County War, Bonney was in jail in the town of Lincoln, waiting to be hung for the murder of Sheriff William Brady. Then he saw his chance and took it. He got away, killing Deputies J.W. Bell and R. Olinger in the process.

April 28 illlustration.Lincoln County Courthouse

Given that he now had the murder of a Sheriff and two Deputies hanging over him,  Billy’s friends thought he should head south to Mexico. Instead, he went north to Fort Sumner. There, sheltered by friends and associates, he kept a low profile.

But it wasn’t low enough. Word of the Kid’s whereabouts got out and Sheriff Pat Garrett started nosing around, making inquiries. One night, Garrett was visiting at the Maxwell ranch just outside town when Billy, not knowing he was there, wandered into the room.

Within a few seconds, William Henry Bonney was dead. [link to post about Peter Maxwell in July]. It was Thursday, July 14, 1881, just eleven weeks since his escape from the Lincoln County jail.

Billy the Kid should have listened to his friends.

Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. I, Rio Grande books, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row, New York, 1977; Ruben Salaz Marquez, New Mexico, a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts and Trails, University of New Mexico press, Albuquerque, 1994.

John Tunstall Dies, Lincoln County War Begins!!!

On the morning of Monday, February 18, 1878, on an otherwise-deserted road in Southeast New Mexico, a young Englishman was shot and killed, and event which initiated the Lincoln County War.

The young man was John Henry Tunstall. He and Alexander McSween had been in the process of organizing a business  partnership when McSween was accused of absconding with some life insurance money. Although Tunstall wasn’t legally responsible, he was wealthy and he was friends with McSween, who had already ruffled feathers in the County. The court decided that Tunstall should participate in repaying the $8,000 involved.

Feb 18 post illustration

That Monday morning, Tunstall was on his way to the town of Lincoln to try to negotiate a settlement in the case. Instead, he and the four gunfighters he’d recently hired encountered a posse which had been sent out to collect Tunstall’s cattle as partial payment of McSween’s debt. In the ensuing battle, Tunstall was killed.

Born in Middlesex, England, Tunstall emigrated to British Columbia when he was 19, then headed for the American West in February 1876, looking for investment possibilities. After six months looking into sheep ranching in California, he went to New Mexico, where he met Alexander McSween.

McSween persuaded Tunstall to move to Lincoln County. Land was cheap there and the profit potential was high. Eighteen months later, Tunstall was dead. McSween would follow him shortly thereafter.

Tunstall’s death not only started the Lincoln County War, it brought the British government into the conflict. The embassy wanted to know how and why their countryman had been killed and his body left where it fell.

As a result of the British inquiries, Frank Warner Angel was sent West to investigate Tunstall’s murder and other New Mexico violence. Angel’s report would put an end to the current Governor’s term and bring Lew Wallace to New Mexico in his stead.

However, it wouldn’t end the Lincoln County conflict. More people would die, including William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, who’d fought beside Tunstall that February morning, and Juan Patron, leader of the County’s Mexican-American faction and staunch opponent of Tunstall’s killers.

But eventually, the conflict fizzled out. Like so many wars, it started with a bang but ended with a whimper, with no clear winners and a lot of damage that would never be fully repaired.

Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, UNM Press: Albuquerque, 2014; Howard R. Lamar, ed., The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row: New York, 1977; tomrizzo.com/killing-john-tunstall/accessed 1/10/19; Marc Simmons in Marta Weigle, ed., Telling New Mexico, A New History, Museum of NM Press: Santa Fe, 2009; Stephen Zimmer ed., For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1999

 

Rosary Without Beads: Book Review

Rosary Without Beads cover
by Diana Holguín-Balogh
ISBN: 9781432844745
Five Star/Cengage, 2018

Rosary Without Beads has changed my mind about Billy the Kid.

I’d been told that, in addition to being an outlaw, Billy the Kid was also a lady’s man. That didn’t make him more attractive to me. A thug and a womanizer. Why would I find that appealing?

However, Diana Holguín-Balogh’s masterful fictional portrayal of Billy the Kid and a young woman who falls for him has me seeing Billy in a new light.

Rosary Without Beads presents a Billy who’s passionate about justice and fair play, and loyal to a fault—characteristics which end up placing him on the wrong side of the law. He also has a facility with English and Spanish that could sweet talk a rattlesnake out of its rattles.

