Source: CS Monitor, 12-29-10
Billy the Kid, upper right, is pictured in this tintype photo from the late 1870s. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has posted a poll on his website asking if he should posthumously pardon the outlaw in exchange for testimony at an 1879 murder trial. AP
Public perception regarding the Kid is split into two camps, says Paul Hutton, a history professor and Old West expert at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque: “people who see him as this homicidal maniac and [others] who see him as a romantic character fighting for justice against a corrupt New Mexico system.”
In 2000, Richardson assembled a team of scholars, including Mr. Hutton, to investigate competing claims to Billy the Kid’s identity. An effort to dig up the remains of a woman thought to be his mother for DNA sampling created a public outcry and Richardson abandoned the effort to concentrate on his presidential campaign.
He is returning to this issue just a few days from leaving office. Historians say documents show Billy the Kid was promised a pardon by Lew Wallace, then the state governor, in exchange for testimony the Kid gave against the three men who killed a one-armed lawyer during the Lincoln County wars….
Hutton says most historians agree that Billy the Kid’s life was not as violent as the legend suggests and that he was a product of his unwieldy times of government corruption and vigilante justice.
“He certainly felt solving problems with a gun was the way to go, but that was the world in which he lived in,” he says. “The forces of authority in 1877 New Mexico were nothing to brag about.”…
Hutton says the historic ramification of a pardon will simply be “a state recognition that the Kid was wronged, which he actually was.”
However, others suggest the decision will do nothing to re-frame how the Old West is perceived, truthfully or otherwise.
“History is already written,” Tim Sweet, owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, told National Public Radio. “All it is going to do is bring publicity. In three months, nobody will care.”