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.

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.