Billy the Kid, the notorious Old West outlaw, was buried in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, about 150 miles southeast of Santa Fe. That is, unless he was buried in the middle of Texas. Or, possibly, northern Arizona.
The dispute over the Kid's remains has boiled over in New Mexico, where various governmental jurisdictions are fighting in court over the idea of exhuming the body in Fort Sumner. Does that body belong to the real Billy the Kid, or did Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett conspire to let him get away and bury somebody else? "We have enough proof and documentation to show that Billy the Kid was shot and killed and buried here," says Fort Sumner Mayor Raymond Lopez.
Sheriffs from a couple of neighboring counties dispute that notion, however. They say they just want to get at the truth and that Lopez just wants to protect Fort Sumner's sole claim to fame (a charge which Lopez doesn't deny). Governor Bill Richardson has declared he wants the matter resolved "through science, not speculation."
"The folks in Fort Sumner have everything to lose and nothing to gain," notes Paul Hutton, a University of New Mexico historian who has produced a documentary about the dispute. "If they dig up that grave and he's not there, well, they've lost their tourist attraction."
Myths often grow up around historical sites--especially when there's money to be had, says James Loewen, author of "Lies Across America," a book about dubious historical claims. "There are all kinds of historical markers that claim to be where something was done, and it wasn't done," Loewen says. "I think that it's usually unintentional at first, but when the error gets pointed out, usually no correction gets made."