Boy, New Mexico governors really stick together . . . even after 130 years. On his last day in office, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico refused to pardon Billy the Kid for the killing of Sheriff William Brady in Lincoln County, New Mexico despite his conclusion that William H. Bonney was indeed promised such a pardon by then Governor Lew Wallace.
Billy the Kid fulfilled his part of the bargain with Wallace. He surrendered and agreed to testify before a grand jury in another killing. However, Wallace reneged on the deal without ever explaining why. Wallace was a former Union general who later wrote Ben Hur.
Richardson simply said that it “was a very close call” but he didn’t want to second guess a former governor on why he decided to break the deal. Nevertheless, Richardson agreed that the deal should have been kept with Billy.
Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty and was known for a time as Henry Antrim. He was best known of William Bonney. He was killed by sheriff Pat Garrett 129 years ago, who reportedly shot Billy the Kid from the dark on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner.. Garrett’s family opposed the pardon and fought to prevent anything disparaging to be said about Garrett who was later gunned down at 57 in 1908. At the time of his death, people were already talking about the circumstances of his killing Billy the Kid. Garrett was in financial trouble and had alienated many of his friends when he was shot by a man in a dispute over the use of his land to graze goats.
Richardson’s position is a bit too nuanced for me. If he truly felt that William Bonney was given a promise and delivered on his end, it is hard to see why he would continue to honor one of the most notorious bait and switch moves in history. Personally, I would not have given such an offer to an outlaw responsible for killing anyone — let alone a sheriff. However, Wallace made an offer on behalf on the part of the state of New Mexico. Notably, the pardon would still leave him a murderer in the killing of two deputies in his later escape.