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Historically Speaking: The story of Billy the Kid — told by his friend John Meadows, part 3

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The photo's caption reads, "Rio Penasco Trail Drive" — persons and date unknown.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

We continue today with part three in a four-part series, which was originally published in the Roswell Daily Record, March 3, 1931 — a story about John Meadows, who was a friend of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. This story tells not only Meadows’ recollection of the Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, but is historically significant in his recollections of ranches, brands, names of places and people, the justice system, and many other details of this part of the country and the part it played in the making of the Old West.

“… Cowboy: What became of Hill after he killed Tunstall?

“It seems like that bunch broke up, but I won’t say for certain, but these Pecos people turned and went home. I might be mistaken, at any rate, Evans and Hill quit the bunch and went over on the other side of the mountain. An old German from California was over there, it was reported he had lots of money, had his sheep camp in the mouth of the Alamo Canyon. They concluded they would rob this Dutchman, as it was such an easy-going thing, the old man didn’t know how to use a gun, he was trying to get to the staked Pinons of Texas to get range. He gave up. Hill stepped on the brake, and then on the wagon bed and looked over and here was a trunk. He stomped the lid of the trunk in, and the first thing he sees was a looking glass, and he looked at himself and said, ‘Here’s a looking glass, I didn’t know I was a fine-looking robber, but I am a daisy.’ Jesse says, ‘I want to see myself,’ and he stepped up to the glass. The Dutchman picked up Tom’s gun, he had leaned against the wagon-wheel and killed Tom with it, and the old man didn’t know how to load the gun or he could have killed Jesse too, but he did finally get a cartridge in and shot Jesse through the wrist, and the Dutchman got the horses and saddles and all.

“Hill was killed about five or six miles from La Luz. Antonio Baca was Justice of the Peace then and he told me about this himself. Jesse didn’t deny it but told old man Frederick about it. He went to Three Rivers, he had a friend living on the Nogal Canyon, Fillipe Frederick. Frederick heard about Jesse being wounded and he took his team and went after him and brought him home. Now, Billy Matthews is my authority for this. The government had some kind of complaint against Jessie and they went over and got him and carried him to Fort Stanton, and put the shackles on him and turned him loose. Well he hung around the place, he wasn’t locked up and when the shot fit right he cut his shackles off and got in with two more fellows and stole some horses and pulled for Texas. They done pretty well until they got to Fort Stockton. An old German there named Caylor, I knew him. They stopped to hold him up, took his money and proceeded to help themselves to some clothing and other things a man needs on a trip, but Jesse never made a bigger mistake than when he took Caylor in. Captain W. D. Roberts, whom a lot of you remember, had a bunch of Rangers and was camped near there, and rounded the bunch up and sent them to the penitentiary. Captain Roberts told me about making the arrest.

“Cowboy: How did the Kid get mixed up in the Lincoln County War?

“That is kind of a hard question. You will just have to take my opinion and it might be wrong, but I think I am about right. It don’t seem the Kid turned his war dogs loose until Tunstall was killed, but then he turned his war dogs loose and started killing everything that got in his way and when things didn’t go to suit him, he didn’t know anything else but his gun, but that is how they got him mixed up in the Lincoln County War. He said he had nothing to do with it until after Tunstall was killed, but Tunstall had given him some presents, a saddle, or a gun, I don’t know what. The Kid was like any other boy of seventeen or eighteen years old, he worshipped Tunstall and when Tunstall was killed he made his mind up, he was going to get revenge, and I guess he did it. In my opinion, that is what put him into the Lincoln County War.

“It seems like the Coe boys, Dick Brewer, and all of them, got themselves mixed in it, they all got mad and went to killing. One side was just as dangerous as the other and both sides had good honest men in it. They were good people.

“Mr. Brady, the Sheriff, must have been a good man or he would not have been elected Sheriff. I don’t know much about his getting killed, the Kid told me about it. He said, there was three or four of us shooting Brady, but I don’t remember who he said killed him, but, he said, ‘I am the man who seems to be blamed for it all, but I don’t know why.’ I do remember him telling me that. When Brady was killed, that raised the bounty higher and higher and it kept getting higher. The men seem to have lost all reason. The Governor appeared to have more reason than the others when he wrote the Kid that letter, because he wanted peace, because there was so many of them mixed up in it.

“Cowboy: In 1880 Pat Garrett was elected Sheriff, what did he start in to do?

“I was with Pat Garrett twenty-two years, we were connected either directly or indirectly, and I found Garrett to be a very different man to what they showed here in this moving picture and my picture don’t corroborate with that. When Garrett was elected Sheriff, he has told me this time and again he said, ‘My first object was to try and get this thing settled without any bloodshed and I figured out how to do it. Before I was elected Sheriff, I saw the Kid, and talked with him and I told him the best thing he could do was to get up and be gone three or four years, and then come back and there would be nothing said about it, there would be no trouble, but the Kid could not see the point.’ The Kid was at that time running a little bit on his own, wasn’t with these fellows at all, but later on papers came around some way.

