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Billy the Kid era historical documents to be returned

Probate documents snatched from a scheduled auction in Arizona earlier this year days before they could have been lost to private collectors will be coming home to New Mexico, but Lincoln County’s attorney worries they may not make it all the way back to their place of origin, the county clerk’s office.

County Manager Nita Taylor reminded commissioners that in January, the clerk’s office found out more than a dozen county probate documents were slated to be auctioned in Mesa, Ariz. as part of the Robert G. McCubbin collection of Western memorabilia. County representatives began working with the McCubbin family to reclaim the documents and family members agreed to donate the historical papers to the county and the state of New Mexico, she said.

“We went to auction company and they pulled them from the auction,” County Attorney Alan Morel said. “This is a draft (of a mutual release and agreement).”

The documents include several items involving names central to the Lincoln County War in 1878 that spawned the outlaw Billy the Kid, such as handwritten claims against the estate Alexander McSween; five related to the estate of J.H John Tunstall; and others items mentioning Frank Coe, James Bowder, John Middleton and Emil Frtitz.

Morel said he met with three attorneys general and dozens of attorneys over the fate of the 30 documents, 14 believed to be owned by the county as probate records, Morel said. He added that the county clerk was relentless in pursuing the papers.

“As described in the agreement, the state and county will work cooperatively to determine the appropriate disposition of the historical documents,” Taylor said.

But Moral added, “I think the bigger fight will be to get them back from state once they are returned.”

New Mexico Attorney Gen. Hector Balderas sent a letter to the auction company laying claim to 30 documents and demanding their return at a time when the county already was in discussion with the family.

Commissioner Tom Stewart offered the motion to enter into the agreement in the final form drafted by Morel.

“Do you have any idea what this might cost us?” the commissioner asked.

“Not a penny,” Morel replied. “They are trying to get tax credit in the estimated range of $200,000.”


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