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Historically Speaking: The story of Billy the Kid — told by his friend John Meadows, part 4

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The photo's caption reads, "Pat Garret" — date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

We continue today with the last part of the four-part series recalling memories of John Meadows’ friendship with Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, which was originally published in the Roswell Daily Record, March 3, 1931. The first three parts are available for free online at rdrnews.com/category/news/vision.

“ … Pat took them to Santa Fe and put them in jail there. There he stopped, he had done his duty. They were tried at La Mesilla, the county seat about three miles west of Las Cruces.”

Roswell Daily Record, Thursday, March 4, 1931

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Old Timer Pays Tribute To Sheriff Pat Garrett

In Final Chapter

Billy The Kid

“Cowboy: What did he do with the Kid after he was tried at Mesilla?

“The Kid was turned over to Garrett to take to Lincoln and to hang on a certain Friday. I think on Friday, Billy Matthews, Ollinger, Bell and Dave Woods went as guards to take him over. They took him to Lincoln and on the way over the Kid got to talking to Matthews about me, and Matthews told him I had rented his ranch and was living on the Penasco, and told him where I lived. But they went to Lincoln, never put him in jail, put him in the Sheriff’s office and Ollinger and Bell were guarding him. When he went in there, he had little short shackles on his feet and Garrett said, ‘It is not necessary for the boy to have them shackles on there, you can take care of him with longer ones can’t you Bell?’ So Garrett took off the little short shackles and put on the long ones, more for comfort than anything else. It looked to Garrett as if he could do something to make the thing as light as possible on him until the poor boy was hung.

“Ollinger was guarding him, the Kid told me Ollinger abused him terribly, tantalized him while he had shackles on. He worked him up until he said, ‘I just could not hardly contain myself sometimes. But Bell, I felt good towards him, he was a nice little fellow and I appreciated him and I do until yet, and I did not want to kill him if I could help it, but I made up my mind how to get away.’

“The day before he was to hang, Ollinger in the morning loaded his gun with 12 buckshot and he said, ‘The little hazel eyed,’ calling him an immoral name … ‘will be pretty apt to stop, won’t he, Kid?’ The Kid said ‘I expect he will, but be careful Bob, you might shoot yourself accidentally.’ Bob went to dinner. The Kid waited until he thought Bob had about eat his dinner, and made an excuse to go downstairs. Bell went with him; when they come back up the stairs, the stairs made a short turn and the Kid says to himself, here is my opportunity, and I will either make an escape, or get killed, and he started upstairs and about halfway up, and those shackles were right for the Kid, and he made two jumps and slipped the handcuffs off. When Bell come up he slapped him at the side of the head with the handcuffs and he meant to get his gun and take him prisoner. What he wanted to do was to hit Bell and stun him and get his gun, and take him prisoner, and handcuff his hands together, and then ride off. He hit Bell at the side of the head and stunned him, and the two went down on the floor together, scuffling for the gun. The Kid got it and tried to hold Bell, but he could not, Bell got loose and the Kid says, ‘I just had to kill him to save myself, I just had to kill him.’ He was laying right on his stomach when he shot Bell.

“After killing Bell, the Kid went into the Sheriff’s office, picked up the same gun that Ollinger had loaded that morning and made the remark about, and went over to the northeast corner room of the building and from this room he could see the hotel where Bob ate his dinner. Bob was coming across the street. There was a trustee running around the jail there, named Alex Nunley. The Kid waited for Bob to open the gate which was right under the window in the room where he was. When the Kid heard the gate slam he heard Alex Nunley call to Bob and say, ‘Bob, the Kid has killed Bell.’ The Kid told me himself about it: ‘Just as Alex Nunley said that, I stuck that gun right through the window and I said, ‘Look up, old boy, and see what you get,’ and Bob looked up and I let him have both barrels right in his face and breast.’

“After he killed Bob, the Kid came back … in the house and walked to the south end of it and he looked out a window and saw an old German there named Gaus, and there was an old pick ax laying there and he said, ‘Gaus, pitch me up that pick ax and let me get this chain in two, between my feet.’ Gaus picked up the pick and he said, ‘Look out Billy, here she comes,’ and he threw the pick up to the window and the Kid caught it and that’s how he broke the chain in two between his feet. After breaking the chain, he tied a string in the end of the chains that was on his feet and pulled them up and tied them to his belt to keep them out of the way in his walking.

