One of the most enduring legends in the American West is Billy the Kid. Much has been written about him in books, articles, TV and movie dramas and local stories in folklore. His life and stories live on.
The National Geographic is releasing a video to watch at home on the recent picture, alleged to be of Billy the Kid, that was found in California. Research into his short life continues each and every day and the fascination never goes away.
I have recently been given some information in the form of some old newspaper articles that digresses from his story somewhat. It is always intriguing to come across new/old stuff that can change the way we might look at history. That being said, I’m going to share it with you today and let you be the judge.
We know the story of Billy the Kid and his gang, the Lincoln County War, his escape, Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse trailing Billy and his gang to Stinking Springs for another gunfight where Billy escaped yet again, and then the final time he was trailed to Fort Sumner.
He had gone to visit his girlfriend Paulita Maxwell. Once there, he removed his vest and shoes, relaxed in an old chair and complained that he was hungry. He headed barefoot, with a knife in hand, for Pete Maxwell’s front porch where a beef quarter hung.
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Deputies Poe and McKinney were waiting on the porch for Sheriff Pat Garrett, who was seated inside on Pete Maxwell’s bed. Neither of the deputies recognized the Kid, who was startled and jerked out his 44 caliber pistol and called out, “Quien es?” (Who is it?)
Again he cried out, “Who is it,” and then leaped across the front porch and back into the bedroom. “Pete, who are those fellows outside?” he asked. Garrett, who was waiting inside, recognized the voice, and reached for his gun. Inside the bedroom, Billy seemed to sense the danger. He jumped backward, revolver cocked and leveled.
Twice more he asked “Quien es?” seemingly afraid to shoot at a possible friend. Garrett’s pistol bloomed twice. A heavy slug thundered into the Kid’s heart. Billy the Kid was dead before his body hit the floor.
Early the next morning, the Kid’s body, covered with an out-sized white shirt, was placed into a coffin hastily made from scrap lumber and lowered into the ugly caliche earth of the Fort Sumner Military Cemetery. The staid affair was witnessed by Garrett, his deputies, and nearly all of the Mexican-American population of the small village.
The quiet burial did not remain so. Suddenly, a former Navajo slave who worked for Maxwell burst through the crowd and screamed obscenities at Garrett. She tried to claw Garrett’s face and it took several mourners to hold her away from the lawman. Garrett stood straight and impassive, his stony face without emotion. The crowd slowly melted away; then the tall figure turned and strode to his horse without comment.
Here are a couple of articles that was published in many newspapers following Billy’s death. It sheds a different light on a few things, which opens the door for new theories and many more questions.
The Palmyra Spectator, page 1
Sept. 8, 1882
Albuquerque, New Mexico, August 16. — Nellie Pickett, the most noted female character, died yesterday at Ft. Sumner, aged 24. She was born in LaFayette County, Missouri. When she was young, vivacious, and pretty, she married Tom Pickett and moved with him to Texas; lived there a year, and then came to New Mexico. At the time of the Lincoln County War in 1880, Pickett became a member of the band of Billy the Kid, and after the war was over Nellie joined him herself and became a member of the gang of bandits. She was a fearless horsewoman, a crack shot, beautiful, and with great strength of mind. She ruled the band with despotic sway. Pickett was killed in a fight with officers, when Nellie became the mistress of the first Lieutenant, Charlie Bowdre. Dressed in male or female attire as suited her purpose, she acted as a spy for the gang, carrying messages from one rendezvous to the other. When in male attire she always wore a buckskin suit and rode astride her horse. Bowdre was killed in the fight with Sheriff Garrett and posse. She was true to him as his own wife and found the body after the fight and buried it. Billy the Kid succeeded in finally winning her affections. Last year, while a heavy price was on his head, he visited her at Ft. Sumner. While there Garrett ascertained the facts, entrapped, and killed him.
The Lexington Intelligencer, page 2
Aug. 19, 1882
St. Louis-Post Dispatch: Nellie Pickett, a native of LaFayette County, Missouri, died on the 15th at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico at the age of 24. Few as her years were, she had seen a good deal of wild life, and led a career as a romantic, so far as it went, and just about as virtuous as that of the Empress Catherine, one of whose numerous husband’s was Peter the Great! Nellie married Tom Pickett and went with him to New Mexico, after they had lived a year in Texas. They both joined the band of Billy the Kid. Many stories are told of her exploits, whether acting as a spy in female attire or charging at the head of the band dressed in the buckskin male attire of the plains. When Sheriff Garrett got the drop on Billy, and there was no surviving members of the gang to enlist her numerously bestowed affections, life became a burden, and she died.
Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.