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Across the Fence


By Arvord Abernethy




For many years New Mexico has claimed that the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid, was buried in that state. Constantly recurring evidence suggests that Billy the Kid’s body actually rests under this concrete slab headstone in Hamilton ’s Oakwood Cemetery . (See Arvord Abernethy’s “Across the Fence” column.) Not quite as it has been reported, the actual inscription on the slab is “Ollie L. Roberts, Brushy Bill, 12-3-1868 , 12-27-50 ,” Staff Photo.


There has been a lot in the news lately about who is buried in Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave. Maybe around here we should be asking, “Who is buried in Billy the Kid’s grave 100 years ago”.


I was visiting the Willie Helberts the other day and they had just received a Field and Stream magazine, dated July, 1981, and a clipping from the Abilene Reporter-News from their son Brad, both articles about Billy the Kid.


Many of us who were here before 1950 remember Brushy Bill Roberts who lived over Hico way, but would often come to Hamilton . He was one of those colorful, unforgettable characters with his handlebar mustache and gray beard. He usually wore a loud plaid shirt with a red bandana around his neck, topped off with a large white hat.


As I remember him, he was always cleanly dressed, but would certainly remind one of an old prospector as he would lead his heavily laden donkey up a mountain side looking for gold. Word got around here that he claimed to be Billy the Kid. Was he?


Mr. E. R. Mann, Guns Editor for Field and Stream, wrote the article about Billy the Kid in that magazine. In 1934 he had written a novel about the Kid entitled, “Gamblin’ Man”, so became greatly interested in this character.


Some years later while Mr. Mann was serving as director of the University of  New Mexico Press , a large amount of manuscripts and documents came in to the university concerning Brushy Bill Robert’s story of being the real Billy the Kid.


The material, along with tape recordings with Brushy Bill Roberts, had been gathered by Dr. C. L. Sonnichsen, a historian, and William V. Morrison, a Texas attorney. Much of the material guided the men to facts never before known, and to documented records refuting things about the Kid that were once thought to be facts. This material was all put together in a book entitled, “Alias Billy the Kid”. There seemed to be some doubt about the actual death of Billy the Kid, but the material gave some credibility to Brushy Bill’s story.


At 90 years of age, Brushy Bill Roberts wanted a pardon from the governor of New Mexico so he could die in peace, so he went before the governor at Santa Fe . Due to his age and health, he could not answer the questioning very well, finally collapsing and having to be carried from the room. Evidence was not sufficient for a pardon to be granted. Mr. Mann was a witness at this hearing.


The story began over a hundred years ago when two cattle barons of New Mexico began feuding, then fighting and they warring against each other to the extent that the government had to step in. Billy the Kid was drawn into it and with a quick draw and deadly aim was winner in many of the fights, one being with a sheriff.


Lew Wallace, Territorial Governor of New Mexico , also the writer of “Ben Hur”, asked Pat Garrett, a famous lawman, to get the Kid, on whom a large reward had been placed. Garrett traced him to Ft. Sumner , N. Mex., and there went to the home of a friend of Billy’s. As Garrett sat in the house talking to the owner, Mr. Maxwell, a young fellow came in. Garrett fired twice, then ran out of the house shouting, “I’ve killed the Kid”.


Brushy Bill Roberts said that the fellow killed was a young transient, and he thought that Pat Garrett wanted to take credit for the killing of the Kid in order to collect the reward.


This took place one hundred years ago, as the tombstone at Ft. Sumner reads that he was killed by Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881 .


In conversation with Jimmy Ramage, principal of the Hico schools, he stated that he had a copy of the death certificate of Brushy Bill Roberts and it gives his death as being on Dec. 27, 1950 , and that he is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery here in Hamilton . The grave marker lists the name as Ollie L. “Brushy” Roberts.


Should the big sign that stands at the edge of Ft. Sumner that reads, “Visit the grave of Billy the Kid” be removed and placed at the edge of Hamilton ?



Shared by Roy Ables








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People and Places: Gazetteer of Hamilton County, TX
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Copyright © March, 1998
by Elreeta Crain Weathers, B.A., M.Ed.,  
(also Mrs.,  Mom, and Ph. T.)

A Work In Progress