Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Sheriff Solano became involved with Billy the Kid.

When I first ran for Sheriff in 1998 I never thought that an issue I would deal with would involve Billy the Kid. It wasn't in 1998 when I lost my first run for Sheriff but actually in 2002 when I ran that I was first brought into the legend of Billy the Kid.

During my campaign for sheriff I met a woman who befriended my wife and I and began helping me in my run for office. I credit her with a lot of the success of the 2002 campaign. A lot of people think that there must always be ulterior motives or someone helps in a political campaign just because they want a job. But that is not always the case. This woman is very active in political campaigns just because she chooses candidates she believes in and works to get them elected. She chose me and I have been honored ever since. At the end of my campaign for sheriff and when it was all said and done I ended up with a campaign debt of thousands of dollars. When you end up with a campaign debt it means you paid the money out of your own pocket, not usually that there are creditors waiting to get paid.

A young lawyer had moved to Santa Fe from out of state and was making the social and political rounds and was making a name for himself. He was donating to political campaigns during the 2002 elections. He had a multi state law firm that must do well as he seemed to do well financially for himself. The woman who helped my campaign had met him and convinced him to throw a party at his office to help raise money to clear my campaign debt. It was a small wine and cheese get together at his downtown office and my campaign debt was cleared. Once again I was greatly appreciative of all her help and I found a new friend in that attorney, Bill Robins.

I ran during the year that Governor Bill Richardson was swept into office on a groundswell of support. While he may have his problems now in 2010 in 2002 it was a different story. As I ran breathless and exhausted from political event to political event, he floated from event to event on the shoulders of thousands of supporters. Unions, State workers, Democrats, Republicans, Women, Men, Anglos, Hispanics all groups supported him and enthusiastically swept him into office. One of his campaign contributors was also Attorney Bill Robins who became my friend. But the truth is Richardson was a master at raising money and almost everyone who ever gave to political campaigns gave to Richardson.

I truly believe it was not a favor for the donation and fundraiser, but about a year later Bill Robins and I were having dinner and he asked me what I thought about a pardon for Billy the Kid. Now I read a lot but mostly modern day biography's, fiction, and anything news related. The only thing I really knew about Billy the Kid came from watching the movie Young Guns. Sometime around 1987 the movie was being filmed in Santa Fe and my wife Antoinette got Lou Diamond Phillups autograph at a now defunct nightclub in Santa Fe called Mr. R's. All she had at the time was a bar tab receipt borrowed from a waitress and a pencil to get the autograph. In 1988 we were invited to the Santa Fe Premiere of the movie at the old Lensic theater. It was the source of just about all I ever knew of Billy the Kid.

Lou Diamond Phillups Autograph and our invitation to the Young Guns Premier.

Well at that dinner Bill Robins told me a story about how Billy the Kid was not all the legend made him out to be. It was a long story and the basics of it can be found here. Now I have found out that there are a lot of versions of his life and how many people he killed and whether he was fighting for justice as a deputy in the Lincoln county wars or whether he was a cold blooded killer. If you have about 20 minutes to read the above link it is a very interesting story of his life and exploits. Keep in mind as you read it that other versions of his story are out there as well. The basics is that Billy the kid claimed he witnessed the murder of an attorney Huston Chapman however some claimed he took part in the murder. By this time Billy the Kid was already wanted for murder related to the Lincoln County Wars and the Governor Lew Wallace wanted the murderers brought to justice. Billy the kid contacted the governor by mail and offered to testify in return for a pardon on his outstanding warrants for murder. The following was taken from the above link with one of the stories of Billy's life.

On March 13, 1879 the Kid wrote to the governor and offered to testify against Chapman’s murderers in exchange to have his indictments annulled. The governor wrote back inviting the Kid to meet with him. In his letter to the Kid, he wrote, “I have authority to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know,” and he closed with: “If you could trust Jesse Evans, you can trust me.”

On March 17th, the Kid met the governor in Lincoln. During the meeting, Governor Lew Wallace made the promise the Kid had hoped for. The governor stated clearly, that if the Kid testified in court, that “in return for you’re doing this, I will let you go scot-free with a pardon in your pocket for all your
misdeeds.” The agreement was made. The Kid would submit to a fake arrest, testify against Chapman’s killers, James Dolan and Colonel Dudley, for a full pardon. A couple days later, the Kid and Tom O’Folliard surrendered to Sheriff Kimbrell as planned and were confined at Patron’s store. The governor interviewed the Kid by asking him about the Rustlers’ hideouts and about the rustling activities in the territory. The Kid held nothing back and told everything that Governor Wallace wanted to know.

