New Mexico Weighs Pardon Of Billy The Kid Outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering issuing a pardon to the famous gunslinger and cattle thief Billy the Kid. For more, NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Tim Sweet, the owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, N.M.

New Mexico Weighs Pardon Of Billy The Kid

New Mexico Weighs Pardon Of Billy The Kid

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Outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering issuing a pardon to the famous gunslinger and cattle thief Billy the Kid. For more, NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Tim Sweet, the owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, N.M.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Finally this hour, he went by many names. William Bonney was one. His real name was William Henry McCarty, but everyone knew of him as Billy the Kid.

The gunslinger and cattle thief is a mythical figure of the old West. The legend says he killed 21 men.

In 1881, when Billy the Kid was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett, the New York Times wrote this: His killing is regarded by the citizens of California and Arizona as one of the most fortunate events which has occurred for years.

In another dispatch, the Times reported that the coroner's jury that looked into the shooting not only found it justifiable homicide, but it actually sent a message to Garrett thanking him for ridding the country of the desperado.

Well, now, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is considering issuing a pardon to Billy the Kid before he leaves office on Friday. And joining me to talk about that is Tim Sweet, who is the owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Welcome to the program.

Mr. TIM SWEET: (Owner, Billy the Kid Museum): How are you doing?

SIEGEL: Fine. They say that he killed, if not 21 men, quite a few. What would he be pardoned for? What offenses would he be pardoned for?

Mr. SWEET: Well, I think the pardon part is when Governor Wallace offered everybody that took part in the Lincoln County War, which was a war between two groups that were fighting for government contracts for beef and supplies, everybody that took part in that, Governor Wallace said that he would give them a pardon for any misdemeanor crime that took place during that time period.

SIEGEL: And Billy the Kid had taken part in the Lincoln County Wars.

Mr. SWEET: Yes.

SIEGEL: You have to explain, Governor Wallace is a rather famous character. Governor Lew Wallace, you're talking about.

Mr. SWEET: Right.

SIEGEL: He was, at that time, the territorial governor but had been a Civil War officer and a very famous novelist, as well, wrote "Ben-Hur."

Mr. SWEET: Yes. Governor Wallace wanted Billy the Kid to testify in a court trial, and in return, Wallace told him that if he testified in court that he would go scot-free for any crimes that he committed.

And what happened was the district attorney told the courts that he would not honor Governor Wallace's pardon to Billy the Kid.

Now, my take on it is that Governor Wallace would have given Billy the Kid the pardon then, and Billy the Kid would have stopped what he was doing and all the crimes that he committed.

Yeah, I think he did deserve the pardon, but that didn't happen. Billy the Kid basically escaped, then ended up killing two deputies in the long run.

SIEGEL: How do you understand a character like Billy the Kid, who, if we had been law-abiding folks in the Southwest in the 1880s, we would've been terrified of this guy in all likelihood?

Mr. SWEET: Well, if you study the history, most people really liked Billy the Kid.

SIEGEL: While he was at it, while he was killing people?

Mr. SWEET: Yeah, you know, this Lincoln County War deal was two groups that were against each other, and there was a lot of things took place that people don't even realize. All they hear about's the stuff with Billy the Kid.

You know, everybody - a lot of people come in and say, oh, he was just a cold-blooded killer and an idiot and all this stuff. Well, that's not true.

SIEGEL: Well, we know that he murdered quite a few people, though, in addition....

Mr. SWEET: Well, history and legend says 21. If you go through documentation, he killed four men, and he was there when four more were killed. So that's a total of eight.

SIEGEL: That's still more than most of us kill in our lives, don't you think?

Mr. SWEET: Exactly right.

SIEGEL: And has Governor Richardson spoken to you about this at all? Has he sought out your opinion?

Mr. SWEET: No, he hasn't.

SIEGEL: You think he'd be ill-advised to issue the pardon, right?

Mr. SWEET: No. My question is, what is it going to change? History's already written. All it's going to do is I think publicity, and in three months, nobody will care.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Sweet, thanks for talking with us about the controversy.

Mr. SWEET: All right, thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Tim Sweet, owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is considering a pardon for Billy the Kid.

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