A Wild Night in Old Fort Sumner
by Daniel Conrad Jones
(first published in the 2013 Outlaw Gazette)
Thursday, July 14, 1881: It had been a hot day in Ft. Sumner, but, like it does most of the time on summer nights in New Mexico, it had cooled off quite a bit. Pete Maxwell, son of the legendary Lucien Maxwell, was in bed in his room around midnight, trying to get some sleep, and had left his door open to let some cool air in.
He probably wasn’t expecting company, but he got it. Pat Garrett, the sheriff of Lincoln County, strode in through the open doorway. Garrett was looking for Billy the Kid, and he knew he was in enemy territory in Fort Sumner, so he’d been lurking outside of town, and had sent his deputy John W. Poe, who was a stranger there, into town to try and find out if the Kid was there.
The townsfolk were suspicious of Poe, and he learned nothing. Garrett was about to give up and head back to Roswell, but Poe convinced him to try one more idea, talking with Maxwell. So they sneaked in to Pete’s house, and Garrett went into his bedroom to talk with him, while the two deputies, Poe and Thomas McKinney, remained outside on the porch.
The conversation had hardly gotten started when the two deputies noticed a man approaching the house. He was hatless, shoeless, and fastening his pants as he approached. Poe, who knew no one in town, thought he might have been Maxwell or one of his guests. When the man saw Poe, he covered him with his six-shooter, asking “¿Quien es?” Poe assured him they meant him no harm.
The man went on in to Maxwell’s room, repeating his question “Who is it?” to Maxwell. Garrett, sitting on Maxwell’s bed, recognized the voice as the Kid’s, pulled his pistol, and fired two shots. The first got the Kid in the region of the heart, the second missed altogether. But the first was enough. The Kid fell dead without firing a shot.
Within a very short time after the shooting, quite a number of the townsfolk gathered around, some of them bewailing the death of their friend. Several women pleaded for permission to take charge of the body, which they were allowed to do. They carried it across the yard to a carpenter shop, where it was laid out on a workbench. The women placed lighted candles around it according to their ideas of properly conducting a wake for the dead.
Garrett, Poe, and McKinney spent the remainder of the night on the Maxwell premises, keeping constantly on their guard, as they expected attack by the friends of the dead man. Nothing of the kind occurred, however.
So, what to do next? Nowadays, we’d call the law: the police or the sheriff. But the only law there was Garrett and his deputies, but they were interested parties to the killing, which made them unfit to investigate it.
Someone on the scene, Garrett most likely, knew enough about New Mexico law, which stated that suspicious deaths should be investigated by a Justice of the Peace, who would appoint 6 voters of the precinct to hold an inquest over the body. Witnesses could be subpoenaed, their testimony heard. The jury would then write a report, identifying the victim, cause of death, and the perpetrator (if ascertained), then all of them must sign the report.
So they sent for a JP. The nearest one was a man named Jose Alejandro Segura, who signed himself Alejandro. About 31 years old, he lived with his wife and 2 sons in a little settlement called Arenosa, around 7 miles north of Ft. Sumner on the Pecos. He chose as the foreman of the jury Milnor Rudulph, 54, of Sunnyside. Segura and Rudulph were practically next-door neighbors, by the standards of the time.
Rudulph (Branch, 1980; Keleher, 1957) was a good man to have helping in a legal proceeding such as this. Born in Elkton, Maryland on August 25, 1826, Rudulph was educated in the common schools in Maryland and then moved to Philadelphia, where he studied mathematics and the classics. Around 1845, he went to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lived four years, teaching school and working in mercantile establishments.
Early in 1849 he left Memphis with a wagon train, intending to go to the gold fields in California. Upon reaching Santa Fe, though, Rudulph decided to remain in New Mexico. About 1855, he moved to Rincon del Tecolote (now Rociada), in San Miguel County, where he married a local girl, Maria Candelaria Trujillo, in 1857. They eventually had 5 children together: Charles Frederick, Milnor Junior, Virginia, Matilde, and Emilia.
On October 1, 1861, Rudulph signed the muster rolls of the Third Regiment, New Mexico Volunteers; was assigned duty as Regimental Quartermaster and placed in charge of Fort Hatch.
Elected to the New Mexico Legislature in 1870, Rudulph was chosen as Speaker of the House. During the years of his residence in Tecolote, Rudulph rendered community service as justice of the peace and postmaster; he taught school and engaged in farming.
