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Academic seeks death certificate for outlaw Billy the Kid

February 20, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An academic is asking a New Mexico court to order a death certificate for Billy the Kid to settle questions about whether the infamous outlaw was actually killed in 1881.

Robert J. Stahl, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, filed a petition Wednesday in state District Court and says a death certificate would end tales that the Kid wasn’t fatally shot by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://goo.gl/cWNldu).

According to the official story, the brother of the outlaw’s love interest tipped off Garrett, who eventually gunned down the 21-year-old Kid at the woman’s Fort Sumner home.

“Quien es?” the outlaw asked before he was shot. “Who is it?”

Garrett later collected a $500 reward, indicating that territorial officials accepted the lawman’s account.

For decades, Billy the Kid has been an important figure in New Mexico’s Old West past and any story mentioning him often generates a lot of attention, as well as a lot of disagreements over historic detail

Some claim Garrett shot someone else, and Billy took up ranching and farming or escaped to Texas, living under an assumed name.

Stahl had gone to the state office that registers births and deaths and was told he’d need a court order for a death certificate to be issued.

In July 2013, his article on the fate of Billy the Kid’s trigger finger, floating in alcohol in a mason jar, was featured in True West Magazine.

Stahl has written a 29-page petition containing a detailed account of the documentary record and extracts from the testimony of eyewitnesses that he believes show beyond any doubt that the Kid died by a bullet from Garrett’s pistol.

District Judge Albert Mitchell, in court in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on Thursday, has not yet had time to act on the matter, according to clerk Kerri Webb.

In an interview, Stahl said an official death certificate would “relieve a lot of doubt as to whether Billy the Kid died that night and was buried the next day.”

Stahl said there are many continuing fallacies about the Kid. While at the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, for example, he heard one story claiming that the Kid was shot and killed in Mexico. A museum employee told him they get questions about the outlaw’s death “all the time.”

The official document would “end a lot of people’s doubts,” Stahl said, and “undermine supporters of Brushy Bill and other impostors.”

Born Henry McCarty, likely in New York City, Billy the Kid came to New Mexico with his mother while searching for a better economic future.

He became a central figure in a violent, Irish-English land war in New Mexico. He was beloved by Mexican-American ranchers who felt discriminated against by racist white bankers and land thieves.

Although he apparently died 134 years ago, Billy the Kid still makes news. In 2003, there was a proposal to exhume his body to compare the DNA to that of his mother, but the exact location of his remains is in doubt.

Early in his first term, Gov. Bill Richardson drew headlines by hinting that he was looking into a posthumous pardon for the Kid.

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