Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Billy the Kid Days - In Hico, Texas???

The “Wild West”, as it has come to be known, was from 1865 to 1900. It was during this time that ‘Billy the Kid’, aka William H. Bonney, Henry McCarty, Kid Antrim and William Antrim, made his mark in the New Mexico Territory. It has been said that Billy once boasted that he had killed 21 men, one for each year of his life.

While fact and myth are often difficult to separate, it seems Billy the Kid earned his reputation as one of the Southwest's most prolific killers. History records that in a period of just 4 years, he fought in at least 16 shootouts, killed at least 4 men himself, and assisted in the murder of at least 5 others. Not quite the 21 he bragged about.

For a time Billy enjoyed the hospitality of John S. Chisum, who was then challenging the monopoly of Lawrence G. Murphy and his associates over government beef contracts in New Mexico. The Kid's direct involvement in the struggle started when he went to work for John Tunstall and Alexander McSween, leaders of the Chisum crowd. Bad relations between rival factions culminated in the murder of Tunstall by Murphy partisans on February 28, 1878. Billy was arrested by Sheriff William Brady, a Murphy tool, and consequently cast his lot with McSween and Dick Brewer, Tunstall's foreman. In the resultant feud, known as the Lincoln County War, Billy rode with a vigilante group called the Regulators, which had a cloak of legality since Brewer was the appointed constable. In March the Regulators captured two of Tunstall's murderers, whom Brewer wanted to incarcerate in Lincoln. However, both men were killed, probably by Billy, before they ever reached town, thus giving the Murphy faction another grievance against the McSween group. Later Billy and five companions ambushed and killed Sheriff Brady and his deputy, George Hindman, on Lincoln's main street.

On July 14, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett, together with two deputies, sat in a darkened bedroom at the Fort Sumner ranch home of Billy's friend, Pete Maxwell. Garrett was asking Maxwell about Billy's whereabouts when Billy, in his stocking feet, unexpectedly entered Maxwell's quarters, spotting, but not recognizing Garrett in the dim light.

"Quien es? Quien es?" -- "Who is it? Who is it?" were the last words Billy ever uttered. Garret pumped two shots from his revolver, one of which went straight into Billy's heart. Billy the Kid was buried the next day at Fort Summer cemetery between his two outlaw pals, Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre, where his grave can be seen to this day. Although he didn't live to celebrate his 22nd birthday, Billy the Kid remains one of the notorious legends of the American West.

There are those who still question whether Henry McCarty or William H. Bonney, Jr. (the name he used at his trial), was Billy the Kid's true name. Others maintain that Billy the Kid was, in fact, Ollie L. "Brushy Bill" Roberts, who actually escaped Pat Garrett's bullets, hid out in Mexico and the Desert Southwest, rode in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and finally died in Hico, Texas in 1950.

Was Billy really a cold bloodied killer or just a good boy gone bad. The myth was enhanced even more in 1950 when Ollie L. (Brushy Bill) Roberts, an elderly ex-lawman from Hamilton County, Texas, claimed that he was Billy the Kid and petitioned the governor of New Mexico for a pardon for crimes committed under that name. Although a hearing was granted through the efforts of Roberts' attorney, William V. Morrison, no conclusive proof was ever brought forth and no pardon was granted. While waiting to hear from the governor, Brushy Bill had a heart attack and fell dead on the sidewalk in front of the post office in Hico on December 26, 1950.

Many movies have been made about Billy and a TV series about him ran for a while. Dozens of books have also been written about Billy the Kid.

Some legends just live on and this one seems to get bigger with the passing of time. For the past 55 years a feud has been going on between Hico, Texas and Ft Sumner, New Mexico as to who has the burial place of the real Billy the Kid.

Several years ago my wife and I visited the Billy the Kid Museum in Ft Sumner. While there I saw an old news clipping about Billy’s tombstone being stolen and later found in the front yard of a house in Granbury, Texas. When I told the curator that I lived 30 miles from Granbury, he paused, took a deep breath, looked me straight in the eye and said; “Tell me something. With everything you have to brag about in Texas, why do you come out here and steal the only thing we have to brag about?” Hmmm…. What could I say to that?

A Texan will throw a party at the drop of a hat and the Billy the Kid saga is a good reason to party. Each spring Hico has the Billy the Kid Days celebration the first weekend in April. People come from far and wide to this celebration. One of the venders told me that she had talked to the curator of the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, who was there checking things out. (Maybe trying to get some ideas for a celebration of their own.)

Hico has a Billy the Kid Museum of their own which is open weekends the year-round. Author W. C. Jameson was at the museum signing his latest book, “Billy the Kid, Beyond the Grave.” Of course I had to have one.

They had Pecan Street barricaded for two blocks and the venders had their displays set up down the middle of the street. Midway there was a tent and bandstand set up with music by such bands as the “New Blue Grass Combination” and “The Texas Trail Hands.” The “Uncle Bill Roach Band”, Mike Slagle from Granbury was the band leader, had a stand set up and were handing out free CD’s of their latest number, “Ballad of Billy the Kid.”

Another vender was Lacy Killian of Cleburne who has the Rockin’ K Rustic Western & Ranch Décor and Accessories place north of town on Hwy 174.

To go along with the celebration, they had an antique/classic car show in the Hico City Park. There must have been close to 50 cars on display. I remember a lot of the old cars, among them the Hudson. The Hudson Hornet was quite a car in its time. Someone at the car show had a Hudson pick-up, the first pick-up I had ever seen made by Hudson. You live and learn.

At one time Hico was a booming little town. Shortly after the turn of the century, Hico was buying and shipping more grain than all other towns combined on the Texas Central Railroad. According to early day reports, by 1907, more cotton was bought right off wagons on main street than in any town in the world. By 1908 Hico received 25,000 to 40,000 bales of cotton a year. There were 95 businesses including a candy factory, six hotels, a broom factory and ten grocery stores. Recreation in the early period of Hico included an Opera House, the Palace Theater and a Roller Rink which was located south of the railroad depot under a tent.

After the cotton market died and the railroad shut down, Hico lost a lot of its businesses and today is a friendly, turn-of-the-century western town bordering the Bosque River offering Texas's only "Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame", Billy the Kid Museum, nine antique/craft shops, handcrafted chocolate shops, leather and knife craftsmen, great restaurants, free Saturday night music and carriage rides.

The Koffee Kup café is a great place to eat in Hico. They make some great cream pies and they were advertising “Coconut Pie to Die For” on their marque.

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