No Pardon for The Kid

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.


Jonathan Turley

17 thoughts on “No Pardon for The Kid”

  1. bass fiddle,of course, unless you play one in a basement band, or…

  2. Gyges,

    I bet the bassline of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ is fun to play on the base fiddle.

  3. I’m with mr.ed – so what? There are thousands of people alive today whos life would be much better if they had a pardon. People that committed lesser crimes than this, done better when allowed and yet they do not get one tenth the attention of a Governor that this silliness did. We truly are a silly society easily distracted by shiny objects.

    OTOH – one of my favorite lines from a movie:
    “I’ll trade you this shot gun and a buck sixty you can dig out of ol Billy Bob there.”

  4. Seems like a lot of gangsters in the old west as we know it needed something to do after the civil war….alla…the new frontier…where the civil war was fought, many years after it officially ended..

  5. NO Pardon, wild west thinking at it best eh. Remind me never to go to New Mexico eh……………………sheesh guys it 130 years later……….lighten you will yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I lived in New Mexico for several years as a child and became interested in Billy the Kid after visiting Lincoln and Fort Sumner. I later read a history of the Lincoln County Wars and concluded that the evidence was fairly strong that Gov. Wallace had in fact promised a full pardon if the Kid would agree to provide truthful testimony.

    What was called a “war” was actually a dispute between two mercantile families in Lincoln County, with area ranchers lining up on both sides of the dispute.

    It should also be understood that there were no real heroes in New Mexico Territory. Billy the Kid was clearly not scholarship material and Pat Garrett had a number of questionable business dealings and was widely regarded as only marginally honest.

    In any event, the Lincoln County Wars provide two important lessons, both of which appear to have to be re-learned regularly. First, most wars start over competing financial interests. Second, promises made by Republican governors are unreliable.

  7. Never trust a New Mexico governor to tell the truth or honor a promise. What was Richardson thinking?
    Former Fed,
    That is a great song.

  8. Never trust a politician.

    FFLEO, thanks for the Slim Pickens vid, I really liked his performances.

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