Questions about whether Billy the Kid was really killed in Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881, began almost immediately.
A San Francisco newspaper had this to say just a few days after The Associated Press sent the news around the world:
“We hope ‘Billy the Kid’ is dead as the associated press says, but we notice he was shot at half past eleven o’clock in the morning by the light of the moon. Such trifling discrepancies, however, do not count for much in telegraphic dispatches.”
Rumors that the Kid — William Bonney — was still alive were still healthy in 1938, which prompted Clovis News-Journal Editor Jack Hull to seek answers.
Hull traveled to Fort Sumner and located Jesus Silva, whom Hull declared to be “the only living man who knew Billy the Kid personally, and who saw him in death …”
Here’s what Silva, 86 at the time, told Hull for the newspaper article published on July 13, 1938:
“It had been a hot day throughout the valley and Mesa Redondo country. I had strolled over to a neighbor’s house and on my return had stopped under a cottonwood tree for a moment, when the Kid, whom I had known for some time, strolled up.
“He had just ridden into town. He was hot and tired and we … drank beer together. He told me he was hungry and that he was going to the home of Don Pedro Maxwell for a cut of fresh beef for his supper, which was being prepared at a nearby house.
“We parted there and in a few minutes there were shots. The news soon spread that (Sheriff Pat) Garrett had shot the Kid at Maxwell’s home. I ran over there and Garrett, who had run out of the house, told me to go in and see if the Kid was dead.”
He was, Silva reported. And he helped bury his friend nearby the next day.
About a year later, according to the website aboutbillythekid.com, Silva was interviewed by Miguel Otero Jr., who wrote a book about the Kid.
Silva told Otero that Deluvina Maxwell, another friend of Bonney’s, was also in the room after the gunshots.
“There on the floor, we saw Billy stretched out, face down,” Silva said. “We turned him over, and when Deluvina realized fully it was the Kid, she began to cry bitterly, interspersing with her tears the vilest curses she could bestow on the head of Pat Garrett.”
David Stevens writes about regional history on his blog: www.highplainsyesterdays.com