The Boy and I pushed along desert highways deep into New Mexico and spent the night in Santa Rosa. The next morning, we got up and headed to Fort Sumner.
Along the way, we stopped by Lake Sumner. This is where we went swimming when I was a little boy. It’s about sixty-miles from my hometown of Clovis. In Michigan, we can take a ten minute drive to the nearest lake. Twenty minutes and we can swim in Lake Superior. It was hard for the Boy to believe that when I was a kid, we had to drive for an hour just to swim in a lake. Yep, times were tough in 1970’s New Mexico!
We headed into town. Fort Sumner is where William H. Bonney, alias Billy the Kid, met his end at the hands of Pat Garret in 1881. This would be the start of our Billy the Kid Tour. For geographical reasons, we were starting at the end of Billy’s story. Contrary to popular belief, the Kid was not unarmed, and he did not get shot in the back.
There are two Billy the Kid themed museums; the Billy the Kid Museum on the main highway, and the Old Fort Sumner museum which also boasts the real grave of William Bonney. Each museum has it’s share of authentic western artifacts and oddities.
At the Old Fort Museum, we visited the graveyard. The centerpiece is of course the grave of Billy the Kid . But there are other graves of historical noteworthiness: Charlie Bowdry and Tom O’Folliard, who were killed by Garret’s posse six months before Billy died; Pete Maxwell, in whose home Billy was shot, and whose daughter Billy allegedly was in love with; and Joe Grant, killed by the Kid in a bar fight.
My Boy’s fear of rattle snakes has been well documented in this blog. Well, the cemetery is surrounded by an old adobe wall with a narrow opening at the front. I learned growing up in the desert that when you walked, you watched where your feet were going and you checked the path ahead of you. As the Boy and I walked side by side to leave the cemetery, I looked at the ground ahead of us. As we approached the opening, I saw a reptilian head poke out from behind the adobe wall right next to the walkway!
I stopped and threw my arm out karate-chop style to stop the boy. He gasped. The reptile quickly pulled his head back. I carefully leaned through the opening, expecting to see a snake. But it wasn’t a snake. It was a lizard. And it was a lot smaller than it looked when it poked its head out! It was even cute. I laughed and showed the Boy. He let out the breath he was holding. “Crap! That scared me!”
After we had our fill of Billy-era coolness, we headed to Clovis. About an hour later, we were driving around my hometown. I drove past the houses I used to live in, past my old elementary school, by my grandparent’s old house, ran a four way stop sign that didn’t used to be there, stopped for lunch at my favorite hot dog stand, and finally went to see my dad.
The Boy met new cousins, I met nieces and a nephew, we ate great New Mexican food, and had a real good time. After three days we hit the road again. This would be the very hottest part of the trip!