Fray Angélico Chávez History Library obtains “rediscovered” letters by Billy the Kid

Santa Fe, NM (July 29, 2009) – The New Mexico History Museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library has obtained several documents pertaining to Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War from the Lincoln State Monument. The Library and Monument are both New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs properties.


Librarian Tomas Jaehn said the documents had been acquired by the defunct Lincoln County Heritage Trust, which was absorbed by the Hubbard Museum in Ruidoso in 1999. Two years ago, the Lincoln State Monument took over several buildings and their contents from the Hubbard Museum and has since cared for them under professional storage conditions – but not, until now, for public viewing. Among them are Pat Garrett’s cattle-brand certificate, an arrest warrant for John Chisum and, most important, two letters by Billy the Kid to Governor Lew Wallace.


Staff at the Monument and the History Library felt the library was a more conducive environment for those rare items and they are now housed at the library at 120 Washington Ave., in Santa Fe. They can be viewed upon request during regular public hours (Tue-Fri, 1-5pm).


English author Fred Nolan, notable for several books on Billy the Kid, John Tunstall and the Lincoln County War, recently made a courtesy visit to the Chávez Library, along with his fellow Billy the Kid aficionado Bob McCubbin. Nolan and McCubbin had seen the letters years ago and were the first members of the public to see them again after all these years. They declared themselves extremely pleased to see the items in a safe library environment where historians and others interested in the Lincoln County War can view them.


“A significant ‘rediscovery’” is how Nolan characterized the letters, and he praised their new resting place as one “which will make two letters written by Billy the Kid available to an even wider audience.”


The letters reveal a literate writer with good penmanship as he sought to hold Governor Wallace to a purported promise of a pardon. The two met once in Lincoln as Billy tried to parlay his willingness as a prosecution witness into an official amnesty, but the territorial governor eventually did not prevent the judge from signing his death warrant.


The Lincoln County War in 1878 had been a battle built on the competing economics of two mercantile businesses, represented by the Murphy-Dolan faction and the Tunstall-McSween faction, which William H. Bonney (known to history as Billy the Kid) supported. The prize worth fighting for was government contracts, but dozens of deaths and the lingering legend of one participant was the main result. The final chapter of the Lincoln County War was written when Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881 in Ft. Sumner, N.M..


The story of the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid is included in the New Mexico History Museum’s main exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now at 113 Lincoln Ave., Santa Fe. Many of the buildings that were once the backdrop to the conflict are still standing along Main Street in Lincoln, N.M., where the Lincoln State Monument Lincoln State Monument ( serves as a world-class draw for tourists and scholars – an attraction confirmed by the New Mexico Tourism Department’s new Web site devoted to Billy the Kid:


This weekend is the annual Old Lincoln Days event at the Monument. Call 575-653-4372 for information.


The Fray Angélico Chávez History Library is the institutional successor to New Mexico’s oldest library (1851). A non-circulating, closed-stack research facility, it preserves historical materials in many formats documenting the history of the state, the Southwest, and meso-America from pre-European contact to the present.


For more information on the acquisitions and the Library, contact Tomas Jaehn at 476-5090.


The New Mexico History Museum is a 96,000-square-foot addition to the Palace of the Governors’ campus, which includes the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library and Photo Archives, the Palace Print Shop & Bindery, and the Portal Program. The New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. The Museum is at 113 Lincoln Ave., just north of the Palace at 105 W. Palace Ave., on the Santa Fe Plaza. For more information, visit or



Media contact: Kate Nelson

New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors

(505) 476-1141

(505) 554-5722 (cell)