In 1878, seeking the proverbial greener pastures, Rudulph sold his Tecolote property and moved to a then-unnamed community north of Ft. Sumner. Being the first postmaster, he had the privilege of naming it. He modestly named it after himself: Rudulph. This was not against post office policy; in fact it happened often. However, for some reason it didn’t take in this case, so in a month or so he renamed it Sunnyside.
In summary, Rudulph was a man of much experience. He had:
Served in the U.S. Army
Served in the New Mexico Territorial Legislature
Served as a Justice of the Peace
Served as postmaster.
Rudulph and Segura proceeded south to Ft. Sumner, where they chose the other 5 members of the jury from among the Hispanics there.
The other jury members were José Silva, 59, Antonio Saavedra, 50, Lorenzo Jaramillo, 37, Sabal Gutierres, 31, all from Ft. Sumner, and Pedro Antonio Lucero, 46, residence unknown (more about him later).
The jury convened in a room in the Maxwell place. They examined the body, heard the testimony of Pete Maxwell, and probably heard the testimony of Garrett and his deputies Poe and McKinney, although they didn’t record it in their report.
The report (Segura, 1881) says in summary:
The dead man is William Bonney
He was killed by a shot fired by a pistol in the hand of Pat. F. Garrett
The killing was justifiable homicide
Garrett is worthy of being rewarded
Then they all signed the report and went home.
Many of you know that the above story is the conventional one, but not the only one. It is largely taken from Poe’s book The Death of Billy the Kid (Poe, 2006). From the very beginning, rumors were flying: That the posse had known the Kid was coming to Maxwell’s room, and had ambushed him to kill him; that they had cut off his fingers and taken them as souvenirs; but, most particularly, that the Kid hadn’t been killed at all. But, if you believe the Inquest Report, the Kid was killed on that wild night in Ft. Sumner. So, this article will examine the Inquest Report and the various challenges to it.
74 years after the fact, the first book to mount a serious challenge to the Inquest Report was a book called Alias Billy the Kid: I want to die a free man…(Sonnichsen, 1955). It was authored by two men. One was William Vincent Morrison, who identified himself as a lawyer in the book, but who seems to have been more of a researcher for law firms. He never wrote any other books. The other author was Charles Leland Sonnichsen, a history professor at Texas Western University (now UTEP), and the respected author of many books on such subjects as Judge Roy Bean, the Mescalero Apaches, the great feuds of Texas, Tularosa, the El Paso Salt War, the Border Patrol, John Wesley Hardin, and Geronimo. Sonnichsen could be presumed to know whereof he spoke, and it was his presence as coauthor that gave the book its credibility.
Next was The Return of the Outlaw Billy the Kid (Jameson, 1998), coauthored by W.C. Jameson and Frederic Bean. Jameson is a onetime professor at the University of Arkansas, and the author of many books on such subjects as buried treasure, the Guadalupe Mountains, and the returns of John Wilkes Booth and Butch Cassidy. Bean, now deceased, authored a large number of books, mostly western fiction.
Next was Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave (Jameson, 2005), by the same W.C. Jameson. This article will focus on this book, because it’s the most recent, but the two Jameson books and the Sonnichsen/Morrison book have much in common.
All of the above books have as their goal proving that one O.L. (“Brushy Bill”) Roberts was Billy the Kid. But they have one major hurdle to overcome right away: Roberts lived until 1950, but the Inquest Report says that the Kid died in 1881. So they have to discredit it.
Another challenger to be covered in this article is a book called I Buried Billy, by A. P. “Paco” Anaya (Anaya, 1991). Anaya was a friend of Billy’s, around Billy’s age, and was in Ft. Sumner the day after the killing. He wrote the manuscript around 1931, but it wasn’t published until 1991. As can be inferred from the title, it does not make the claim that Billy wasn’t killed in 1881, but does have some different takes on the events of that night and the following day, and, most importantly, challenges the authenticity of the Inquest Report.
Where was the coroner?
This article will use the term “Inquest Report” for what is more commonly called the Coroner’s Jury Report. Why? E.B. Mann, in the book Guns and the Gunfighters (Mann, 1982), questions why there was no coroner present at the meeting of the so-called coroner’s jury. That is a good question which, surprisingly, Jameson failed to include in his many challenges to the report. The coroner was presumably a man with experience investigating suspicious deaths. Why wasn’t he in charge, instead of a JP who may have had little or no such experience?
The office of coroner goes back to England, centuries ago. The word “coroner” is a corruption of the word “crowner”, the local representative of the crown. Originally, the crowner’s duty was to make sure that the king got any money that was due him, say from fines or estate taxes. Sometimes this involved the investigation of suspicious deaths. Later, the crowner became the coroner, and a jury was added for inquests.
