THE REAL BILLY THE KID
Facsimile of Original 1936 Edition
PREFACE TO THIS EDITION
Miguel Antonio Otero served as the first Hispanic governor of the U.S. Territory of New Mexico, from 1897 to 1906. He was appointed to the office by President William McKinley.
Long after his retirement from politics, Governor Otero wrote and published his memoirs in three volumes, a major contribution to New Mexico history. But he also published a biography in 1936 titled The Real Billy the Kid.
His aim in that book, he proclaimed, was to write the Kid’s story “without embellishment, based entirely on actual fact.” Otero had known the outlaw briefly and also had known the man who killed Billy in 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett. The author recalled Garrett saying he regretted having to slay Billy. Or, as he bluntly put it, “it was simply the case of who got in the first shot. I happened to be the lucky one.”
Miguel Otero was age 21, just a month older than the young desperado, when he first saw the kid at Las Vegas, New Mexico. That was two days before Christmas in 1880. Sheriff Garrett’s posse had brought in Billy and his gang after capturing them at Stinking Springs. Las Vegas was the nearest railhead where the prisoners, in chains, could be placed on a train for Santa Fe. A mob gathered at the station with violent intent. One of the gang members, Dave Rudabaugh, earlier had murdered a local jailer and the crown was eager to seize him and perform a lynching.
The sheriff managed to get the outlaws onto the train, but a throng of people on the tracks prevented its departure. Garrett then mounted the platform and made a speech, declaring that if necessary he would arm the prisoners so they could defend themselves. The explosive situation actually was defused by Otero’s father, Miguel Otero Sr., a prominent politician and businessman. Speaking eloquently in Spanish, he persuaded the townsmen to withdraw and let the law take its course.
“The Kid was disappointed that the mob did not attack the car since it would unquestionably have resulted in his escape,” observed Otero in his biography. And he describes Billy as “a short, slender young man with large front teeth, giving a chronic grin to his expression.”
Having witnessed the stirring events at the train station, Miguel Jr. and his brother Page got permission from their father to go onboard for the ride to the capital. On the way they visited with Billy and Dave Rudabaugh, even becoming a bit chummy. According to Otero, “In Santa Fe we were allowed to see the Kid in jail, taking him cigarette papers, tobacco, chewing gum, candy, pies and nuts. He was very fond of sweets and asked us to bring him all we could.”
By all accounts, Billy the Kid was much adored by New Mexico’s Hispanic population. Otero asserts that the Kid was considerate of the old, the young and the poor. And he was loyal to his friends. Otero quotes a Mrs. Jaramillo of Fort Sumner, who testified that “Billy was a good boy, but he was hounded by men who wanted to kill him because they feared him.”
Further, Martin Cháves of Santa Fe stated: “Billy was a perfect gentleman with a noble heart. He never killed a native citizen of New Mexico in all his career, and he had plenty of courage.” Otero was especially admiring of Billy because as a boy in Silver City, “he had loved his mother devotedly.” Such praise must be viewed in the context of the times. Other people, of course, saw Billy as an arch-villain.
Otero’s biography The Real Billy the Kid was printed at the height of the Depression in a very small edition. One scholar recently made a computer check and could locate only 118 copies preserved in libraries, worldwide. An unknown and doubtless limited number remains in private collections. I have a copy in my personal library, obtained long ago at considerable cost. I regard the volume as a prime treasure.