The Lost Pardon of Billy The Kid: An Analysis cover

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THE LOST PARDON OF BILLY THE KID: AN ANALYSIS FACTORING IN THE SANTA FE RING, GOVERNOR LEW WALLACE’S DILEMMA, AND A TERRITORY IN REBELLION – Analysis of the lost Pardon of Billy the Kid for murders committed during the Lincoln County War reveals New Mexico Territory’s desperate uprisings in the 1870’s against expanding tyranny of the Santa Fe Ring, Governor Lew Wallace’s dilemma, and the tragic outcome of the crushed freedom fight that yielded the myth of “Billy the Kid.”

A mystery in Old West history has been why Governor Lew Wallace never issued Billy Bonney aka Billy the Kid the pardon for his three Lincoln County War murder indictments, which Billy believed was promised in exchange for his giving Grand Jury testimony against Santa Fe Ring murderers. And lack of that pardon resulted in Billy’s hanging trial, jailbreak, and killing by Sheriff Pat Garrett as an outlaw on July 14, 1881.

Was the pardon promise real, or merely Wallace’s trick of wording? Had Wallace reneged? Or had Wallace yielded to corrupt pressures? Was a pardon deserved? Did Wallace have legal power to grant that pardon? Did Billy fulfill his side of the pardon bargain? Why did Billy’s lawyer never make a formal pardon petition to Wallace? Who were the pardon’s opponents? Were others pardoned by Wallace for Lincoln County War indictments? Could the Secret Service have independently pardoned Billy? Why did Billy risk a pardon rejection, when simply leaving the Territory would have saved his life? Were others secretly involved in seeking his pardon? Why did Billy testify in a Court of Inquiry against a military commander, separate from the pardon bargain? Why has it taken so long to reveal the truth? Should there be a posthumous pardon?

This huge book gives all the answers, and yields a revolutionary revision of Billy the Kid history.



ANALYSIS: In the 1870’s, there was a cataclysmic clash when the rapidly and rapaciously rising despotic Santa Fe Ring encountered citizens’ democratic idealism engendered by the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and the frontier’s promise of freedom. Popular uprisings were triggered; 1878’s Lincoln County War being the culmination with the Ring retaliations having progressed from malicious prosecutions to terrorist atrocities and military treason. And the Ring’s victory in that War’s battle achieved a frightened silence that concealed the freedom fights and its own existence.


The United States was born in revolution and declaration of independence on July 4, 1776. And that new nation, still fettered by slavery, was further liberated by revolution in its Civil War almost a hundred years later.

Thomas Jefferson, as an author of the “Declaration of Independence” had opined in a January 30, 1787 letter to fellow freedom fighter, James Madison, that a revolution “at least once every 20 years [is] a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” And Jefferson’s words of rebellion in that first “Declaration” had led British citizens of the 13 colonies into war fervor and victory. Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights ... That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.

In his “Emancipation Proclamation,” President Abraham Lincoln had completed that declaration for all, declaring:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State ... shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.

A hundred years after America’s first victorious uprising, and slightly over a decade after defeat of slavery, that revolutionary spirit seized New Mexico Territory. Then the oppressor of democratic rights was the Santa Fe Ring. Thomas Jefferson, in his January 30, 1787 letter to James Madison had anticipated such a threat by contending that societies exist under three forms:

[The first is without government; the second, is like the United States] wherein the will of every one has a just influence, [and the third is] governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics ... It is a government of wolves over sheep.

By the 1870’s the wolves of force were unchecked and marauding in Mexico Territory as the rapacious, despotic, and murderous Santa Fe Ring.

The 1870’s were also a time when freedom and liberty were still enlivened by recent memory. To common people, democracy held the vigor of its revolutionary victory of 1776, with 50,000 dead and wounded, and then at about its centenary. And the Civil War, spilling blood of over 646,000 dead and wounded to make all people free, had touched the lives of most people then living.

Proof of liberation’s fervor and optimism were New Mexico Territory’s uprisings of 1872, 1876, 1877, and 1878 against Santa Fe Ring tyranny. And when Billy’s group chose its name for its 1878 escalation to war, it was the “Regulators.” That harked back to the first Regulators of 1771: pre-Revolutionary War, North Carolina farmers who opposed and died fighting corrupt and colluding Crown sheriffs and governors in haunting replication of Lincoln County’s identically titled oppressors.

And the western frontier, the vast continental expanse symbolizing never-ending resources and resourcefulness was still America’s reality; then birthing anti-Ring opponents as varied as Cimarron grandmother, Mary McPherson; Lincoln community leader, Juan PatrĂ³n; British merchant and rancher, John Tunstall; Attorney and Presbyterian zealot Alexander McSween; Lincoln County War widow and litigant, Susan McSween; teenaged ranch hand, Billy Bonney; and many others.

But dark clouds of despair were massing. All Ring opposition would eventually be crushed by failed checks and balances of executive, legislative, and judicial branches; and by a reign of terror. Territorial military might backed the Ring against citizens. Judges merely advanced the Ring’s malicious prosecutions and obstructions of justice. Politicians gained power by elections rigged by the Ring. Outlaw thugs assassinated Ring opponents. And the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes was complicit. Not one Ringite ever suffered legal penalty. And not one Ringite ever broke ranks to expose the Ring.

The aftermath was the victorious Ring’s re-writing of history and concealing or expurgating evidence to achieve the ultimate goal of organized crime: invisibility. And there came no pardon for the last freedom fighter and political gadfly of the 1870’s: Billy Bonney. That time was the making of American monsters. A monster was the Santa Fe Ring itself. A monster was its Territorial boss and tyrannical originator, Thomas Benton Catron. And a “monster” was their creation, “Billy the Kid”: the mythological outlaw, rustler, counterfeiter, gang leader and senseless serial killer of a man for each of his twenty-one years.

The Ring’s achievement was the great American secret: that democracy had sustained a terrible wound. Comprehending Billy the Kid’s lost pardon is one beginning of its healing.