The coroner’s jury concept came to New Mexico when it first became a U.S. Territory. But the law putting the coroner in charge of post mortem inquiries, as they were called then, was repealed in 1864, and the JP’s were put in charge (New Mexico, 1880). A little thought provides a plausible explanation. Fort Sumner was in San Miguel County at that time, and the county seat of San Miguel County was then, and still is, Las Vegas. There’s only one coroner per county, and Las Vegas is where he was.
There was no telephone, telegraph, or railroad in Ft. Sumner in 1881, so the fastest way to notify the coroner would have been to send a man on horseback. Charles W. Foor, a surveyor who lived in Ft. Sumner starting in 1882, said that it was 127 miles to Las Vegas (Foor, 1927). A horseback rider I consulted said it would take a man 2 days to make that trip without killing himself or his horse. He’d then have to find the coroner, and wait for him to get ready. They’d then have to do the 127 mile return trip. The days were hot July days, and there was no refrigeration or embalming in Ft. Sumner either.
So, to use the coroners for these inquests was impractical in the New Mexico of the time, given the slow transportation and communication systems, and the huge size of the counties. But San Miguel County was divided into at least 27 precincts, and each had a JP. In fact, the nearest JP was only 7 miles away. By the way, the old law specified that the coroner be paid 10 dollars for each inquest, whereas the new law allowed the JP’s only two dollars. So maybe the legislature changed the law to save money too. In any event, the presence of a JP, not a coroner, was entirely in accordance with the New Mexico law of the time, although it seems strange now.
Does the report even exist?
Here is an exact quote from Jameson’s 2005 book:
‘...Lavash maintains that "the coroner's report (sic) is properly considered a death certificate and is on file at the NM-SRCA [New Mexico State Records Center and Archives] in Santa Fe." Why Lavash would make such a statement is unclear when no such document was ever located there and no one has ever been able to find it anywhere.’ (p. 75, italics mine)
I traveled to the NM-SRCA, and photographed the manuscript. It is handwritten on three pages, each measuring approximately 7.5 inches wide and 9.5 inches long. The paper has a black border, and is reminiscent of notepaper one would use in writing a letter of condolence to a friend. The manuscript is written entirely in Spanish, with one important exception to be discussed later. At the top it is addressed to the Attorney of the First Judicial District of the Territory of New Mexico.
Below that, the main body of the report is written in first person, as if by JP Segura. Next comes a quotation from Pete Maxwell, although Maxwell did not sign his testimony. Next, the verdict, then the signatures of the jury appear, starting with Rudulph’s, who signs “Presidente” as his title. Finally, there is a short postscript, followed by Segura’s signature and title.
The handwriting in the main body is excellent: well-spaced in straight lines, though the paper is not ruled, and quite legible. The presence of other handwriting styles suggests several different writers (more on this later).
One thing that may be troubling to some is that the document in the NM-SRCA is a photostatic copy. The provenance of the copy may be inferred from a letter included with it (Parker, 1931). In 1931, Frank W. Parker, a New Mexico Supreme Court judge, and evidently a Billy the Kid buff, wrote to James F. Hinkle (formerly governor, but at that time Commissioner of Public Lands) requesting a copy of the Inquest Report. He got it, though what the manuscript was doing in the office of the Commissioner of Public Lands is anyone’s guess. Later, this copy arrived at the NM-SRCA along with a number of Parker’s other papers. It’s a good thing it did, because by that time the original had evidently been lost. Fortunately, the copy is in excellent condition.
Pat Garrett (left) and John Poe (right)
Frank W. Parker letter to J. F. Hinkle
Where was the body when the jury saw it?
Jameson contends that there is disagreement about this among the various people who were in Ft. Sumner when the jury met. Here is a quote from his 2005 book:
“[The jury] held a meeting in Maxwell's bedroom, where, according to Charles Frederick Rudulph,... the body still lay on the floor. In their books, Garrett and Poe both claimed the body had been taken to the carpenter shop for a wake shortly after the shooting. It is improbable that the body was reclaimed from the wake and repositioned on the floor.” (p. 73)
In writing this article, I was careful to obtain the exact editions of the books Jameson cites as references in his bibliography, because different editions sometimes say different things.
The first book referred to is Los Bilitos: the story of Billy the Kid and His Gang by Louis Leon Branch and Charles Frederick Rudulph (Branch, 1980). A reading of the book, starting at the shooting on page 251, and continuing to the end of the book, reveals no mention of the position of the body.