The following month the Kid began his court appearances, but due to the fact that Judge Bristol and prosecutor William Rynerson were Dolan men, the defendants were either pardoned under the governor’s proclamation or acquitted. Surprisingly O'Folliard was even given amnesty, but the Kid wasn't so lucky. The Kid's enemies were dead set on not letting him get away. The biggest threat to the Kid was prosecutor attorney William Rynerson, who not only wouldn't go along with the governor's bargain with the Kid, but got a change of venue to Dona Ana County for the Kid's trial. So instead of being tried in Lincoln where the Kid would be acquitted, he would be put on trial in a very bias courtroom where he didn't stand a chance. But that wasn’t the Kid’s only problem, the governor wasn’t making good his promise of a pardon, probably due to the lack of cooperation from Rynerson, so left the Kid to his fate, while he went back to Santa Fe to finish his book Ben Hur. After all, to Wallace, the Kid was just an outlaw -so who cares?
So Billy the kid was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. He never received his promised pardon. According to one of the stories he felt betrayed and rather than face death he escaped and killed a deputy during the escape. Thus began his cat and mouse game with newly elected Sheriff Pat Garrett who eventually killed him. Attorney Bill Robins also told me about a legend that Billy the Kid may not have been killed after all but instead lived a long life under the alias of Brushy Bill Roberts. Some wanted to exhume body's and do DNA testing to see if Billy the Kid really did finish out his life as Brushy Bill Roberts. Bill Robins was very interested in the life of Billy the Kid and was talking to Governor Richardson about pardoning Billy the Kid and giving him the promise Governor Lew Wallace broke when he was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Bill Robins wanted to know how I felt about the whole thing. I told him that being a law enforcement officer all my adult life I could not publicly support the pardon. He told me he had hoped to have a trial which would allow a mock jury to make the decision and give a new look at the old cases. I told him that once again while I could not support the pardon I would not publicly oppose it either. He was happy with that since he was most worried about huge opposition from law enforcement.

It made national news when Bill Robins got as far as getting appointed by Governor Richardson to represent Billy the Kids interests as his attorney in looking at a pardon and even though a new trial was promised it has not happened. The whole Billy the kid thing kind of went away during the rest of Richardson's term and Bill Robins married and seemed to go on to other endeavors including children. I also forgot about Billy the Kid as well.

On October 1, 2009 I was invited to unveil a plaque marking the site of the jail that held Billy the Kid in Santa Fe for three months in 1880-1881. I was joined by the mayor and the Grandson of Sheriff Pat Garrett, J.P. Garrett. It was a fun event and meeting the Grandson of Sheriff Pat Garrett was an honor. I gave him a small Sheriff's Badge Pin from the Santa Fe Sheriff's Office. Last week he contacted me as the push for Governor Richardson to pardon Billy the Kid has again made the news and the Governor appears as though he is ready to consider it again as he leaves office. J.P. Garrett asked me to sign a petition which the Garrett family was going to send to the Governor along with a letter from the Garrett family asking the Governor to not pardon Billy the Kid.

Once again I remembered my promise to my friend to not get involved in this issue so I explained to J.P. Garrett that I had agreed to not get involved and I would abide by that decision. I have no doubt that Billy the Kid murdered a Sheriff and several others. Whether he felt he had no choice or not he did still commit murder. However, if he was promised a pardon for his testimony in the Chapman murder there is a lot to be said for the pardon of his crimes up to that point. Then there are those who say that if he had received the pardon he would not have had to escape jail and kill others during the escape and manhunts that followed. Billy the Kid claimed he wanted to come clean and live a clean life after he was pardoned. Whether he really could have done that or whether he would have just continued in a life of crime after being pardoned is something we will never know.

I have read a lot lately about the Lincoln County wars and the truth is New Mexico truly was the wild wild west where corruption and murder were the name of the game. Sheriff's were corrupt and the "rings" as they were called controlled the law, the government, and controlled New Mexico. It has made me appreciate even more the responsibility of being Sheriff. I often think back to my discussions with movie star Burt Reynolds whose father was a Sheriff. He once asked me " do you know how you can tell an honest sheriff?" No I answered, how? "He is a broke sheriff." he said with a smile. While I am not broke, I lead a modest but good life.

1 comment:

New Mexican said...

Great post. I have a new computer and had lost the weblog address. You have a knack for writing, keep it up.