Billy the Kid — Outlaw’s authenticity no issue for museum

By Michelle Seeber, Freedom Newspapers

Tourist destinations at Fort Sumner certain they have the correct body in the proper grave.

Fort Sumner’s Lula Sweet is pretty adamant that Bill the Kid rests below the ground not far from where she works.
Sweet, wife of Don Sweet and mother of Tim Sweet, all of whom own The Billy the Kid Museum on 1601 E. Sumner Ave. in Fort Sumner, knows a lot about the history of the gun-slinging outlaw.
Although some seek to exhume the graves of both Billy the Kid and his mother to confirm his identity, Lula said rumors that Billy was not killed and buried in Fort Sumner are false.
“That’s just something that somebody started,” she said. “They want to try to prove whether Billy the Kid is really here. They don’t know the facts. They don’t try to find them out. It’s just a bunch of baloney, really.
“People who grew up here helped bury him,” Lula said. “There just isn’t any need in (further research).”
The Fort Sumner State Monument is home to the Kid’s grave and the nearby Old Fort Sumner Museum has artifacts and memorabilia. The grave and museum are located off Highway 80/64 just east of town.
Billy was at the Maxwell Ranch near Fort Sumner when Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett found him, Lula said.
When Garrett arrived, she said, he went into the bedroom in the ranch house to see if Billy was in there asleep.
“Billy had been standing in the sheep pen and went to the cook shack to cook some dinner, but there wasn’t anything to eat,” Lula said. “He went to the Maxwell porch to get some meat. He was going to tell Pete (Maxwell) hello and that he was leaving the next day for Mexico.
“He went into the bedroom, Garrett recognized his voice and shot him,” Lula said. “That’s the story we have heard. Billy the Kid’s body went through a coroner’s inquest. There was no embalming, and they buried him right away. They buried everybody right away in those days.”
The Billy the Kid Museum is home to the Kid’s rifle, Lula said, as well as 150 guns, 12 antique automobiles and about 60,000 other historical items.
“It’s hard to name everything,” Lula said of their collection. “We have western memorabilia — things that were used in this area even before Billy the Kid’s era.”
Still, they have two curtains on display that came out of the room where Billy the Kid was killed and chaps and spurs that Billy liked to wear to dances and other events.
“Billy was a very good singer and dancer and much admired by the young ladies,” Lula said, adding that she and her family have gotten their information about Billy from history books and folks in Fort Sumner.
None of her relatives knew Billy the Kid personally, she said.
Other people in town have said his mother died in 1874, she said.
“As far as his father, we don’t know anything about him,” Lula said. “He and his mother came out here from New York — his mother (coming) for her health.”
Lula recommended that people who want to learn more about Billy the Kid visit the museum, where there are articles and tapes on the outlaw.
“We have a tape on the Lincoln County War,” she said. “We have it for sale.”
Billy the Kid is on record in a December 1880 article in the Las Vegas Gazette, which quoted him as saying, “I don’t blame you for writing of me as you have. You had to believe other stories, but then I don’t know if any one would believe anything good of me anyway.”
According to the “Billy the Kid” Web site, no one knows for sure where he was born.
“Birth dates of Nov. 20, 1859, and Sept. 17, 1859, have popped up along with Indiana, Missouri, and New York as the place of birth…” according to the Web site.
There is “testimony by the Kid’s friends that he may have been born later than 1859, possibly around 1860-62,” the Web site said. “Childhood friends in Silver City said that he was about 12 years old in 1873, and the Coe cousins would go on to say that the Kid was about 17 years old during the Lincoln County War in early 1878. But then Lily Casey would say that the Kid was barely 16 when he was jailed in Lincoln in November of 1877.”

What: Billy the Kid Museum
When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 14 to Oct. 1, open daily; 8:30 to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1 to May 15. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter and from Jan. 1 to Jan. 15.
Where: 1601 E. Sumner Ave., Fort Sumner (on Highway 60/84)
Tickets: $4 — 12 and older; $2 — 6 years to 11 years old; $3 — senior citizens; free — younger than 6.