Next, let us examine the Garrett book (Garrett, 2000). A reading of the book, starting at the shooting on page 175, and continuing to the burial on page 178, reveals no mention of the position of the body other than on the floor of Maxwell’s bedroom immediately after the shooting. An older edition of this book (Garrett, 1954) also doesn’t mention the body’s location (pp. 147-149).
Poe, on the other hand, does say “Within a very short time after the shooting…They carried [the body] across the yard to a carpenter shop…” (Poe, 2006, pp. 41-42). This version of Poe’s story, originally published in 1933, is probably the most widely available one, and is the one cited by Jameson.
However, there are several versions attributed to Poe around. The earliest one is in a July 10, 1917 letter to Charles Goodnight (Poe, 1917). Goodnight, who was responsible for hiring Poe and sending him to New Mexico from Texas to hunt down cattle thieves (not just Billy) had evidently written Poe asking him for the story.
John W. Poe letter to Charles Goodnight
The important thing about this letter, is that Poe, like Branch and Garrett, doesn’t say anything about the location of the body. The “carpenter shop” aspect was first published in a story written for Wide World magazine of London, England, by E.A. Brininstool (Brininstool, 1919). It’s possible Poe simply forgot to mention the carpenter shop in his 1917 letter, but there is other evidence of editing by Brininstool: The 1917 letter states that Billy fired a shot, whereas the Wide World story says only that two shots were fired, not who fired them.
Further muddying the waters is Anaya, who says “…we took [the body] to the saloon where they held dances…” (p. 132).
The Inquest Report says, in my translation, “I [JP Alejandro Segura]…assembled the said jury at the house of Luz B. Maxwell. They proceeded to a room in said house where they found the body…” (Italics mine) This is pretty vague. The body could have been in any room in Luz’ house, not just Pete’s.
Fort Sumner was a peculiar town; it was what you might call a company town, or you might not call it a town at all. It was really more like a large ranch (Nolan, 1998). The old fort buildings, abandoned by the Army after the failure of its Indian farming experiment in 1868, had been purchased by Lucien B. Maxwell from the government in 1871, shortly after he sold his own vast Maxwell Land Grant. About 25 families accompanied Maxwell south from Cimarron and formed the settlement. After Maxwell died in 1875, his wife Doña Luz took his place, while their son Pete managed the family ranch, sheep herds, and employees.
So, to stretch the point, since all the buildings in Fort Sumner belonged to Luz, the body could have been in any room in Fort Sumner!
Here’s the most important point to be remembered from this long discussion. None of these statements really contradicts the others. For example, the body could have been moved to the dance hall for the wake, viewed by the jury there, and then moved to the carpenter shop to be placed in the coffin which had just been built there. This would more or less reconcile all of these statements.
“Who is it?” or “¿Quien es?”
Jameson contends that there is disagreement about whether the victim’s “famous last words” were spoken in English or Spanish: “…in the...verdict.., the words spoken by the man who entered Maxwell's bedroom were in English, "Who is it?" and not in Spanish, as stated by Garrett and Poe…” (Jameson, 2005, p. 75)
Notice that Jameson is referring to a document that he elsewhere claims doesn’t exist, but he’s absolutely right. The Inquest Report is written entirely in Spanish, except when it’s quoting Pete Maxwell, who says that the victim spoke to him in English.
However, let’s have a look at what Garrett had to say. First, he says: ‘…a man sprang quickly into the door, looking back, and called twice in Spanish, "Who comes there?"’ (Garrett, 2000, p. 175, italics mine)
A few seconds later, the man is almost touching Garrett, but cannot see him because it’s so dark in the room. Quoting Garrett again: ‘The intruder came close to me, leaned both hands on the bed, his right hand almost touching my knee, and asked, in a low tone:-"Who are they, Pete?"’ (Garrett, 2000, p. 175)
Poe tells a similar story. First he says: “…he…asked in Spanish for the fourth or fifth time, who I was.” (Poe, 2006, p. 35, italics mine)
Then a few sentences later, Poe says: “An instant after the man left the door, I heard a voice inquire in a sharp tone, ‘Pete, who are those fellows on the outside?’” (Poe, 2006, p. 36)
It’s pretty clear what happened here. The man, approaching Maxwell’s bedroom, sees two men he doesn’t recognize. Since the vast majority of the Fort Sumner population is Hispanic, and many of them speak only Spanish, he addresses them in Spanish: “¿Quien es?” It’s questionable whether Poe or McKinney, newcomers to New Mexico at that time, even understood Spanish, so he receives no reply. He proceeds into Maxwell’s room. Pete undoubtedly was fluent in both English and Spanish, having an Anglo father and a Hispanic mother, but the man, being more comfortable in English, speaks to Pete in English.
