The legend of Billy the Kid – William H. Bonney – runs deeps through many areas of New Mexico.
But perhaps nowhere is the Kid’s legacy remembered as much as in Fort Sumner, where he is said to have been shot and killed by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett.
And it is at Old Fort Sumner Cemetery that the iron-caged tombstone marking his burial site lies – when it’s not being stolen, that is. Two of the Kid’s sidekicks – Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre – are also buried at the cemetery.
For those interested in the outlaw’s brief and bloody life, there is perhaps no better place to start than the aptly named Billy the Kid Museum, about two miles south of town.
“We have a lot for people to see,” said Lula Sweet, one of the owners. “But we’re a general museum, not just Billy the Kid. Billy didn’t have that much, because he rode around on a horse and he was pretty young when he was killed.”
The Kid was 21 when Garrett killed him.
The museum houses one of his old rifles. A pair of chaps and spurs that he used to wear to dances, as well as a rock on which he carved his name, are also a part of the collection.
Billy’s employer and friend John Tunstall is represented through his sterling silver shaving kit. A sword from the Chisum family – ranchers with whom Billy and Tunstall were friendly – are also part of the museum’s display.
In addition to the Kid’s rifle, visitors can see about 200 firearms ranging from old Winchesters to Colt .45s – known as the peacemakers.
Thirteen autos are on display, including a rare 1954 Kaiser Manhattan, of which only about 250 were made, Sweet said. Displays also include wagons and buggies, including a horse-drawn hearse, and memorabilia from the former Fort Sumner military fort. The collection features a U.S. Army blanket, cash box and spurs that belonged to Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner, the Civil War general for whom the fort was named. There is a letter from his daughter giving the items to the museum.
In all, there are about 60,000 items of interest, and the 20,000-square-foot museum has seen visitors from across the globe, Sweet said.
While Billy’s tale is ultimately a sad one, it pales in relation to the Long Walk, which culminated at Fort Sumner. From 1863 to 1868, about 9,000 Navajos and 500 Mescalero Apaches were barricaded at the fort.
The site has now been turned into the Bosque Redondo Memorial that was opened in 2005 to recognize the price paid by those who suffered there. Designed by Navajo architect David Sloan, it’s shaped like a Navajo hogan and an Apache teepee and includes an interpretive trail and in-depth information about the history of Fort Sumner and Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation.
Along the second-floor hallway of the De Baca County Courthouse, a series of 1930s-era Works Project Administration murals painted by Texico artist Russell Vernon Hunter depict the life and history of the area. The old fort, Billy the Kid, farming and ranching and the coming of the railroad are among the themes that Hunter explored.
For a little outdoor adventure, the Sumner Lake State Park offer motorized and non-motorized boating, camping, about two miles of trails and birding.
Surrounded by grassy plains, the lake is an experience in solitude and a great place to escape the heat. It has 50 developed campsites suitable for recreational vehicles, as well as primitive camping areas along the shore.
Fishing, birding, stargazing and educational programs are part of the lure.