“He went back to the north end of the house — it had a little porch, sat on the banisters, whistled a little tune and said, ‘Give the good people of Lincoln a chance to think a little, I won’t hang tomorrow.’ He went down the stairs, which is on the outside of the building at that place, and pulled his breeches leg up, run his finger down the lining of his foot, pulled out a little paper of stuff, threw it down on the ground and said, ,I don’t think I’ll need that salt in the morning.’ Doc Tomlinson examined it and said it was crystallized strychnine, that he calculated to take at last so they would not have hanged him I guess, no way.

“He said to Nunley, ‘Go saddle up Billy Burk’s horse, put his saddle and bridle on him, bring him out here Alex, I want him.’  Alex said, ‘I want to do that, Kid, bad enough, but I have got to be tried myself in a few days for killing two men on Tularosa Creek, don’t you reckon that will have something to do with it?’ He did kill four or five over there, and had not been tried for it yet.

“The Kid says, ‘You can tell them that I made you do it, so that is just what I am going to do.“ He said, ‘Well I guess I might just as well go saddle him now.’ That horse was saddled and the Kid got on him and the horse pitched him off. The old horse kept bucking around and this old Dutchman come out again and the Kid says, ‘Gaus, go get that horse and bring him back here, I can ride him.’ Gaus went and got the old horse and brought him back and the Kid gives Gaus his gun to hold while he rode the horse. The old horse bucked with him pretty near to the Dolan’s store and back, but the Kid rode him and he rode up to Gaus and he says, ‘Now Gaus, give me my gun old boy.’ ‘Here it is Billy,’ he says. He took the gun and he rode off. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘Goodbye Gaus old boy, I may never see you again.’  Gaus waved his hat at Billy and he says, ‘Goodbye Billy, you son of a …”

“The Kid rode that horse over to Salazar’s ranch or some place on the north side of the Capitans, staked him to a mole stalk and that night he jerked the stalk up and came back to Lincoln with the saddle on and bridle hanging on the horn of the saddle, I think Salazar then gave him another horse, the little sorrel that I spoke of.

“He told me this; he came to my place three or four days after he made his escape from the jail, and Tom and me was in the cabin cooking some supper and the Kid came around the corner of the house and saw nobody there but us, and stepped in and said, ‘Well I got you, haven’t I?’ And I said, ‘Well, you have, so what are you going to do with us?’ He says, ‘I’m going to eat supper with you.’ I says, ‘That’s alright if you can stand those beans.’ He sat there and told me everything I have told you about the arrest at Stinking Springs, at Las Vegas, and all the way around.

“At that time we weren’t very well acquainted with Pat Garrett, I had met him and that was all. I said, ‘Didn’t you come here to kill Billy Matthews, he is the strong witness against you.’

“‘Yes,’ he says he was, but it would be a pity to kill him; ‘I’ll give you my word that if I met him out here on the hills, I wouldn’t kill him, I might play with him a bit but I won’t kill him.’ I said, ‘Don’t you do it, if you do, I’ll be on your trail and I don’t want to be.’ He said, ‘I will give you my word I won’t.’

We talked until 11 o’clock that night. He said, ‘If I was laying out there in the arroyo and Pat Garrett rode by and didn’t see me, he would be the last man I would kill, I wouldn’t hurt a hair on his head; he worked pretty rough to capture us but he treated me good after he got me. He treated us humane and friendly and was good to us after he did get us captured, and I have ever such a good feeling for Pat Garrett.’

I said, ‘What kind of feeling do you have for Bob Ollinger?’ He says, ‘I expressed that a day or so ago, and that was the first I had heard of it.’

I said, ‘When I was sick, and down and out, you befriended me and there is two things I have never done, I have never kissed the hand that slapped me nor went back on a friend.’ Nor I never did. And I said, ‘Anyhow, I’m going to be a friend to you now. Tom and I have fourteen head of old Indian ponies, some of them ain’t very much, but you go out and look them over and if one of them does you any good, take it, and you are welcome to take all of them. But don’t go back to Fort Sumner for if you do Garrett will get you sure as you do, or else you will have to kill him.’

“He said, ‘I haven’t any money, what could I do in Mexico with no money? I’ll have to go back and get a little before I go.’ ‘Sure as you do,’ I said, ‘Garrett will get you.’ He said, ‘I have got too many friends up there and I don’t believe he will get me and I can stay there a while and get money enough and then go to Mexico.’ I said ‘You’d better get going while the going is good, you go back up there and you will get killed, or kill Garrett.’ “He went back to Sumner.

“There was an old Indian woman who stayed there with Maxwell, I think they called her Pabla, at any rate, it was this woman. The Kid put his horse under a shed and tied it, and come around and went to this room where the Indian woman was, the Maxwells raised her, and he said, ‘Haven’t you got something to eat?’ She says, ‘There is some coffee there, but not hot, and there is some tortillas, but there is a sheep or a goat hanging on the porch, go get you some of that and cook it.’ The Kid went out and cut off a piece of meat, come back in the door, he come in facing the west, the door was in the East. There was a window over there and as he looked through the window three men passed.

He said to the woman — asked who the three men were, she said, ‘I don’t know.’ He has a butcher knife and kept it in his hand, got rid of the meat, pulled his gun and went out the front door and come down the side of the house and when he got about the middle of the house the moon was up — he’s seen some men sitting in the shadow and he stepped out across the ditch and went around them and said ‘Quien est?’ and Kip McKinney could talk Mexican too and he answered back in Mexican, ‘It is nobody that wants anything to do with you, you go tend to your own business.’ Kip and Poe both told me that same thing.

“The Kid came on back to ask Pete Maxwell what he knew about it. Maxwell was in his room and Pat Garrett was sitting on the bed talking to Pete Maxwell and trying to work a way to get through this door to the east and jump on the Kid and capture him. The Kid was in his sock feet, he had pulled his boots off when he came into the house. He said, ‘Pete, quien est?’ and then saw someone sitting on the bed, and Garrett pulled his gun before the Kid came in. Pete had said to Garrett, ‘I believe it’s him.’ Garrett jerked his gun and then just about that time, he threw his gun on Garrett, about six inches from him, and Pat shot, he leant to one side a little, and shot and hit the Kid right in the heart. The Kid fell on the floor and in the moonshine that was shining through a window, the people on the outside did not detect but one shot, everybody said just one shot. Well Pat and Pete, and Pete in particular said there were two shots, he said the Kid did shoot. Let’s see how this worked out. Somebody may go to Ft. Sumner and I’ll tell you where you can find his bullet, it went right out under the windowsill.

“Cowboy: What is your opinion of the Kid and Pat Garrett as men?

“There is a terrible big difference. Garrett was raised in Louisiana in civilization and the Kid was raised in Silver City in the dance hall and gambling hall and the bar room. The Kid didn’t have as good a chance as Garrett had, but there is something about the Kid that makes me think he was pretty well bred anyhow, if he didn’t have any feelings about him. I believe the Kid did have some pretty good feelings, he was pretty well bred and was an expert at what he tried to do. He was an expert at both shooting monte and six shooting. He had some humane feelings that most of us have. When he came there and befriended me and when I got well and left that place, I had a warm spot in my heart for that fellow and don’t want to help it even now; anybody that will help me when I am sick, I feel good towards them. He was a creature of circumstance, he was raised and brought up in a dance hall and gambling hall and saloon and what is any of these places for a young fellow to learn, in Silver City and the West? The rest of us was in the same fix, we had no school, no churches, no amount of anything, and it was the best man that takes care of himself who fared the best.

“Garrett, I knew the man twenty two years and I never met a man in my life who was any more truthful, any more honorable, nor any better citizen than that man was. I was Deputy Sheriff under him six years, stayed in Las Cruces. We would differ once in a while but we could settle it without any sharp words. He was a good man and had a good heart in him. I lived with them at Las Vegas, at that time the family was there, and Lizzie here was a babe in her mother’s arms, and to tell you the truth, I loved every single one of them with all of my heart, and I love them still.”

— The end —


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.


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