The Inquest Report doesn’t mention what the man said to Poe and McKinney, but only quotes what he said to Maxwell (“Who is it? Who is it?” written in English, when the rest of the manuscript is written in Spanish). So there’s no inconsistency among the three versions.
And, if you believe that the man was Billy the Kid, then Billy’s last words were not “¿Quien es?”, as has been stated so often, but "Pete, who are those fellows on the outside?" or “Who are they, Pete?” or “Who is it? Who is it?” Perhaps that isn’t quite as romantic.
Who signed the Inquest Report?
Jameson is referring to the Inquest Report when he says: “...some of the signers of the…report either misspelled their own names, or Rudolph (sic) misspelled them.” (p. 75)
Jameson here assumes that Milnor Rudulph was the author of the report, but the report itself begins, in translation: “This 15th of July, A.D. 1881, I, the undersigned Justice of the Peace…”
And is signed at the bottom:
Justice of the Peace”
So Segura was ostensibly the author, but more about that later.
Referring to the signature page of the document, note that three of the “signatures”, those of José Silva, Sabal Gutierrez, and Lorenzo Jaramillo, all have X’s between their first and last names. This signifies that they were illiterate, so they didn’t sign their own names, Segura wrote them, and they made their X’s. Therefore, we can dismiss those three from consideration, as Segura wrote both the names and the “signatures.”
So, let’s look at the remaining signatures, and compare them with the spellings of their names in the 1880 census.
Referring to the Rudulph signature, is Jameson suggesting that “Rudulph” is a misspelling? It’s certainly a rare spelling. Even the census taker in 1880 spelled it “Rudolph.” There was no “Rudulph” in New Mexico in 1880. In the entire US, there were 94 “Rudulph”, and 3,910 “Rudolph.”
Next, “Anto. Sabedra” on the signature line. Now “Anto.” was a commonly used abbreviation for “Antonio” in those days. It appears many times in census records, so there’s no inconsistency there. Searches of the 1880 New Mexico census reveal 5 Saavedras (San Miguel County), 70 Sabedras (Valencia and Socorro Counties, none in San Miguel County).
Finally, there’s the Lucero signature. “Pedro” and “Lucero” are spelled conventionally. A mark similar to a quotation mark is placed rather peculiarly below the ‘o’ in the abbreviation for “Antonio”. Nowadays, we might abbreviate it “Ant’o”. However, in those days, a mark was placed below a character to indicate superscription, signifying the same thing. In print, it would be “Anto”.
But here’s the important takeaway point: Nobody can really be said to misspell his own name. There is no dictionary, as with words, to tell you what the “proper” spelling of a name is. A name is considered to be the property of its owner, to be spelled as he or she chooses. I spell my surname conventionally (“Jones”), but I know of a movie director who spells his “Jonze”.
Also, I know a woman who spells her first name “Dorthy.” I’ve never seen anyone else spell the name that way, and my spell checker thinks it’s wrong, but it’s her name, and she can spell it as she pleases. You may be able to think of other, similar examples.
Did Rudulph live in the area?
Here we have Anaya suggesting that Rudulph could not have signed the report, because he didn’t even live in the area: “…Rudolf (sic), he lived in Rociada (sic) since the year 1880…” (p. 121)
It’s true that Milnor Rudulph was doing some moving around during that time period, but the important question for our purposes is where he lived on July 15, 1881. First of all, a look at the 1880 census shows that he indeed was a resident of Sunnyside on June 15, 1880. However, the census doesn’t contradict Anaya’s statement, as he could have been there on June 15, 1880, but moved away before year’s end.
We can infer where Rudulph was in 1881 by consulting the Keleher book. It says: “In 1882…Milnor Rudulph…returned to the Mora valley…” (pp. 350-1).
Los Bilitos furnishes convincing evidence. On page 249 is the transcript of a poem written by Milnor to his wife during her absence. It is signed at the bottom:
“Mr. Milnor Rudulph
Sunnyside, New Mexico
July 28, 1881, 11:00 P.M.”
So it seems that Anaya’s memory could be playing him false here, as happens numerous times in I Buried Billy. He was writing his manuscript some 50 years after the events in question, so it’s quite possible he misremembered the year of Rudulph’s departure by 2 years.
