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The three-day Billy the Kid Festival was held in the Las Cruces Rio Grande Theatre February 24-26, 2023.

The Festival opened Friday night, February 24, with THE TRIAL OF BILLY THE KID, written by David G. Thomas and directed by award-winning cinema director Ross Marks. The play dramatized the trial of Billy the Kid, real name William Henry McCarty, accused of the first degree murder of Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady in Lincoln, New Mexico, on April 1, 1878. Billy the Kid’s real-life trial for that killing took place in the Doña Ana Courthouse in Mesilla, New Mexico, on April 6, 1881.

The play was written so that after the presentation of the evidence against Billy the Kid for Brady’s killing, and the closing arguments of the prosecution and defense attorneys, the entire audience decided Billy’s fate. The play had a different ending depending on whether the audience jury voted Billy guilty or not guilty.

The second day of the Festival featured original Western music by CROW AND KARLA (Dan Crow, Karla Steen, Steve Smith, and Anne Luna).

The third day offered a matinee performance of THE TRIAL OF BILLY THE KID.

The Festival was well covered by the press:

Billy the Kid Festival Brings History to Life

Innocent or guilty? Dive into the Wild West at the Billy the Kid Festival

Billy the Kid Found Not Guilty by Today’s Audience

“On Friday and Sunday, February 24 and 26, a play re-enactment of ‘The trial of Billy the Kid’ brought the past into the Rio Grande Theatre as directed by Ross Marks. While William Antrim (Billy the Kid) was found guilty at the time, April 6, 1881, the modern-day audiences at the theater found him innocent both nights.”

“‘The Trial of Billy the Kid really exceeded my expectations in terms of the tense courtroom drama and tremendous audience response,’ Marks said. ‘It really whetted my appetite to take it to other theaters (he’s already in talks with Ruidoso and Silver City) and turning it into a film. The success of the play proves what I already knew, which is that there is a ton of talent right here in Las Cruces.’”

The Festival was sponsored by the Doña Ana County Historical Society and the Friends of Pat Garrett.

'Dirty Dave' Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid's Most Feared Companion - Book

“Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid’s Most Feared Companion

“Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid’s Most Feared Companion

By David G. Thomas

This book is about David Rudabaugh, a man whose life is both obscure and wildly mythologized.

Rudabaugh’s obscurity begins with the spelling of his surname. In the only U.S. census in which he appears, his name is spelled Radenbaugh. His father, in his Civil War service record, spelled his name Rodenbaugh. Rodebaugh is the spelling David uses in his first public document, his confession to an attempted train robbery. Yet, throughout his life, he answered to Rudabaugh, and was usually referred to as such in newspaper accounts and legal documents. That is also how most historians have chosen to spell his name.

“Dirty Dave,” a sobriquet whose original source is unknown, was never applied to Rudabaugh by contemporaries. Its use is relatively recent. The primary source that may have suggested the label is probably this statement in the December 27, 1880, Las Vegas Daily Optic:

“[Rudabaugh was] dressed about the same as when in Las Vegas [nine months earlier], apparently not having made any raids upon clothing stores.”

One of the oft-repeated myths about Rudabaugh is that in the early 1870s he was the leader of a gang of cattle rustlers in Texas (or in Arkansas in some accounts) –- and he even killed a man! In fact, as of March 1, 1875, Rudabaugh was living at home on a farm with his 46-year old, single mother and three younger siblings, two brothers and a sister.

The stories continue: that on leaving Texas, he became the boon companion of such famous Dodge-City personalities as Wyatt and Morgan Earp and John Henry “Doc” Holliday. Supposedly, he taught Doc Holliday how to fight with a gun (or a knife in some accounts). There is no evidence for any of that, and it is not true.

Another myth about Rudabaugh is that he was a “nasty, treacherous bully” who “stole and killed and brutalized people… Dirty Dave would try anything, as long as it was crooked.” Not true. Another fictitious accusation is that Rudabaugh shot a jailer in cold blood. The true account of jailer Antonio Lino Valdez’s fatal shooting is presented for the first time in this book, based on the never-before-published trial transcript. The unquestionable trial evidence shows that it was another man who shot the ill-fated jailer, not Rudabaugh.

Following the jailer’s killing, Rudabaugh fled. Now a wanted man, Rudabaugh teamed up with Billy the Kid and participated prominently in Billy’s final gun battles with authorities. (Rudabaugh and Billy had never met previously.) Famously, Rudabaugh was captured along with Billy at Stinking Springs by Deputy Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse.

