Fort Sumner, New Mexico
He was a competent dancer and neat dresser who wore a plain, Mexican sombrero and had a reputation for charming the ladies. With his big blue eyes and boisterous personality it’s no wonder Billy the Kid became a popular symbol of the American Old West!
Billy the Kid was also known as Henry McCarty, William H. Bonney, and numerous other names. He was born in the Irish tenements of New York City, but his mother and stepfather later moved the family to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was often in trouble as a teen, but many believe this was a matter of necessity as he tried to help his mother support the family. He was a key player in what was known as the Lincoln County War, a battle between wealthy ranchers and merchants in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He is said to have died when he was 21 years old on July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, while staying at the home of his friend, Pete Maxwell. Sheriff Pat Garrett tracked the Kid to Maxwell’s house and shot him in the dark, then later wrote a book about the young man. Billy the Kid’s grave is also located in Fort Sumner.
And although many people believe the above to be true, unfortunately, just about every detail of Billy the Kid’s life is disputed!
In spite of the controversies surrounding the life and death of Billy the Kid, there is a place in New Mexico where one can find an interesting collection of some of his former possessions. The Billy the Kid Museum is located in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and the owners of the museum believe they have the most accurate details and evidence of this famous outlaw’s life and death listed and exhibited in their displays. The museum is a large building packed wall to wall with artifacts of the American West, including many items that once belonged to Billy the Kid, such as his rifle, chaps, spurs, and an original “Wanted” poster. They even have a lock of Billy the Kid’s hair!
Other items on display at the museum include over 150 firearms and numerous vehicles, including stagecoaches, fire trucks, and classic cars. The museum’s collection was compiled by Ed Sweet, who grew up in Melrose, East of Fort Sumner. Sweet was a well-liked community member who collected antiques and historical artifacts from the area for many years before opening the museum with his wife, Jewel, in 1953. The museum is now run by his son, Donald Sweet, Donald’s wife, Lula, and their son, Tim.
There are many, many rooms in this building and it takes a good hour, perhaps more, to see everything it offers. It is a truly enjoyable experience and well worth the time, particularly if you are a fan of Billy the Kid and the American Old West. The museum is located thirty minutes west of Clovis at 1435 E Sumner Avenue on the main road in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. You can check out the Billy the Kid Museum website or call them at (575) 355-2380.
I also wrote a short history article on Fort Sumner, which mentions Billy the Kids connections to that area.