Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Billy the Kid — memoirs by Severo Gallegos, part 1

Historically Speaking: Billy the Kid — memoirs by Severo Gallegos, part 1

Photos Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption for left photo reads, "Severo Gallegos at the time of the article. (1948)." The photo on the right shows a younger Gallegos, date and location not known.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

The list of intimate friends and “compadres” of Billy the Kid is long. It’s no wonder he ended up being a legend of sorts. If memory serves me, I have shared articles such as the one below from Ygenio Salazar, Jesus Silva, John Meadows, Rufus Dunnahoo — my husband’s great, great grandfather — and now Severo Gallegos. Billy cared about all who were nice to him, he helped them out of dire situations and was good friends with them and their families.

Billy was known not to touch alcohol or tobacco; he was described as being polite and cheerful, a good dancer; he was heard singing and whistling, signifying his good mood. He was a friend to the end to all who cared for him and gave him their friendship.

The story below is just another of that sort, proving even more that he did have a good and caring side.

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In researching history, much of what is found is recollections of those who were there. Sometimes, the recollections go along with those of others, sometimes not so much. Such is the case in Mr. Gallegos memoirs below. They may vary a bit from what has been written before, but he tells it the way he remembers it. Due to the length of this story, it will continue next week. I hope you enjoy it.

Editor’s note: The following article is presented as it appeared in the Ruidoso News, July 30, 1948, including the ellipses throughout the text.


Ruidoso, New Mexico

July 30, 1948

“Severo Gallegos Tells His Story and of His Family’s Friend, ‘Billy the Kid’

“By Mary Nell Taeger

“Severo Gallegos … was born in Lincoln County … lived … and had adventures in Lincoln County … is still here … has been for eighty one years … but doesn’t look it … is known by all the old timers … and those ‘come lately’ who he might think worth knowing. Early in the morning he can usually be found near Jack Lee’s Market in Skyland … just a little piece from his home … sometimes he is sitting on his bench watching and listening … taking time to shout ‘come esta’ and raise a hand in salutation to those he knows … later in the day he might be seen up in town … walking along … not missing a thing … with his stick to help him … sitting in one of the bars having a short beer and listening to whatever conversation proves the most interesting. Or he might be engaged in an argument … just for the sake of arguing … sitting on one or another of the benches on Main street. His zest for a living … a good poker game, interesting people, excitement, his appreciation for a pretty señorita have not gone with age … nor have his stories of the old days in Lincoln County been marred by forgetfulness. Severo was in the right places at the right time and has a sense of the dramatic which makes him still a prize storyteller … and his stories are so many others of the area, prove truth stranger than fiction … His own story is one of them … and will be woven into the legends following any historical. Which live until the end of time.

“To start his story at the beginning, Severo Gallegos was born in San Patricio, New Mexico in the year 1867 in a family home about five hundred yards from the present post office. One of the children in a large family he started the adventure of ‘life’ just as all children of his time did. A love of the surroundings of the lush Ruidoso Valley … the occupation of this area of orchards, sheep and cattle raising, gardening, were planned for self sustenance and each child grew to know his responsibilities at an early age. A love (of) fine horses, a good race, the satisfaction of a little gambling, the atmosphere of excitement in the pioneer country realized early. The folk music and dances brought to the west by his ancestors … the Catholic religion … all played a part in the life of Severo from infancy.

“Friends were friends and enemies were enemies … The one never to be forgotten … The other never to be forgiven.

“One friend of the Gallegos family plays a large part in the story of his life for almost seven years. This friend was Billy Bonny, ill-famed as ‘Billy the Kid.’

“Severo has told his story of Billy … in his own words and in his own way … and says the words of Billy the Kid are as accurate as he can remember hearing the so-called outlaw tell his family.

“He and his mama and papa and brothers first knew Billy Bonny when he arrived on the Ruidoso in his teens … fleeing from the law on the other side of the Sierra Blanca Mountains.

“Billy told the story and we tell it here … of why he was being pursued.

“Billy Bonny was thirteen years old living in Silver City, New Mexico. He had a stepfather … and he was not a kind man. One day Billy came home and found his mother making a terrific effort to control her emotions and hide a deep and bitter grief. He sensed something wrong and tried to question his mother, for he knew the man had been abusing her and wanted to know ‘why.’ She talked to him about it. The latest offense was more than the young man could stand … for he loved his mother. Grabbing a .44 Winchester from the gun rack he walked to the door of the little house. He waited … as the stepfather approached the gate he heard the voice of Billy asking, ‘What did you whip my mother for?’ The man’s answer was a series of vile oaths … with the exclamation as he ended, ‘I’ll whip you too if I want to.’

