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Local seeks Billy the Kid pardon

Published 8:00am Saturday, August 21, 2010


Billy the Kid enthusiast Charles Dawson has a whole room dedicated to the 1800s outlaw gunslinger and hopes to get recognition for getting him the pardon Dawson believes he deserves. | Nathan Strickland/FCT


Some of the mysteries behind the legend of Billy the Kid still stump local resident Charles Dawson, but one thing he believes for sure is that the notorious gunslinger deserves the pardon he was promised.

It has been nearly 130 years since the old western feud between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, but Dawson believes the showdown would have never taken place if it weren’t for a crooked governor.

Dawson said as legend has it, Territorial Governor Lew Wallace was supposedly going to grant “The Kid,” — who was born William Henry McCarty but also went by the name William Bonney — amnesty back in 1879 if he testified before a grand jury about another murder case involving the death of his long-time friend John Tunstall in Lincoln County.

Billy, who was already in jail for having killed then-Sheriff William Brady, was said to have taken the offer and after doing what was asked of him, he was thrown back in jail and not given the pardon.

After waiting for 27 days, Billy escaped from the Lincoln County Courthouse, killing two deputies in the process.

It was Garrett, Brady’s successor, who eventually found Billy and shot him dead on July 14, 1881.

“If it wasn’t for J.J. Dolan, L.G. Murphy and Sheriff William Brady, Billy would have never had the problems that he had,” Dawson said. “I believe the Lincoln County War would have never happened had he gotten the pardon he was promised.”

Two weeks ago, developments on the issue hit national news platforms giving current New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, New Mexico lawmaker Ben Rios and Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan credit for the idea to reinvestigate the century-old case back in 2003, but Dawson said he had already sent three letters asking for the pardon in 2001, one to the U.S. Department of Justice and two to the then New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.

Dawson, who has been told he has the largest personal collection of Billy the Kid memorabilia in the United States, said he has been working on getting a posthumous pardon for Billy the Kid for several years and has the letters declining his requests to prove it.

Dawson is pleased that Gov. Richardson is considering the pardon, but feels cheated and believes he deserves recognition for the pardon idea because of the years he has put into the history of Billy the Kid.

“Now all of a sudden the now governor wants to take credit for giving Billy the Kid the pardon he deserves, but I have been working on it for years,” Dawson said. “There is no telling how much money I have tied up in Billy the Kid stuff.”

Dawson has since written a letter to the governor to “burst his bubble” notifying him that he was not the first to think of the pardon issue.

The issue has not resurfaced lately, so Dawson believes the governor must have gotten the letter.

Charles Dawson displays some of the official orrespondence from his efforts to get a pardon granted for Billy the Kid. | Nathan Strickland/FCT


Dawson has a room at his residence that is completely dedicated to Billy the Kid which he refers to as the “Billy the Kid Research Office”

The room contains everything associated with the outlaw including wanted posters, photos of people associated with “The Kid,” a hat wore by Emilio Estevez who portrayed the outlaw on the silver screen in the blockbuster hit “Young Guns” and countless replicas of items associated with him.

Dawson said he just wants to see history made right.

“I just want to see him get the pardon he was promised,” he said. “I’m working on right now getting the cemetery where he is buried to be recognized as a historical landmark. I have been working on that project for five years and hopefully with a little help from one of my best friends Sandy Paul (who serves as the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in De Baca County, NM) I will be able to get Santa Fe officials to make it a historical cemetery.”

Dawson said the reason he chose the history of Billy the Kid is because of the mystery and believes if he had the money he would move out west to commemorate the outlaw.

“Billy the Kid has the biggest mystery of all the outlaws because many people don’t know for sure what happened to Billy the Kid, but with other outlaws you know,” Dawson said. “I told my friend Sandy if I had the money, I’d buy the Billy the Kid museum that is next to the cemetery, buy a trailer and just stay there. I believe I’d have it made then because that is just how big of a fan I am of Billy the Kid.”

Dawson said anyone who is interested in seeing his collection is welcome to come see it by contacting him at 256-332-0074 or by email at

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