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Questions & Inconsistencies Regarding the Killing of Billy the Kid

Almost from the second that the man Sheriff Pat Garrett killed in Pete Maxwell's bedroom hit the floor, questions began to arise about the aspects of the shooting. Today, over 120 years after the event, it's fair to say the shooting was not as cut-and-dry as Garrett tried to make it seem. To read the commonly accepted version of what happened (the version Garrett himself told), click here. The purpose of this section is to expose the numerous inconsistencies between the different first-hand accounts surrounding the shooting. In order to do this, we must first make clear the known facts. The principle, first-hand sources of nearly all the information we have on the shooting comes from two sources, namely, Pat Garrett, told via his book, "An Authentic Life of Billy the Kid," written in 1882, and his deputy, John Poe, as told in his book "The Death of Billy the Kid," the manuscript of which was written in 1919. However, there are several glaring contradictions between both sources. Futhermore, there are several places in each account where they are almost too similar, as if either Garrett and Poe had rehearsed their stories, or Poe used Garrett's book as a reference when writing his own. It also needs to be noted that while Garrett and Poe are responsible for most of what he we know about the shooting, they are not responsible for all of it. Whereas other principal witnesses Dep. Thomas McKinney and Pete Maxwell never publicly gave their accounts of the shooting, several other Fort Sumner residents, such as Deluvina Maxwell, Jesus Silva, and Francisco Lobato, did. In the early 1900s, these people were interviewed by Miguel Otero, future governor of New Mexico, for his own book, "The Real Billy the Kid." These accounts, when compared to those of Garrett and Poe, also show many discrepencies. Below is a listing of Garrett's and Poe's inconsistencies when presented on their own, when compared to each other, and when compared to the accounts of other Sumner residents.

The next major shroud hanging over the shooting is the case of the coroner's jury, or juries. Due to the already conflicting first-hand accounts, it is extremely difficult to seperate the facts from the fiction in regards to the jury(ies) and the verdicts rendered. What tends to make this so difficult is the claim and counterclaim between the members of the jury(ies), coupled with the already contradictory testimonies of Garrett, Poe, and other Sumner residents. Basically, all that can be done now is to let the claims speak for themselves.

The Claims of Paco Anaya---Fort Sumner resident A. P. "Paco" Anaya claims in his book "I Buried Billy," that immediately following the shooting, he and his brother Higinio Garcia were called by Justice of the Peace Alejandro Segura to be part of a coroner's jury. Before the jury went to the Maxwell house to view the body, Garrett handed Segura a piece of paper with the jury's verdict already written on it by himself. Segura, Anaya, and the rest of the jury then merely signed the paper and gave it back to Garrett, who said he would file it. According to Anaya, the report simply read: "We the jury find that Billy the Kid (met) his death by a bullet which was fired from a gun in the hands of Pat F. Garrett. (Signed) Higinio Garcia - President, Antonio Savedra, Jose Silva, Sabal Gutierrez, Lorenzo Jaramillo, A. P. Anaya, Alejandro Segura - Justice of the Peace." Anaya goes on to say that sometime before the next morning, Garrett apparently lost the verdict, which leads us to the next claim...

The Claims of the Rudulph Coroner's Jury---According to Pat Garrett, he had Justice Segura form a coroner's jury on the morning of the 15th. Segura did just that, organizing six men and appointing Milnor Rudulph to serve as jury president. The jury then viewed the body, still lying on the floor of the Maxwell bedroom, and wrote a report completely in Spanish, which read in full: "This 15th day of July, A. D. 1881, I, the undersigned, Justice of the Peace of the Precinct above named, received information that there had been a death in Fort Sumner in said Precinct and immediately on receiving the information I proceeded to the said place and named Milnor Rudolph, Jose Silva, Antonio Saavedra, Pedro Antonio Lucero, Lorenzo Jaramillo, and Sabal Gutierres a jury to investigate the matter, and meeting in the house of Lucien B. Maxwell, the said jury proceeded to a room in said house where they found the body of William H. Bonney alias "Kid" with a bullet wound in the chest, and having examined the body, they examined the evidence of Pedro Maxwell, which evidence is as follows: 'As I was lying on my bed in my room about midnight on the 14th day of July, Patrick F. Garrett entered my room and sat down on the edge of my bed to talk to me. Soon after Garrett had seated himself William Bonney entered and approached my bed with a pistol in his hand and asked me, "Who is it? Who is it?" (NOTE:This one section of the verdict, quoting Billy the Kid, was written in English.) And then Patrick F. Garrett fired two shots at him, the said William Bonney, and the said Bonney fell upon one side of my fireplace, and I left the room. When I returned three or four minutes after the shots, the said Bonney was dead.'" The final verdict of the jury, also written in Spanish, then read: "We of the jury unanimously find that William Bonney was killed by a shot in the left breast, in the region of the heart, fired from a pistol in the hand of Patrick F. Garrett, and our verdict is that the act of the said Garrett was justifiable homicide, and we are unanimous in the opinion that the gratitude of the whole community is due to the said Garrett for his act and that he deserves to be rewarded." (Signed) Milnor Rudulph, President, Antonio Sabedra, Pedro Anto Lucero, Jose Silba, Sabal Gutierrez, Lorenzo Jaramillo. All of which information I bring to your notice. - Alejandro Segura, Justice of the Peace." The verdict was given to Garrett, who said he would officially file it. For some reason though, the verdict never was filed and was lost to history. Now that the basic claims of each jury has been established, the questions that arise from them must be pointed out.

Throughout this whole mess, one persistent question keeps popping up: Did Garrett really kill the Kid that night? There actually is a considerable amount of evidence indicating it's at the very least possible that he did not. Much of this evidence is detailed below:

Nevertheless, since history has stood resilient this long on the matter of the Kid's death, and most historians support Garrett's claim, certainly there must be significant evidence supporting their beliefs as well. They are as follows...

So, did Pat Garrett really kill Billy the Kid? There is both evidence for and against it. Still, there remains several loose ends and unanswered questions that poke holes in each theory.

So, there you have it: all the facts surrounding the inconsistencies of the shooting laid out. I've done my best here to represent an unbiased viewpoint, and hopefully, that has been accomplished. The questions presented here will probably remain unanswered forever. And maybe that's a fitting end for the life of Billy the Kid, with both his entrance and exit in history being shrouded in mystery.

To read about Brushy Bill Roberts and John Miller, two old men who claimed they were Billy the Kid still alive in the twentieth century, click here. As always, I welcome any and all e-mail regarding this topic.