My turn: Kid overwhelmed by legend

By David Stevens: FNM editor

Fort Sumner hosted Old Fort Days this weekend, an annual opportunity to remember Billy the Kid.

Most of what we “remember” about the Kid from movies and history books is probably not true, of course; the facts about his life have long been overwhelmed by the legend.

The legend is William “Billy the Kid” Bonney killed 21 men by the time he turned 21, then lost his life at the hands of friend/lawman Pat Garrett, who was torn between duty and loyalty. Or maybe Garrett helped him fake his death on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner?

The truth is the Kid, whose birthdate is not known, didn’t come close to killing 21 men; it’s hard to believe Garrett was his friend since Garrett was responsible for the deaths of two of the Kid’s friends and the Kid killed two of Garrett’s deputies; and every famous outlaw’s life ends with a wacky theory that he’s not really dead.

Newspapers reporting on the Kid’s slaying in 1881 claimed he’d killed more than 30 men. Those same newspapers, including the Las Vegas Optic in New Mexico, referred to Garrett as “the terror of all evil-doers.”

Most historians now agree the Kid killed only four men directly — two in self-defense and two while escaping the Lincoln County Jail —