The mysterious Pedro Antonio Lucero
“Pedro Antonio Lucero…never lived in Fort Sumner…And I say this because [in] 1879 I was the registrar in the time of the elections until 1889.” (Anaya, p 121)
Here, Anaya is saying that, since he registered voters in Fort Sumner well before and after 1881, if jury member Lucero lived there he would have known him. One problem here is that Anaya was born in either 1861 or 1862, depending on which source you believe. So, in 1879 he would have been around 17-18 years old, not old enough to vote himself. Would the county have hired someone so young to be registrar? Most likely, his memory is playing him false again. If his memory was off by 3 or more years, then he was not registrar in 1881.
Also, like today, not everyone who was eligible to vote actually registered to vote.
However, in support of Anaya’s statement, a search of the 1880 census records for Fort Sumner doesn’t show any Pedro Antonio Lucero or common variant thereof. A search all over New Mexico, and over multiple census years, found plenty of Pedro Lucero’s and Antonio Lucero’s, as Lucero is a common surname, and Pedro and Antonio are common given names.
Only 2 Lucero’s were close matches to the full name. The first, Pedro Anto Lucero, was 24 years old and living in Bernalillo in 1860. That would make his birth year around 1836. The second, Pedro A. Lucero, was 74 years old and living in Guadalupe County in 1910. That would also make his birth year around 1836. So, I looked for Pedro Lucero’s and Antonio Lucero’s who were born around 1836. This narrowed the possibilities considerably.
In 1870, there was a Pedro Lucero, aged 36 years, living in San Miguel County, in the “Las Vegas P.O.” location. His birth year would have been around 1834. More importantly, there was a Pedro Lucero, aged 45 years, living in San Miguel County in the 10th precinct in 1880. He was living in the right county, and his birth year was around 1835.
So, is it possible that Pedro Antonio Lucero never lived in Fort Sumner, never registered to vote there, never met Anaya, yet served on the jury? Certainly. Lucero could have been passing through Ft. Sumner on July 15, 1881, or visiting relatives there, or doing a temporary job for the Maxwells, and was drafted to serve on the jury. New Mexico law at the time did state that jurors were to be “voters of the precinct” (New Mexico, 1880), so legally Lucero would not have been qualified to serve, but the letter of the law isn’t always followed.
Who wrote the Inquest Report?
“…I could swear that what is written in this report signed by Don Alejandro Segura, is not written by his hand…” (Anaya, p. 124)
We have already seen that the wording of the report states that it was written by Segura, but Anaya says it wasn’t. And he’s not the only one. As we have seen, Jameson (2005, p. 75) believes Milnor Rudulph wrote it. Also, Maurice Garland Fulton, a professor at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, and a noted Billy the Kid authority of his time, says: “The handwriting of the [Inquest Report] shows that…it was composed by…M. Rudulph…” (Fulton, 1933, p. 53)
Techniques of handwriting identification might allow us to figure out just who did write the report.
Did Segura write it?
Since the report says he did, this is the most obvious possibility. Because he signed the report, we can compare his signature with the handwriting in the body of the report. This of course assumes that the signature is genuine.
First, let us compare the Segura signature with the report writer handwriting. Because the report writer didn’t actually write “Alejandro Segura” in the body of the report, it was necessary to construct a signature. At the top of the illustration is Segura’s actual signature. For comparison purposes, letters and sequences of letters were snipped electronically from the body of the manuscript, and pasted together to form a constructed “signature” at the bottom of the illustration. The widths of the two have been adjusted to be the same.
Note the differences: Segura’s signature is taller. More specifically, he swings the lower loops of his ‘j’ and ‘g’ way down (a big lower zone, in handwriting identification jargon). His capital ‘A’ is pointed, as compared with the standard cursive ‘A’ of the constructed signature. Also, note the standard cursive ‘e’ of the actual signature, compared to the Greek ‘e’ (so called for its resemblance to the Greek letter Σ) of the constructed signature. The report writer frequently uses the Greek ‘e’ at the beginnings of words, or after a capital letter, and sometimes in the middle of a lowercase sequence too. In the short sample available, we never see Segura use the Greek ‘e’.
We are fortunate to have another handwriting sample, in addition to his signature, to compare with the report writer. On the line below his signature, he wrote his title “Jues de Paz” (Justice of the Peace).
Lucky for us, the report writer also wrote the same phrase. Compare the two. Although they look graphically different, the more significant difference is one of spelling. Segura wrote “Jues”, whereas the report writer wrote “Juez”. It’s unlikely that the same writer would spell a word two different ways in the same document.
