Fort Sumner’s Billy the Kid back in news

Billy the Kid’s grave in Fort Sumner is the area’s top tourist attraction.

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Western legend Billy the Kid has been dead for more than a century, but you wouldn’t know that from the headlines the legendary gunslinger made in 2004.

An investigation spearheaded by a group of New Mexicans — namely Lincoln and De Baca County sheriffs Tom Sullivan and Gary Graves, and Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall — sought to prove the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner.

The effort brought renewed international interest in the legend, made the front page of The New York Times and was printed in roughly 2,000 newspapers across the world, according to Billy Sparks, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bill Richardson.

It also made the front page of the Clovis News Journal, and ranks as the top regional story of 2004 as determined by CNJ staff.

Over the last century, at least two men surfaced claiming to be Billy the Kid. Those stories presuppose that Sheriff Pat Garrett killed the wrong man in Fort Sumner and lied about it and that the outlaw isn’t buried in a cemetery there.

Sparks said at least three other areas stake claim to the kid’s burial ground, including Hico, Texas, Arizona, and London.

“What precipitated this was other states claiming to have Billy the Kid,” Sparks said. “It’s a worldwide legend and it belongs to the state of New Mexico.”

Initially, Graves, Sullivan and Sederwall sought a court order allowing the exhumation of the Kid’s mother buried in Silver City to compare DNA samples with the “impostor” bodies in the graves in Arizona and Texas, Sparks said. The trio dropped the request in September after the state’s Office of the Medical Investigator said the results may not be conclusive.

But Sparks said that hasn’t stopped the investigation, which turned up additional letters and artifacts that should renew the state’s claim to the Kid.

The final report of the investigation will likely be presented to the governor before March, at which point Richardson will decide if there is enough evidence to grant a pardon the Kid requested from former Gov. Lew Wallace, Sparks said.

“The governor will still consider should he pardon or not pardon, a lot of it based on what he sees (in the final report). Was Billy the Kid promised a pardon by Wallace in exchange for cooperation for the investigation at the time and did Wallace renege on that? Was Billy the Kid really the outlaw they said he was at the time?”

Other top regional stories this year:
• Graves and the De Baca County Commission were at odds most of the year, which led the sheriff to sleep in his office to protect his records and hire an attorney in an attempt to get his cell phone and gas credit cards restored.

The Commission granted the sheriff his credit cards and cell phone out of court, but the issue went beyond that when De Baca County residents filed court records in an attempt to recall the sheriff.

In September, six area residents, calling themselves De Baca County Concerned Citizens, filed court documents accusing Graves of misconduct in office.

“He’s a real problem,” Allen Sparks, who is one of the six, said in September. “We believe he’s committed malfeasance and misfeasance in office and he’s got to go. The charges that are in the petition are pretty serious charges and we’re pretty sure our lawyer can prove them true.”
Graves has maintained he is innocent of the allegations.

A pre-trial hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 9 before District Judge Joe Parker, the De Baca County News recently reported.

• In September, Portales residents voted in a special election Tuesday to allow beer and wine licenses for city restaurants.

There were 374 votes cast in support of the proposal and 338 votes against. Portales city officials said the new option will help economic development in the area.

• Several area teenagers died this year in car accidents.

One incident in November claimed the lives of Aaron LaRue, 17, of Clovis and Dathan Garcia, 17, of Tucumcari. Three more teens were seriously injured when the group drove through an open field at a high rate of speed south of Portales, officials said.