Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Lincoln’s folk pageant ‘Last Escape of Billy the Kid’ celebrates its 80th anniversary, 140 years after the outlaw’s death, and the gun credited with the killing shot goes up for auction
By Christina Stock
It is part of the lore of the West, the short life of the outlaw Billy the Kid. The outlaw received hero-status after dime novels and the movie industry picked up on his role in the infamous Lincoln County War that caused bloodshed and terror between 1878 and 1881 in southeast New Mexico.
A last daring escape out of the Lincoln jail and courthouse ended in Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881, when the “Kid” was shot by his former friend Sheriff Pat Garret.
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Shots will echo again through the streets of historic Lincoln when re-enactors bring the famous characters of the Lincoln County War back to life in the folk pageant “Last Escape of Billy the Kid.” The pageant is part of the Old Lincoln Days celebration, Aug. 6 to 8.
These actors are descendants of the actual people involved in the county war. Some travel from all over the U.S. to be a part of the pageant; others will ride in on their horses because they still live in the area and are working cowboys, cowgirls and ranchers.
Organizer and spokesperson Kent McInnes has been part of the pageant for more than 40 years, as was his family before him. In a phone interview he said that this year about 100 people are participating in the pageant as actors and cast.
“This is one of the — if not the only — true folk pageants left, where the voices talk and the actors act. This year is going to be the reunion of the ‘Billies,’ so we’ve got several past-Billies coming in to attend the performance. Every year, when we meet up, it’s like a family reunion. We are so close to each other, but we only see each other once a year. That’s what I look forward to,” McInnes said.
This year, Mitchell Harper portraits Billy the Kid. In 1940, another young man volunteered to be the first Billy, Peter Hurd. Hurd was at the time already nationally known for both paintings and book illustrations. He lived near Lincoln in San Patricio on his ranch La Rinconada. The historic ranch is today a gallery and home to the works of the Hurd family: Peter Hurd, wife Henriette Wyeth and their son Michael Hurd. Michael Hurd still calls the Hondo Valley and San Patricio his home.
The first pageant played out on the blocked-off street that divides Lincoln. Today, it takes place in a rustic open-air theater next to the historic jail and courthouse where Billy the Kid originally shot his way out to freedom, only to be killed later by former friend Sheriff Garret. Or is that what really happened?
In an article in the Daily Record, Aug. 6, 1975, Bill Shrecengost II, who had been performing as Billy the Kid at the pageant, was quoted saying that his wife’s grandmother, Annie McInnis, who was still living in Roswell at the time, said that Billy the Kid came to her family’s ranch after he was supposedly killed.
Shrecengost continued his description of the desperado saying that, “nobody knows, really, how old he was, although legend says Billy the Kid died at 21. He was supposed to be clean shaven and he was a friendly kind of guy who would put up with anything — until somebody crossed him.”
There is a surprising detail in the description of Billy the Kid by Shrecengost. He said, “The Kid was very superstitious, as all the outlaws were at that time. He always wore a green hatband because of this.”
The village of Lincoln itself stands as a historical witness to an era long gone. Its buildings are registered as National Historical Landmarks. The courthouse and jail are a museum, and the sites and buildings will be open during the festivities, which also features a concert by the Clay Mac Band from Deming on Friday and Saturday nights, before the pageant begins at 8:30 p.m. The last performance will be on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are available only at the pageant arena’s entrance, beginning at 10 a.m. each morning, until just before each performance. Children under age 6 get in for free.
Food, arts and crafts vendors and old West displays will be set up throughout the town. The Old Lincoln Days Parade starts at the east end of the village on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Meanwhile, on the West coast in California, the auction house Bonhams is preparing for a special auction on Aug. 27, that has at its center Sheriff Pat Garret’s Colt single-action firearm, the weapon allegedly used to kill Billy the Kid.
Eddie Taylor is a historian and friend of the collector Jim Earle who owned Garret’s gun. Earle died in March 2019. Taylor gave permission to quote him from an email he had sent to historian and author Lynda Sánchez.
He wrote, “I’ve known about the Bonham Auction in Los Angeles for several months. This is the auction that will, hopefully, not only sell the 44-40 pistol that Pat used to kill Billy on July 14, 1881, but Jim Earle’s entire Western collection, including Bob Olinger’s own shotgun Billy used on him April 28, 1881. The pistol has a serial number, 55093. I have held it and the shotgun in my hands twice at Jim’s home in College Station, Texas. Jim kept the pistol and other small items in his bank vault but brought them out for people at certain times. The pistol was taken from Billy Wilson at the Stinking Springs capture on December 23, 1880. Jim also owned guns of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo, and John Wesley Hardin. Jim was a retired engineering professor. I have been in contact with Jim’s daughter Elizabeth Blodgett for several months. The Bonham Auction was originally scheduled for August 5, but now Elizabeth and her sister Susan have put it off, because the catalog inventory had not been completed for people to look over before bidding.”
Taylor wrote that he is looking forward to returning to Lincoln during Old Lincoln Days this year.
Roswell historian and author John LeMay wrote several books about Billy the Kid, including “The Man Who Invented Billy the Kid — The Authentic Life of Ash Upson” and “Tall Tales and Half Truths of Billy the Kid.”
After learning that Garret’s gun is listed with an estimated selling price of $2 million to $3 million, LeMay wrote in an email, “I see Billy’s gun only sold for $64,350 in 2008, so I’m surprised they project for Pat Garrett’s gun to go for so much more. But then again, maybe it’s like ‘Clash of the Titans?’ Even though Billy is the better known of the two, it was Garrett’s gun, and that gun specifically killed the Kid, so maybe that’s why they project it go for millions of dollars.”