Did Milnor Rudulph write it?
Jameson and Fulton say he did, and he was certainly well qualified to do so by virtue of his education and experience. So, let’s compare the Rudulph signature with the report writer handwriting. The report writer also wrote “Milnor Rudulph”, so there’s no need to construct a signature.
It is striking that Rudulph puts extravagant flourishes in his signature, particularly the ‘h’ and the enormous ‘R’, which extends higher than any other character.
However, this isn’t so significant from a handwriting identification point of view, as people often put more style into their signatures than into their other handwriting. A more significant observation is that Rudulph signs only his first initial, whereas the report writer spells out the entire name. As we have seen, “Rudulph” was such a rare name that perhaps he felt he only needed to distinguish himself from other members of his family.
In those days, people used nib pens, nowadays used mostly for calligraphy. The width of a stroke can be varied using a nib pen, depending on how much pressure is applied to it, and its angle to the direction of motion. This isn’t possible using a modern-day ballpoint. It’s readily apparent that Rudulph varied his stroke widths a lot. Some of his strokes, particularly on the ‘R’, are barely visible, whereas others are fairly bold (the ‘p’). On the other hand, the report writer created fairly bold, even strokes, reminiscent of a professional writer, such as a clerk or secretary. However, Herb Marsh, Jr., a lawyer and Billy the Kid buff, says that it's unlikely that JP's in the New Mexico of the time had secretaries or clerks to write their legal documents for them (Marsh, 2012).
Did Garrett write it?
The statement in the report that “he [Garrett] is worthy of being rewarded” (Segura, 1881) goes beyond the bounds of what an inquest report should contain. Garrett would have had the best motive to have included such a statement, so let us see if he could have written the report.
Karen Mills, Lincoln County Historical Records Clerk, told me that Garrett frequently had his deputies write documents for him, so as a handwriting sample I chose a document in which he complains to the county commissioners that he hasn’t been paid his sheriff’s salary ($100.00!) for the latter half of 1882. Such a personal document, I reasoned, would have been unlikely to have been written by a deputy.
The Garrett handwriting sample I chose is not a signature, but is from the body of the document. Since the report writer did write “Pat. F. Garrett” in the Inquest Report, we can compare the two directly. Garrett has a big upper zone (compare the differences between the heights of the upper- and lowercase letters between the report and Garrett’s handwriting). Also, note the way the letter ‘F’ is made. The report writer unites the lower crossbar of the ‘F’ with a loop at the bottom of the upright, whereas Garrett’s lower crossbar seems like an independent stroke. There are likewise differences in the upper crossbar, with Garrett’s uniting with the top of the upright, and the report writer’s being an independent stroke, with a loop on the left which isn’t part of Garrett’s ‘F’.
Although comparisons of such small samples of handwriting should be cautiously labeled “inconclusive”, these differences suggest Garrett didn’t write the report either.
Did Charles Frederick Rudulph write it?
Charley Rudulph, heretofore mentioned only in passing, was Milnor’s oldest child, around 20 years old in 1881, and had been a member of Garrett’s posse when they captured Billy at Stinking Springs. Later, he wrote the two poems about Billy which are featured in Los Bilitos, so it stands to reason that he would have been interested in accompanying his father when Segura came to fetch him for the inquest.
He was too young to serve on the jury, but his occupation is listed as “clerk in store” in the 1880 census, so he could probably write well. Like Pete Maxwell, he had an Anglo father and Hispanic mother, so was undoubtedly fluent in both English and Spanish. It would have been convenient for JP Segura to have someone who was not on the jury to serve as their secretary. To my knowledge there’s no eyewitness evidence that Charley attended the inquest; however, let us examine a handwriting sample (from the manuscript of the poem Muerte del Afamado Bilito).
I have chosen two words to compare, because they were written in both the report and the poem. First, “Rudulph”, the same word compared with Milnor’s signature earlier, now compared with Charley’s signature at the poem’s end. The ‘R’ has a more prominent initial loop in the poem, but the report has one too. The slants of the upper strokes of all letters are similar. The ‘p’ has a prominent upper stroke in the report, while the one in the poem has a less prominent, though still present, one. Overall, it would appear that common authorship cannot be excluded. It should also be noted that the ‘F’ in Charley’s signature bears a striking resemblance to the ‘F’ in “Pat. F. Garrett” in the report.