Billy’s linguistic charm is a primary reason I like this book so much. Holguín-Balogh has a gift for writing broken English/Spanish so that it’s not only comprehensible, but has a music all its own. This is true not only of Billy’s verbal skills, but also of the other characters, especially the female protagonist, Ambrosia.

Ambrosia doesn’t have an easy life. She’s been promised to a man who would really rather have her sister. That’s bound to make a girl feel unattractive. So when Billy shows up and shows some interest, she’s pretty much swept off her feet. She doesn’t succumb to his charms easily, though. Holguín-Balogh does a great job of expressing this girl’s mixed emotions about Billy all the way through the novel.

I suppose I can safely tell you that the Kid dies at the end of this book. I suspect that’s a story most of us know. However, Rosary Without Beads presents a take on the usual explanations for the circumstances of Billy’s death, and what happens afterward, which may surprise you. But you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out what that take is.

If you’re looking for a historical novel you can sink your teeth into and feel like you’ve learned something in the process, I recommend this book!

The Kid And Me: Book Review

Note: I’ve decided to add some book reviews to this site, featuring fiction set in, or nonfiction about, New Mexico before statehood. The first one up is The Kid and Me, a story of Billy the Kid.

the Kid and Me cover
The Kid and Me, by Frederick Turner, ISBN: 978-1496206893 Bison Books, 2018

In New Mexico, there’s really only one “Kid”— Billy the Kid of Lincoln County War fame. Frederick Turner’s novel The Kid and Me takes a new approach to Billy’s story by narrating it from the perspective of George Coe, one of the men who rode with the Kid.

It’s a rambling story, told many decades after the events, which occurred in the late 1870s. Coe is an old man now, and the memories he shares are marked by digressions, exaggerations, and telling insights into the character and possible motivations of the people involved in the Lincoln County War.

These insights and the colorful language Coe uses to tell his story are the two great strengths of The Kid and Me. It’s only weakness is actually not in the story itself—I would have liked a historical chronology of events at the end of the book, along with a discussion of how Coe’s memory might have failed him during his retelling of the Billy the Kid story.

This is a recently published book and a great read. It’s definitely worth adding to your library if you’re interested in New Mexico’s Lincoln County war. Or if you’d just like too read a first-person fictional narrative from a crotchety, opinionated old man’s point of view.

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Kid-Me-Novel-Frederick-Turner/dp/1496206894/

The Month of July and Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell

July is a month fraught with meaning in connection with Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, the man who controlled almost 2 million acres of New Mexico Territory land in the 1860’s.

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell died on this day, July 25, in 1875, five years after the sale of what was known as the Maxwell Land Grant to a consortium of London investors was recorded in the Colfax County, New Mexico Territory’s record books. It was his daughter Odile’s sixth birthday.

The Beaubien Miranda land grant had come into Maxwell’s hands through his wife’s inherited portion, their purchase of her Beaubien sibling’s sections, and their acquisition of the remainder from the Miranda heirs. There was still some question about the actual size of the grant when Maxwell died, a question which would be settled by the United States Supreme Court in 1887, when they confirmed it at just under 2 million acres.

A portion of the money from the sale, went to the purchase of the decommissioned Fort Sumner from the Federal  government. Located in the southeastern part of the Territory, Fort Sumner had been the site of the infamous detainment of Navajos and Mescalero Apaches in the 1860’s. Following their return to their homeland, the Fort had little use to the military control of the Native population. Maxwell purchased it in 1870, renovated the buildings, and ranched and raised race horses there until his death in 1875.

July 25 illustration.Maxwell Fort Sumner house.Freiberger
Source: Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary by Harriet Freiberger

Lucien Maxwell’s family continued to live at the old Fort after his death. Six years later, again in July, another death became associated with the site. Billy the Kid was visiting the Maxwell home at Fort Sumner the night that he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Sources: Dean K. Boorman, Guns of the Old West, Lyons Press, 2004;  Harriet Freiberger, Lucien Maxwell, Villain or Visionary, Sunstone Press, 1999; Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont, A history of New Mexico’s Cimarron country, UNM Press, 1972; David G. Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A guide to New Mexico’s past, UNM Press, 1994; Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country Sunstone Press, 1999.