Billy The Kid’s Latino Links Explored In New Documentary

Here’s a cool piece of trivia to mention at your office Christmas party: Did you know that the famous gun slinger Billy the Kid was killed because he refused to abandon his Latina girlfriend? There are two ways that this can go; either your friends steer you away from the punch bowl, or they bite and say “No I didn’t, please tell me more.”

Here’s the more:  Her name was Paulita Maxwell, her parents were landowners in Silver City, New Mexico. When a sheriff from a neighboring county came after him Billy took refuge in the Maxwell’s ranch house in Fort Sumner. He could have fled into Mexico, but he chose to stay close to Paulita. Her brother tipped off the sheriff, the also famous Pat Garrett, who shot Billy down.

You can’t make this stuff up; it’s part of a PBS documentary that intends to portray the Old West outlaw in a more human way and highlight his  links to the Latino community of New Mexico. The documentary is part of PBS’s American Experience series and the film maker, John Maggio, says that his intent is paint a picture of a man driven to notoriety. He told the Associated Press:

“His whole life he was searching for a home,’’ said Maggio. “There was more to him that the fact that he killed and was an outlaw.’’

His name was Henry McCarty, from New York City, and he traveled to New Mexico with his mother looking for better economic opportunities. She died when Henry was 15 and was given shelter by local Mexican-American ranchers. Some researchers believe that when he later became an outlaw in the eyes of law enforcement, he was seen differently in the Latino community.

To emphasize this, Maggio included in the film Latina novelist Denise Chavez and Native American writer N. Scott Momaday, who discuss their beliefs that Billy the Kid was a viewed as a hero by those facing discrimination in the old territory, despite his reputation as a horse thief and outlaw.

It’s a fascinating story of a man who found himself in the middle of a feud between cattle ranchers. There were open hostilities between Irish and British ranchers who had settled in southern New Mexico, and Billy at one point organized the revenge killing of a sheriff. The feud escalated and Henry (Billy) became a marked man.

Throughout his notorious escapades the Mexican-American families of the area gave him help and refuge.

In modern times Gov. Bill Richardson considered granting Billy the Kid a pardon, but he left office wihtout doing so. His successor, Gov. Susana Martin said she wouldn’t consider the pardon.

[Photo By Ben Wittick]

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