Ft. Sumner should be full of ghosts. If it isn't there is certainly some Wild West history that would lead one to believe that the spirits would not be at rest.
While I went to Ft. Sumner to visit the Bosque Redondo Memorial, site of the encampment of Apache and Navajo people after the infamous "Long Walk," I couldn't help but notice the frequent references to Billy the Kid and his grave.
William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid but also known as Henry Antrim, was a 19th-century American gunman who participated in New Mexico's Lincoln County War and became a frontier outlaw in the Old West
While at Ft. Sumner, we heard of the Lucien Maxwell House and how Billy the Kid was shot one dark night in one of the bedrooms of this huge home. The date was July 14th, 1881 and Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed this infamous outlaw.
You can pick up a brochure at the Visitor's Center that tells how Billy the Kid found refuge at Ft. Sumner and how, ultimately, he was shot and killed there. After The Kid was killed, according to the brochure, "About 175 yards southeast of the replicated barracks stood the Quartermaster's Corral, which stabled the cavalry horses. Inside it stood the Blacksmith Shop, where Billy was put in irons after his capture at Stinking Springs; and the adjacent Carpenter Shop, where the Kid's body was prepared for his candle-lit valorio (wake) and burial."
As you walk the grounds of Ft. Sumner, you have to have a good imagination to picture where all these infamous sites once were. The buildings have been destroyed by flood and fire. But Billy the Kid aficionados will definitely want to visit this site. There is an admission fee.
Before you get to the Ft. Sumner Bosque Redondo Visitor's Center you'll see a somewhat commercial "museum," touting that this is the "real" site of Billy The Kid's grave. And, indeed it is. Behind the Ft. Sumner Museum and shop building is the one acre Ft. Sumner Post Cemetery. In the cemetery covered by a steel cage built in 1981 is Billy The Kid's Grave. The cage over the gravestone gives the impression that Billy the Kid, in death as in life, was a hunted fugitive who was often jailed.
The tombstones have an interesting history. According to the Billy the Kid pamphlet, "The larger tombstone was erected in 1931-32; the smaller, shackled one (1940) was stolen in 1950 (and recovered in 1976) and stolen and recovered again in 1981."
It is said that the original grave markers were wooden and were washed away in a flood. So what you are seeing may not be the exact place that Billy the Kid was buried.
There is no charge to walk around the building and visit the Post Cemetery. However if you want to visit the Old Fort Sumner Museum to see the old photos, letters and Billy the Kid memorabilia, you will pay an admission fee.
The reason I refer to "graves" plural is that in the town of Ft. Sumner you will see another "museum," which touts having Billy the Kid's grave. This is the Billy the Kid Museum, another commercial venture with touristy type offerings and some Billy the Kid memorabilia. This museum has a replica of Billy the Kid's grave.
Annual Event in Ft. Sumner
On the second weekend in June, Old Fort Days features the Billy the Kid Tombstone Race, parade, and an arts and crafts fair.
Photos Copyright: Elizabeth Rose Photography