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Silver City Requests Return of Original Grave Marker of Billy the Kid's Mom

By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
    LAS CRUCES— Everybody wants a piece of Billy the Kid. A full-scale tug of war is already under way in state District Court in Silver City over the Billy the Kid story, with Lincoln and De Baca county investigators suggesting that the historical account of the Kid's demise in 1881 may not be accurate.
    Now Silver City attorney Sherry Tippett has asked the state museums to consider returning the original grave marker of Billy's mother, Catherine Antrim, from a display case at the Lincoln State Monument to Silver City.
    Antrim was buried in Silver City after her death in 1874. But, after the grave marker— a weathered wooden slab— was replaced with a granite headstone in 1948, the original marker ended up in the custody of the state museum system, state officials say.
    Silver City possesses almost no evidence of the two turbulent adolescent years Billy the Kid— aka Henry McCarty and later William Bonney— spent there, and local officials want some.
    Silver City Museum director Susan Berry said it would "be a good thing" if Antrim's wooden grave marker could be displayed in Silver City, rather than in Lincoln, a national historic district in which 17 buildings stand as artifacts of the infamous Lincoln County War.
    "We get tourists from all over the world— Germany, Japan— and the sad thing is that almost everything having to do with the Antrim family's short time in Silver City is gone," Berry said.
    Gone, for instance, is the Kid's first home, the old Exchange Hotel where Billy and his brother lived for a time with the Truesdell family after their mother's death in September 1874, and the Silver City jail where Billy escaped through a soot-filled chimney after his arrest on a charge of stealing clothes in September 1875.
    "The only real physical evidence of the family's time in Silver City are Catherine Antrim's remains and the marker which came off her grave," Berry said. "It seems appropriate that if it's possible to negotiate the repatriation of the marker to Silver City, that would be a good thing."
    Stuart Ashman, secretary of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees state museums and collections, is considering the Silver City Museum request, spokesman Doug Svetnicka said.
    "It's not a dead issue," Svetnicka said. "He took (the request) seriously."
    Lincoln State Monument manager DeAnn Kessler, however, said she wants the wooden Antrim grave marker to remain part of that exhibit. Other artifacts displayed in Lincoln include the Kid's spurs and the shackles he purportedly wore in his bloody escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse in April 1881— three months before he was gunned down by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett.
    "I don't want to see it (the marker) go," Kessler said. "It's part of our exhibit and it has been for years, and at this point, it's part of our history."
    Silver City attorney Tippett is representing Lincoln and De Baca county investigators in their effort to exhume Antrim's remains for a DNA sample. They would compare the DNA to that of other characters in the Kid saga to test stories that the Kid escaped from Garrett and that someone other than the outlaw was buried in Fort Sumner.
    Silver City politicians oppose the exhumation effort, but, in this case, Berry said she welcomed Tippett's help.
    After a Silver City funeral home replaced Antrim's wooden marker with a donated headstone, the cemetery caretaker turned it over to the Lincoln County Historical Commission. The marker became part of the state museum collection after the governor disbanded the Lincoln County Historical Commission in 1978.
    Berry said an argument could be made that Silver City, which owns the Memory Lane Cemetery, also owns the grave marker. But Berry said she would be satisfied if the state simply loaned Silver City the marker for display.