THE DEATH OF BILLY THE KID
Facsimile of Original 1933 Edition
FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
If thirty-year-old John William Poe had not been present on the evening of July 14, 1881 when his boss Sheriff Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, then Poe would have missed his main chance to be remembered by history. As it was, he earned a niche in the annals of the Old West by participating in one of the most publicized incidents on the Southwestern frontier.
Raised on the family tobacco farm in Kentucky, John Poe struck out on his own in 1870, nearing the age of twenty, and headed west to find his destiny. A string of hard labor jobs, including that of a buffalo hunter on the plains of west Texas, seasoned the lad and provided experience useful for his next calling, in law enforcement.
Poe first served as a deputy U.S. marshal in Shackelford County, Texas and then in 1879 he became deputy sheriff of Wheeler County in the Panhandle. At the end of the following year, The Canadian River Cattlemen’s association hired Poe to serve as their representative and join New Mexico lawmen in tracking down Billy the Kid, whose livestock rustling had long proved costly to Texas ranchers. John Poe’s own account of what followed, incorporating the sensational slaying of Billy the Kid, forms the subject of this book.
John Poe during that episode received an appointment as a special deputy sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico even while he remained in service to the Cattlemen’s Association. Gaining a reputation for honesty and fair play, he was able to win election as sheriff upon retirement of Pat Garrett in 1882. A year later he married Sophie Alberding, a native of California who had been living with the pioneer Lea family in Roswell on the Pecos River.
Thereafter, “John William,” as his wife Sophie always called him, finished up his career as a law officer, ranched for a time near Fort Stanton, and spent the last decades of his life as a Roswell business man, banker, and a regent of the prestigious New Mexico Military Institute. A photographic portrait of him in those years shows a distinguished gentleman, fashionably dressed and properly groomed--a far cry from his rough early-day appearance as a buffalo hunter. John W. Poe died at Roswell in 1923, a man who had lived in two worlds.
Understandably, Mr. Poe late in life was sought out by scholars, popular writers, and others seeking knowledge concerning the killing of the Kid. He finally committed to paper his recollections on that subject and turned the short manuscript over to his wife for safe-keeping.
The Death of Billy the Kid first appeared in print in magazine format (1919). Noted Western author E. A. Brininstool privately printed the text as “a brochure” in 1922 and again in 1923. Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston brought out the first edition in book form with hard covers and illustrations in 1933. It contains a lengthy and still valuable introduction by Colonel Maurice Garland Fulton (1877-1955), an English professor at the New Mexico Military Institute. The cadets affectionately called him “Pappy.”
Based on his reputation as a scholar of the Lincoln County War, Sophie Poe had urged that Colonel Fulton be enlisted to write the introduction for The Death of Billy the Kid. Although an abundance of new material has surfaced since he composed the introductory essay, his summary of events, therein, that led up to Billy’s death provides modern readers with enough background to place Poe’s narrative in proper perspective.
The Death of Billy the Kid has been out of print for decades. Interest in the young outlaw’s career continues unabated, so that this new 1933 facsimile reprint of John W. Poe’s book should find an eager readership.
Finally, it should be noted that Sophie A. Poe published her husband’s biography and her own autobiography in the book Buckboard Days (1936 and reprint edition 1981). In it her personal courage and endurance shine through. The volume is now regarded as an important part of the literature and history of the American West.
Without question, The Death of Billy the Kid stands as a worthy addition to Sunstone Press’s Southwest Heritage Series.