Garrett saw Charlie Bowdre and Tom Pickett and others, and Garrett fixed a meeting for him and Charles Bowdre on the San Juan Mesa. He and Charles Bowdre agreed to meet there unarmed and talk this thing over, but Bowdre had his six shooter. Garrett said, ‘Look there you have betrayed my confidence.’ Garrett got there first. Bowdre came and got down off his horse and him and Garrett had a talk right then, and Garrett told him the best thing he could do, ‘All of you boys, leave the country, do like Frank and George Coe, go off to one side and stay away and come back later on, this thing will be over.’ Charles Bowdre promised Garrett that was what they was going to do, so Garrett told me. He did not do it, but Pat told him there, ‘If you fellas don’t do this, I am going to arrest you or kill you, or you are going to kill me, if you stay here.’ They did not go, but fooled around over here in the northern part of the county and finally dropped in to the Red Cloud Ranch and a posse from White Oaks tried to arrest them. Charlie Carlile went into the house to talk to Billy Wilson, he had gone to school with him, and somebody let a gun go off outside accidentally and the Kid’s outfit killed Charles Carlile, and the Kid said, ‘We hadn’t ought to have done it.’

“Then the trouble began to come right. These cattle stolen from the Panhandle, these LX, LITS, and LS and another brand or two, I don’t remember those. These were in the country. Let’s see how this thing turned out. In February, I went to work for Pat Coghlan at Tularosa, he sent me out to Three Rivers. The first thing I done was to go around and look over the range, get acquainted with it. I went up on Indian River, there was about forty-five head of these, LX, LITS, and LS cattle, and another brand or two, I don’t remember, but about forty-five head, and I looked at them. I told Mr. Nesbit, ‘I found something today that does not look good.’ He said, ‘What?’ I says, ‘A bunch of stolen cattle on Indian River.’ He says, ‘What brand?’ I told him those are the cattle Pat bought from Tom Cooper and Charles Bowdre, and that was what he was going to swear to when they tried Pat. The Kid was over here and I was on the west side of the mountains, but Garrett was trying to arrest them. Charles Bowdre wouldn’t listen to Garrett.

“Cowboy: What did they do at Ft. Sumner after Bowdre wouldn’t listen to Garrett?

“Along about March or April, Pat and me fell out and he discharged me and paid me off. I said, ‘Them LX, LITS and LS cattle will be bellering around your bed post first thing you know.’ I told him who they belonged to. During that time I met Charlie Siringo, we had met each other in the Panhandle a year or so ago, he asked me about these cattle, and he went there and found them, and then comes the lawsuit with Coghlan and the Brewer Cattle Company outfit. This has nothing to do with the Kid. I was working there and put Charley on and he thought the Kid was the one that drove the cattle off. Maybe he did, but I don’t see how he did when he was dealing monte at White Oaks.

“I went back across the mountain and stopped at Penasco and bought a ranch from Hayden, now Bryan Ranch. I had a letter from Tom Norris and he was on his way, and when he got here, I had the ranch to go to farming and we went to farming that year.

“We could hear Garrett was chasing these fellows and the Panhandle people come down to get the cattle and part of Garrett’s outfit was Panhandle men to try to catch the Kid and Bowdre. At Fort Sumner they waylaid him in the night, they was waiting at the corner of a fence, they come riding down, the Kid was in front of Tom O’Folliard, and just before they got to this certain place, the Kid said, ‘I want to smoke a cigarette,’ and dropped back and the posse attacked and Tom O’Folliard got killed. They broke and ran and went to Stinking Springs, got there in the night, the ground was covered with snow.

“At this time, I am not right sure where I was. Anyway, Garrett and his posse followed and when they got to Stinking Springs, they surrounded the house and waited until morning. The boys had horses tied to the vigas, some of them tied their horses to these vigas and others tied here and there, and around. When daylight come, Charlie Bowdre put the Kid’s hat on and went out to see about the horses. When he walked out Garrett shot him through the neck and he died, killed him, but he walked up to Garrett, he put both hands on his shoulders and said, Pat, I wish, I wish…and he fell down dead. My guess is he was wishing he had done what Garrett tried to get him to do. One guess is as good as another, but that is what happened.

“The Kid ran out and got his horse in the house. Picket tried to get his horse in and Garrett shot it and broke its neck. The horse fell in the door and stopped up the door. The Kid meant to get on the horse and make a try at night, but he could not get over the dead horse. Garrett said, ‘You have nothing to do but surrender and say I will surrender.’ Billy Wilson said, ‘All right, I will surrender;’ he was the first to surrender. Tom Pickett came next and the Kid was the last one to come. Pat said, ‘Now, Kid, when you come, you come with your hands up.’ He said, ‘All right, I will come with some of them up;’ and he put up one hand and then the other, and Garrett said, ‘I could not make him put them both up at the same time.’ Garrett disarmed him and took the bunch to Ft. Sumner and carried them to Las Vegas. I will have to give my own opinion. Garrett knew he did not have a chance to take care of prisoners like that at Lincoln; he had such a poor jail and so many enemies there, he could not keep them in jail there. So he concluded to take them to Santa Fe, so he pulled for Las Vegas. There he put his prisoners in a train and here came a crowd of people. Garrett said looked like two or three hundred and some had ropes and guns, and wanted to take these prisoners out and hang them. Pat picked up his gun and walked out and said, ‘I know what this means and the first one who puts his foot on the train I will kill, and I will arm these prisoners and fight it out.’ The Kid said, ‘I would give my life to smell powder burn again.’”

The final part of Meadows’ story will be published in next week’s edition of the Roswell Daily Record.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.