Next, observe the word “corazon” (“heart” in English). The resemblance of the ‘c’ is striking. Though the word occurs in mid-sentence in both documents, the ‘c’ has been written large enough that it could be uppercase. Also, in both documents it has been written with a prominent loop in the upper right. All other letters in the word look similar, except the ‘z’. The ‘z’ in the report has a peculiar bump in the top. Examination of the many other z’s in the report shows that the writer was very consistent in this regard.
Who cares who wrote it?
Of the handwriting samples I examined, Charley Rudulph’s matches the report most closely, though the case for him is weakened by the difference in z’s discussed above. However, here’s the most important point to be remembered from this long discussion: The report is legally valid if the signatures are valid, regardless of who wrote it. The use of the typewriter appears to have been unknown in the New Mexico of the time; all legal documents examined by me are handwritten. However, as in Garrett’s case, people who had to do much paperwork often got others to do the writing for them. A comparable situation in the present would be a lawyer who has a secretary type a deed for him, then has the seller sign it. The deed is legally valid, even though the seller didn’t write it himself.
I have identified some, not all, of the challengers to the Inquest Report. I have tried to be objective to them, not dismissive as others have been. I have investigated those challenges which I felt could be investigated, and, hopefully, have shed some light into some dark corners. Maybe, I’ve also darkened some corners that were previously lit!
That said, I haven’t found any of the challenges I investigated to be at all compelling. However, I welcome feedback from readers concerning weaknesses in my analyses, or other challenges which could be investigated. Together, we can work our way toward the truth of what happened on that wild night in Old Fort Sumner.
Thanks be unto:
Vincent C’ de Baca, history professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver and Milnor Rudulph’s great-great grandson, for samples of Charles Frederick Rudulph’s handwriting
Lori Goodloe, President of the Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang, for early support and encouragement
Karen Mills, Lincoln County Clerk’s Office, for samples of Pat Garrett’s handwriting
Melba Valdez, my wife and Milnor Rudulph’s great-great granddaughter, for computer graphics and photographic support
Anaya, A.P. (Paco). I Buried Billy, ed. James H. Earle. College Station, Tex.: Creative Pub. Co., 1991.
Branch, Louis Leon, and Charles Frederick Rudulph. Los Bilitos: The Story of Billy the Kid and His Gang. New York: Carlton Press, 1980.
Brininstool, E. A. 1919. Billy the Kid. The Wide World; The Magazine for Everybody, December, -104.
Foor, Charles W. 1927. Diagram Old Ft. Sumner N. Mex. in 1881. In Anaya, A.P. (Paco). I Buried Billy, ed. James H. Earle. College Station, Tex.: Creative Pub. Co., 1991, 130-131.
Fulton, Maurice Garland. 1933. Epilogue. In Poe, John William. The Death of Billy the Kid. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006. Originally published: Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933.
Garrett, Pat F.(Patrick Floyd). The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, The Noted Desperado of the Southwest, Whose Deeds of Daring and Blood Made His Name a Terror in New Mexico, Arizona and Northern Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.
Garrett, Pat F. (Patrick Floyd). Pat F. Garrett's The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, with notes and commentary by Frederick Nolan, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Jameson, W. C., and Frederic Bean. The Return of the Outlaw, Billy the Kid. Plano, Tex: Republic of Texas Press, 1998.
Jameson, W. C. Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave. Dallas: Taylor Trade Pub., 2005.
Keleher, William Aloysius. Violence in Lincoln County, 1869-1881: A New Mexico Item. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1957.
Mann, E. B. (Edward Beverly). Billy the Kid. In Guns and the Gunfighters. New York: Bonanza Books, 1982.
Marsh, Herb Jr. [personal communication]. 2012.
New Mexico, and L. Bradford Prince. The General Laws of New Mexico. Albany, N.Y.: W.C. Little, 1880. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/31796716.html
Nolan, Frederick W. The West of Billy the Kid. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
Parker, Frank W. [Letter to J. F. Hinkle]. 15 December 1931. Frank W. Parker Papers, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, N.M.
Poe, John William. The Death of Billy the Kid. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006. Originally published: Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933.
Poe, John William. The Killing of Billy the Kid. [Letter to Charles Goodnight]. 10 July 1917. box 3C141, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Segura, Alejandro (?). [Inquest Report], 15 July 1881, trans. Daniel Conrad Jones. Frank W. Parker Papers, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, N.M.
Sonnichsen, Charles Leland, and William V. Morrison. Alias Billy the Kid: I want to die a free man…, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1955.
 The community was called Rincon del Tecolote (Tecolote for short) until 1883, when it was renamed Rociada.