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History: New Billy the Kid book — unlike any that have come before

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By John LeMay

historian

If you are like me, you’re tired of the same old books on Billy the Kid. On the flip side, you probably also want a new book about Billy the Kid — just not one that retreads the same tired old ground of his short but intriguing life.

Author David S. Turk has done the seemingly impossible in delivering a new book on Billy the Kid that is actually enjoyable for “know-it-all armchair historians” like myself. As I stated earlier, I really don’t want to read another book examining the details of the Kid’s life, which has been done to death.

Our friend Turk covers new ground that was — until recently — neglected by most historians: Billy’s effect on 20th-century tourism in New Mexico.

Specifically, Turk covers what we could consider a second Lincoln County War that literally was fought over the Kid’s dead body.

In the early 1960s, as tourism revolving around the Kid had officially cemented itself in Lincoln town — and the county in general — a petition arose to have the Kid’s remains exhumed where he found his last rest, Fort Sumner. This wasn’t for any DNA test or mystery surrounding Brushy Bill or other imitators. Lincoln County residents simply felt that the Kid was a Lincoln County resident and should have been buried there to begin with. The “Lincolnites” argued that Fort Sumner was exploiting his death, while arguing that they would celebrate the life of their beloved Kid, who was, for them, not a criminal but a misunderstood youth caught up in the Lincoln County War. As such, they felt his remains should be exhumed and reburied in Lincoln County near Lincoln town.

The case is truly fascinating in that many of the major players were descended from or related to figures from Lincoln County history — and this included the Kid himself!

Enter Lois Telfer, a beautician from New York who claimed that her father and Billy the Kid’s biological father shared the same lineage. As such, she was not a direct descendant of Billy, but a relative nonetheless. Therefore, she had some legal grounds to request the reburial of her dead relative.

Also involved in the mix were the descendants of the Coe brothers, Pat Garrett and even Col. Albert J. Fountain.

Squaring off against Telfer was a descendant of Charlie Bowdre, Louis Bowdre. As it was, Charlie Bowdre had been buried in the same plot as the Kid. Digging up the Kid meant needing Louis Bowdre’s permission, which is exactly where things get interesting.

But, if you want to know how it all ended, I’m not going to spoil it — you’ll have to read Turk’s book. And, of course, as we all know, today, the Kid remains buried in Fort Sumner. No spoiler there.

But for those of you who are intrigued to know the full details of the battle for Billy’s bones, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Turk’s “Here Lies Billy the Kid.”

The book was published June 10 by Cold West Publishing and is available as hardcopy and online as ebook.