Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Patrick Lied

July 14, 1881.  Near midnight.  Fort Sumner, Sante Fe County,  New Mexico Territory.

Two men are sitting in a bedroom. It's dark.  A third man enters. (Come on, people - it's not naughty.)   Shots ring out.  A body falls. There is gasping and death.

Two of the men present continue on their journey to legend. 

The shooter? Patrick Floyd Garrett.  Once a bartender and later a Customs Agent, he is known to most as an Old West Lawman.  

The deceased? Henry McCarty.  William Henry McCarty.  Henry Antrim.  Billy Antrim.   William Antrim.  William H. Bonney.  Billy Bonney. Kid Bonney. All aliases for one man.....

Billy the Kid.  Lifestock rustler, gambler, outlaw, murderer.  

With the shot and the fall, one of the most interesting storylines in the Old West starts to unfold - probably even before the blood on the floor was dry.  As you well know, unfolding can sometimes lead to unraveling.  

It wasn't Billy the Kid.

A few weeks ago, I snagged a book off the discount shelf.  In its 126 pages, it lays the groundwork to establish, more or less beyond a doubt, that Billy the Kid was not killed by Garrett at Fort Sumner.  The case is solid and shows that he actually lived to the ripe old age of 90 and died in Hico, Texas under the name Bill Roberts.   During his post-Sumner life, he toured with Buffalo Bill (under an alias), rode rough with Roosevelt in Cuba (under an alias), and even  married. 

I'm serious.

If you are looking for a good read, go for it. If you are absolutely certain everything you have ever read or heard is absolutely true, don't bother.

But if you're curious, and don't want to read it, here a few things to keep in mind.  Don't worry - I won't bring you to tears by reciting the entire book. Here are just few thoughts to whet your appetite.

*  There are at least five affidavits from people who knew Billy the Kid and who identified Roberts as the same man. The affidavits were initiated by an attorney between 1949 and 1951. To many, his laughter, gait, and piercing blue eyes were unmistakeable.  (A sixth story from Hico Texas in 1945 has a retired lawman who knew the Kid from the New Mexico days shout "Bonney...you're under arrest!" when they passed each other outside a barbershop.)

* The Kid was known to have large forearms and small hands. By taking his thumb and "palming it", he could slip out of handcuffs.  Roberts had the same peculiar anatomy. In addition, and perhaps more relevant, Roberts had scars that corresponded to bullet injuries known to have occurred to Billy the Kid.

* Roberts demonstrated a knowledge of the Lincoln County War that more or less baffled historians.  He was so precise with his recollections, he noted details that were overlooked but later confirmed as true.  For example, he mentioned a letter that he had written (on his behalf) and sent to Governor Lew Wallace. He was asking for a pardon.  No one knew of the letter until it was uncovered in the archives of another state.  

Another example - Apparently, black troopers from Fort Stanton were involved in the siege at McSween's house (made famous in the movie Young Guns).  Roberts noted it, but was mocked for the suggestion until detailed analysis of fort records showed that black troopers were, in fact, stationed there.  For the record, he likely did not research this himself as he was functionally illiterate

* The details of the actual shooting at Fort Sumner are horribly marred with inconsistencies.  Garrett, Maxwell (the owner of the home) and who is presumed to be the Kid were the only individuals in the room, but two of Garrett's deputies (Poe and McKinney) were outside.  An easy analysis of the testimonies shows problem after problem after problem.  In a modern court of law, this inconsistency would have been a huge issue.  Was it a knife or a gun? Did the victim walk into the room or back into the room?    Were the final words spoken by the victim - "Who is it?"- in Spanish or English?  Years later, McKinney made statements that cast serious doubt on the accepted versions of the story.

*  Why does the historic record show multiple coroner's reports, when, to this day, the actual reports have not been located?

*  The man presumed to be Billy the Kid was likely a young man by the name of Billy Barlow (at least that was the name he was using at the time).  The "Billys" were running together for a few weeks prior to the shooting.  He  (Barlow) was dark complected and happened to have a scraggly beard at the time of his death.  A newspaper interview with Billy the Kid (when he was in jail) just six and half months before Fort Sumner  clearly states that he was pale skinned and had a peach-fuzz mustache.  According to endocrinologists, peach-fuzz to full-blown can't happen in six months.  

*   To this day, some historians wonder why Garrett did not do more to publicize the death immediately after the shooting.  Common practice of the time would have him basically parading the corpse for the public.  He would have shown the guns, the boots, and body and quite possibly made arrangements for a photo-op.  To the contrary, Garrett made serious attempts to minimize the number of people who saw the dead Kid (really Billy Barlow). 

Take, for example, this photo of the McClaury brothers and Ike Clanton after the OK Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona in October of 1881.  This gunfight, while popular now, did not really become a part of the American lexicon until the 1930's.  Yet here we have a photo of some dead guys...

Garrett, who just "offed" the single most-wanted individual of the American West, did not want to brag about it. Really?

And finally, what has to be the most intriguing piece of information of them all....

*  Photographic analysis (the same analysis used by the FBI, CIA, Scotland Yard and Interpol) of the only accepted image of Bill the Kid with a photo of the 90-year old Roberts demonstrated with 93% accuracy that Roberts and the Kid were the same individual.  The 7% loss can be easily attributed (so say the experts) to the seventy year difference between the photos and the removal of Roberts'  buckteeth in 1931. Apparently, the Kid had quite a set of chompers.  

Again, I could go on, but I don't have to as WC Jameson, the books author, already did it.  Really folks - this is any amazing read.  History re-written. 

Perhaps we can use more adjectives that might describe Pat Garrett...



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