Ned Cantwell: State columnist
There is some big stuff going on, and I am not just talking about who is going to be our next American Idol.
Don’t laugh. The word derives from “idolatry,” the “worship of a physical object as a god.” That is why, once chosen, we always remember and respect these emerging stars, like last year’s idol, the fat guy named after a sandwich.
Bigger than the idol, except maybe last year’s, bigger than most historical characters, is Billy the Kid. I didn’t know that until a couple of weeks ago when I wrote a column that made fun of a screwy investigation to find out who killed him.
The history books say Sheriff Pat Garrett gunned Billy down in Fort Sumner in 1881. The history books, some say, are wrong. And so a couple of sheriffs, Gary Graves in De Baca County and Tom Sullivan in Lincoln County, decided to track down the real killer.
It was all kind of fun for a time, providing lots of good publicity to attract tourists. That was before the governor appointed lawyers to represent Billy. That is when the who-killed-the-Kid movement started to take itself seriously. The idea of digging up Billy in Fort Sumner and his mother in Silver City is just way over the top, as any borderline reasonable New Mexican understands.
My column poking fun at unearthing Billy drew strong reaction from both sides. One Ruidoso reader was so insulted that he suggested he should not have to pay 50 cents for any newspaper with my column in it. That prompted Publisher Dave Price, who has a master’s degree in business, to calculate that the actual portion of the purchase price allocated to my column would be just over a penny. This was no surprise to many who have carped for years, “your column isn’t worth two cents.”
People in De Baca County, though, liked it. Well, probably not Sheriff Graves. The sheriff has his hands full just trying to keep people out of his office, where he sleeps. Really. He sleeps on a cot in his office, says the Albuquerque Journal, to “protect against what he says are potentially dangerous intrusions into his police work.”
Because of his insistence in digging up Billy and because of other head-butting issues, more than 300 De Baca County residents have signed petitions asking the sheriff to resign. These are folks who take the position that it is best to let sleeping outlaws lie so that tourists will continue to stop by for breakfast.
After reading my column in the Clovis News Journal, De Baca County Clerk Nancy Sparks e-mailed thanks for supporting Billy’s continuing slumber.
Also responding favorably to the column was a lady in Seattle who asked permission to reprint it on the Billy the Kid Historic Preservation Society Website. The group has members all over the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Australia. Leave Billy alone, they plead.
The Web site is www.billythekidhistoricpreservation.org.
For a rumpled little gunslinger, Billy cut quite a swath. He is indeed important to our American culture. But maybe not as important as this: Can George Huff be our next idol, or is he too pitchy? Dawg.
Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. He can neither sing nor shoot. Contact him at: