Legendary gunslinger's letters go on display

The letter is so articulate and polite that you would never guess it was written by a notorious outlaw from the Old West...

"Dear Sir," it begins. "I wish you would come down to the jail and see me."

The sender of the letter was legendary gunslinger Billy the Kid, writing to territorial governor Lew Wallace from Santa Fe jail in March 1881.

Just four months later, the Kid was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Now this letter and an earlier letter to the governor are being put on public display in a New Mexico library.

The letters will be displayed at the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe. They belonged to the Wallace family for a number of years before being passed on to various historical organisations.

Billy the Kid has been permanently embedded in America's pop culture through a large number of books, articles and films portraying him as either a thug or a folk hero.

"It is fascinating to me that a kid of 21 is still so much in our folklore," Fray Angelico librarian and academic Tomas Jaehn told the Telegraph. 

The letters are written in black ink and signed with the name William H. Bonney, one of the Kid's aliases. He is believed to have been born Henry McCarty in New York City around 1859, although this remains uncertain.

Both notes were written in the aftermath of the so-called Lincoln County war, a bloody five-month feud in 1978 between mercenaries and the southern New Mexico village of Lincoln. The Kid, a ranch hand, was in one of the factions.

In the first letter - undated but believed to have been written in March 1879 - the Kid tells Wallace he was a witness to a murder and offers to testify if indictments against him stemming from the Lincoln County War are annulled.

The letter led to a carefully staged arrest, after which the Kid testified. But no pardon ever materialized. This is the subject of the Kid's second letter, from Santa Fe Jail in 1881.

He was then facing trial for the murder of Sheriff William Brady during the Lincoln County War and increasingly desperate for a pardon. The Kid would shortly be convicted and sentenced to hang - but alluded death with his famous Lincoln County jail escape.

The different handwriting in the two letters has lead to speculation. However, it has been suggested that the more 'constrained' penmanship in the second letter is due to the Kid being shackled in handcuffs.

The letters are undoubtedly among the most highly sought-after  memorabilia from this era of American history.

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