Billy the Kid Pardon Denied: Why Is This Even an Issue?

Cynthia Dermody

billy the kid museumIn this week's episode of "Elected Officials With Nothing Better to Do," New Mexico's outgoing Governor William Richardson has decided he will not grant a pardon to Billy the Kid, the murderous outlaw who was killed nearly 130 years ago.

You may ask why, after so many years, is this even an issue? Why public officials are wasting taxpayer money on an event that that doesn't help to reduce the state debt or deal with immigration issues? Good question.

An Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn had studied the case of the Billy the Kid, also known as William Bonney and Henry McCarty, and submitted a formal petition for a pardon. She asked Governor Richardson to follow through on an alleged promise made to The Kid by then New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace, who served in office from 1878 to 1881. Some records indicate that Wallace promised to Grant The Kid clemency in exchange for testimony in other killings.

For some reason Wallace never kept his promise -- if the promise even existed in the first place. That's where history gets fuzzy, and that's why McGinn wanted an investigation.

Richardson, who's term expires tonight at midnight, was quoted as saying, "We should not neglect the historical record and the history of the American West." Billy the Kid is a cornerstone of tourism in New Mexico, and locals take him and his history very seriously. The Kid is said to have killed 21 people, including a sheriff and deputies -- one for every year of his life before he was shot and killed shortly after his escape from prison.

Yet New Mexico tourism underestimates that number at closer to 9. It would seem that they feel that tourism would actually improve if their most notorious frontiersman got a good PR boost and was publicly deemed a lot less horrible than we already think him. But when it comes to gun wielding outlaws, isn't more murders better? Would you want to visit the grave of a cowboy who shot one guy in the head, or the grave of the one that killed 40?

On the other hand, just the pardon investigation alone has brought a lot of "positive PR" to the state itself in terms of it's rich history, possibly stimulating tourism.

Did you know there are two Billy the Kid museums? One in Hico, Texas and one in Fort Sumner, New Mexico -- the state where he was supposedly killed? Yep, even his place of death is in dispute. Perhaps that will be first on the incoming governor's to-do list.

Image via Dr. Warner/Flickr

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