Local author retells the tales of Billy the Kid

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New Mexico Territory was one of the last frontiers of U.S. settlement, and it added many colorful threads to the fabric of American history, both in culture and legend.

The latest book, “Lincoln,” by local historian John Ray de Aragón, is the newest Arcadia Publishing book in its Images of America series.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Local author Ray John de Aragon will sign copies of his latest book, “Lincoln,” from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts.

The book has a large collection of photographs, short stories about Billy the Kid and the people who lived during that time, many of them ancestors of today’s local families.

“Many extended families from Valencia County built homes in Lincoln,” said Aragón. “There were all these threads. It wasn’t just an isolated community — it extended out.”

Sheep were a big industry in the territory, particularly in this area and sheep herders traveled to Lincoln, he said.

Several big sheep herders from Valencia County, such as Solomon Luna, grazed sheep in Lincoln.

Few other towns in the Old West have captured the public imagination as much as Lincoln, N.M., writes Aragón in his introduction to “Lincoln.”

The infamous William H. Bonney, known as Billy the Kid, is a part of Middle Rio Grande history.

“When I was a young boy, he was always a topic of conversation,” Aragón said. “In the area of Valencia County, he was talked about by the elders.”

Billy the Kid was a cowboy in New Mexico and wound up working for the Tunstall Río Felíz ranch owned by John Henry Tunstall.

Tunstall, and a local lawyer, Alexander Anderson McSween opened a large mercantile store that rivaled the commercial monopoly of L.G. Murphy and Co., a store owned by Lawrence G. Murphy and James Joseph Dolan.

Dolan was ruthless in maintaining his dominance of local commerce, and Tunstall ended up dead.

A group of men, including Billy the Kid, was deputized by Constable Antanacio Martinez to find the killer. Known as the Lincoln County Regulators, the group was mostly Hispanic cowboys.

On the Murphy and Dolan side, the group was mostly Anglo gunmen, led by Sheriff George Peppin. This group included the notorious Robert “Bob” Ollinger.

“He was recognized as a ruthless killer that murdered people simply for the sake of killing,” Aragón said.

A five-day battle ensued, historically known as the Lincoln County War. It ended when Col. Augustus Nathan Dudley, commanding officer of Fort Stanton, intervened on Dolan’s behalf with cavalrymen, a howitzer and a Gatling gun.

While the Regulators were out looking for Tunstall’s murderer, Sheriff William Brady was killed. Billy the Kid was accused for the killing.

“(The Kid) was considered a murderer when he escaped from the Lincoln County courthouse and killed two deputies,” Aragón said.

Eventually, the famous lawman Pat Garrett caught the Kid and shot him.

“Spatters of the Lincoln County War continued after Billy the Kid’s death,” Aragón said. “But James Dolan lost control and his business collapsed.”

Hollywood capitalized on Billy the Kid’s legend in the “Young Guns” movies, starring Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid, and Lou Diamond Phillips as Billy’s sidekick, José Chavez y Chavez.

Chavez y Chavez is related to the Los Lunas Chavezes, Aragón said.

The love of Billy the Kid’s life was Paulita Maxwell. She was the daughter of Lucien B. Maxwell, a big landowner with the huge Maxwell land grant in Colfax County. He also purchased Fort Sumner near Lincoln County.

Billy the Kid met his death in Paulita’s bedroom when he was caught there by Garrett, he said.

There are more than 200 vintage photographs in “Lincoln.” One is a picture of a love note written by Paulita to Billy the Kid.

A book-signing event will be held at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts from 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14.

Aragón is also author of other New Mexico history books such as “Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico: Witches, Ghosts and Spirits,” “Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico,” and one of his most popular tales, “The Legend Of La Llorona.”

Aragón will be joined by historian and museum photo archivist, Baldwin G. Burr, who will sign copies of his book, “Belen.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.