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The Pardon

Above photo: Governor Lew Wallace.

9:00 PM, March 17, 1879---Governor Lew Wallace sat inside the Lincoln house of John B. "Squire" Wilson, waiting for his guest to arrive. Around this time, Wallace and Wilson heard a knock at the front door. "Come in," called Wallace, and in stepped William H. Bonney, alias Billy the Kid. In his left hand was a .44 pistol; in his right a 1873 Winchester rifle. "I was sent for to meet the governor at nine o'clock. Is he here?" asked Billy. Wallace rose from his seat and outstretched his right hand. "I am Governor Wallace," he said as he shook hands with Billy. The two of them then sat down.

"Your note gave promise of absolute protection," said Billy to Wallace. "Yes, and I have been true to my promise. This man," Wallace continued, pointing to Wilson, "whom of course you know, and I are the only persons in the house." After this, Billy holstered his .44 and lowered his rifle. For the next few hours, Billy, Wallace, and Wilson discussed a particular murder that Billy had recently witnessed.

On February 18, 1879, Billy, Tom Folliard, Doc Scurlock, Yginio Salazar, and George Bowers, all former Regulators, met with Jimmy Dolan, Jessie Evans, Billy Mathews, and Billy Campbell in the streets of Lincoln. Their purpose for meeting was to discuss a peace treaty between the two camps, which were mortal enemies in the late Lincoln County War. The two parties came to reach a peace, but later that night, that peace was shattered when the Dolan camp murdered Huston Chapman. Chapman was the lawyer for Mrs. Susan McSween, who was making life difficult for Dolan allie Lt. Col. Nathan A. M. Dudley and Dolan himself. When Chapman was spotted in the street, Campbell, Dolan, Evans, and Mathews began to harass him, before Dolan and Campbell each shot him once. Billy, Tom, Yginio, Doc, and George witnessed this murder and were able to flee. Gov. Wallace wanted the murderers to be punished severely. However, he needed witnesses to testify against them in trial. Once this became clear, he and Billy began a correspondence, in which it was arranged they would meet in John Wilson's house in Lincoln.

By the end of the meeting, Wallace had made a proposition for Billy. Billy would agree to a false arrest. He would testify against Dolan, Campbell, and Evans in the Chapman murder trial. For his testimony, Wallace would grant Billy an unconditional pardon for all his past misdeeds. At this time, Billy was already wanted on a territorial charge for the murder of Sheriff William Brady and on a federal charge for the murder of Andrew L. "Buckshot" Roberts. The possibility of a pardon seemed like a dream come true to Billy. With the meeting ended, Billy left Wilson's house, promising Wallace he would seriously consider the proposition.

On March 20, Billy wrote a letter to Wallace saying he would commit to the deal. The next day, Sheriff George Kimbrell 'arrested' Billy and Tom Folliard near San Patricio. They were then jailed in Lincoln, where their friends were allowed to visit very frequently. Within the next few weeks, Billy testified in the Court of Inquiry over Col. Dudley's actions on July 19 in Lincoln, and at the Chapman trial (even though by this time Evans and Campbell had escaped from custody and where likely in Texas). Although Dolan was nevertheless acquitted, Billy still expected his pardon. When Dolan man District Attorney William L. Rynerson decided to take Billy to trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady, Billy thought of it as a mere formality, and that Wallace would come through for him. However, Wallace had washed his hands of Billy's cause. He had no interest (and likely never really did) in pardoning Billy. Billy apparently realized this, and escaped from his jail in Lincoln.

In late December of 1880, Billy was finally captured by Deputy (and Sheriff-elect) Pat Garrett and his posse. On April 13, 1881, Billy was found guilty and sentenced to hang for the murder of Sheriff Brady (the murder charge on Roberts was thrown out earlier on a technicality). However, before he was convicted, he wrote several letters to Wallace, asking for his pardon. Wallace never responded to a single letter. Billy escaped the hangman's noose by shooting his two guards on April 28, 1881. He was allegedly shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett late on the night of July 14, 1881.

In 1950, a ninety year-old man named Brushy Bill Roberts claimed to be Billy the Kid, still alive. With the help of an attorney friend, William Vincent Morrison, a meeting was arranged with New Mexican Gov. Thomas J. Mabry, for the purpose of getting a pardon for Brushy for the murder of Sheriff Brady. The meeting was supposed to be a private one with only Brushy, Morrison, Mabry, and maybe one or two historians of Mabry's choice. However, Mabry apparently did not take this meeting seriously, as he invited dozens of guests, ranging from historians, photographers, reporters, police officers, and curiosity seekers. Brushy had a stroke during the meeting, and answered many questions wrongly. He was taken back to his home in the small town of Hico, Texas, where he died on December 27, 1950 of a heart attack.

Since then, many attempts have been made to get Billy his pardon, the most recent being former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson considering the matter before leaving office in 2010. At the zero hour, the governor opted against granting the pardon.