“This was more provocation than Billy felt he could stand … Only 13 years old … a not too tall young man … slender … with very delicate features for a male, he raised the rifle as he stood in the doorway … and fired! The stepfather was dead. From that minute Billy Bonny would be outside the law. Billy, only thirteen years old, was put in jail. During the next three months his escape was effected by friends and at the end of that time Billy Bonny, with three friends, turned the heads of their horses towards Ruidoso as a possible refuge.

“Shortly after arriving here … meeting people up and down the river, he made friends with the Lucas Gallegos family, George and Frank Coe, and many others, both Spanish and Anglo, all friends and neighbors in the pioneer country. These first friends stuck with him through thick and thin until the end.

“Billy Bonny traveled over the countryside and there are many old-timers today who will tell of him stopping in their home for a meal, a nights rest, or a quick cup of coffee and conversation. He played poker with the boys in the old saloons over the country … Made all the dances and many a señorita and señora sat with bated breath hoping to be his choice for the next set. Old Mrs. Salazar, the oldest resident of Lincoln today, remembers well working hard in the field all week … to get permission from her ‘papa’ to go to the old Telles ranch the other side of Lincoln for the Saturday night baile, Billy was always there.

“The young men liked him too … many lined up on the side of Billy the Kid … and fought by his side, or for him, because of a deep friendship. One of these was Chavez Gallegos, a half brother of Saverio‘s. Chavez and several others were with him during the Lincoln County war and lived the tales told and written about down through the years.

“Not too long after the friendship of the Gallegos family and Billy Bonny started, the Kid was visiting in their home. Everything was calm and peaceful when the warning came that a posse of thirty men was approaching San Patricio … determined to ‘get the Kid.’ Quick plans for concealment were made … Severo took Billy‘s horse to the river just below the dam where it was deep enough to partially hide … into the icy water up to the flanks of the horse … and well covering the legs of Severo … he went. Billy hid in the bushes and weeds in the river just below the dam. For an hour the posse combed the country and finally gave up … the efforts made by the Gallegos family to hide Billy … Savero’s part in the short drama … Further strengthened the bonds of their relationship.

“Saverio says ‘Many times after when Billy was hiding in the mountains in certain caves he found, Papa would send me with rations and supplies for him. No one suspects a little boy … barefooted … looking like I was herding the sheep or cattle.’

“When Severo was twelve years old his family moved to Lincoln under strange circumstances. He says ‘My papa, Lucas, killed a man. He argue with another man over a horse race. He was taken to county jail in Lincoln and our whole family moved there too. I, still just a little boy herded sheep and cattle to help my momma.’ With the father of the family in jail Mrs. Gallegos became very sad. One night she was sitting in the dugout where they were living when Billy Bonny came in. She was terribly distressed over her husband’s situation and told their friend about it. Billy told her not to worry. He would think of some plan to help his ‘good amigo.’

“On one still dark night not long after the conference between Billy and Mrs. Gallegos a woman approached the door of the jail. She knocked … waiting with absolute calm for the jailer to come to the door … He looked out … saw an attractively dressed young woman … opened the door. This was the crucial moment … the plan had worked … for Billy dressed as a woman had through this ruse opened the jail door … This was all he needed to complete his plans. He said ‘Don’t holler … I’m Billy the Kid … too surprised to move a muscle or even yell, the jailer was soon gagged and tied.

“Quickly Billy mounted the stairs to release his friend from behind the iron bars … and not only free Gallegos, but all the men in jail. After explaining to the surprised men what had taken place he took them downstairs. To the jailer Billy said ‘I will untie you on one condition. Do not sound an alarm until I fire a shot a safe distance from the town. I will signal from the top of the hill.’ The jailer agreed … the Kid and the men fled into the night … on reaching the top of the hill the signal was given … too late for the jailer to do anything but sound a delayed alarm.

“The fleeing men went on and on … not stopping except for necessary food and sleep until they reached the haven of San Antonio, Texas … far from Lincoln county …

To be continued.

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