After his capture, Rudabaugh was tried for Valdez’s killing and sentenced to death by hanging. He escaped jail and went to Mexico.

On February 18, 1886, Rudabaugh was killed by a Winchester rifle shot to the chest in Parral, Mexico, by a grocery man named José. Following his killing, Rudabaugh was decapitated by José. His head was placed on a pole and paraded around the Parral plaza. Present at Rudabaugh’s beheading was Albert W. Lohn, a nineteen-year-old photographer.

Lohn took four photographs of Rudabaugh’s decapitated head. The two negatives he printed were confiscated by Mexican authorities. The other two negatives remained in Lohn’s files for 57 years, entirely forgotten by him. The story of how these two negatives were acquired by an avid collector of Western memorabilia is given in this book.

Rudabaugh’s life story is mesmerizing. It is as adventurous as that of any Wild West figure. The events of his life include being both a wanted man and a lawman, a failed train robbery, two successful stage hold-ups, being sentenced to death by hanging, an ingenious jail escape, and an eight month association with Billy the Kid — an association that made him almost as famous in Wild West outlaw history as Billy.

194 pages, 45 images, many never published before. 194 pages.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-952580-20-8
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-952580-21-5

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2022 Will Rogers Medallion Award Winner

2020 Will Rogers Medallion Award Winner

The Trial of Billy the Kid named 2022 Will Rogers Medallion Award Winner, Western Maverick, Finalist.

Will Rogers was a respected writer and cowboy entertainer whose work embodied and demonstrated the traditions and values of the American cowboy. The Will Rogers Medallion Award was originally created to recognize quality works of cowboy poetry that honored the Will Rogers heritage, but has expanded to include other works of Western literature and film.

The awards competition takes place annually, and the awards ceremony is held every fall in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

Some things relating to the Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid and other characters involved in that period of time in Lincoln County, New Mexico, have proven to be elusive to historians and authors. A major one of these has been the 1878 Frank W. Angel report on the death of rancher John H. Tunstall.

It has been since 1976 when Lee Scott Thiessen wrote an article, “Frank Warner Angel’s Notes on New Mexico Territory 1878” for Arizona and the West (Vol. 18, No. 4, Winter, 1976), that much attention was paid to this important document. The obscure original document, 395 handwritten pages, has been difficult to access and only Thiessen’s notes have been generally available to historians.

Now comes Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid historian, David G. Thomas, with an account of Angel’s investigations into “Tunstall’s killing and the roles Governor Axtell and U.S Attorney Catron played…..” in this process.

Chapter six reveals the illegal attempt by Catron and Stephen Elkins to destroy the report. Appendix “A” provides brief biographies of the 71 men and women who had important roles in the Report events and Appendix “B” present a timeline of important events related to the Report.

All in all, this is an important contribution to Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid studies and is highly recommended.

— Roy B. Young, Wild West History Association Journal, June 2022

Water in a Thirsty Land

Water in a Thirsty Land – Ruth R Ealy – David G Thomas

Water in a Thirsty Land

by Ruth R. Ealy
David G. Thomas, Editor

“Water in a Thirsty Land” is a chronicle of Dr. Taylor Filmore Ealy’s 1874 to 1881 sojourn as a medical missionary in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and New Mexico Territory, compiled by his daughter Ruth R. Ealy, and privately issued in a limited edition of 40 copies.

The sources of Ruth’s account are her father’s extensive, contemporaneous diaries and his recollections and correspondence.

Dr. Ealy’s first assignment was Fort Arbuckle, Chickasaw Reservation, Oklahoma Territory. His second was Lincoln, New Mexico Territory. His final assignment was Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico Territory.

Dr. Ealy’s faithful accounts of his struggles and challenges at these — at the time — exotic locations make for fascinating reading. His daily records of eye-witnessed events in Lincoln are of exceptional historical value. He arrived in Lincoln on February 19, 1878, the day after John Henry Tunstall was murdered. The unprovoked, sadistic murder of Tunstall kicked off the bloody Lincoln County War. Dr. Ealy was present at Tunstall’s funeral, the killing of Lincoln County Sheriff Brady and Deputy Hindman, and the five-day shootout that ended with the firing of Alexander McSween’s home and the heinous slaughtering of McSween and four others as they frantically fled the blazing conflagration.

There are many details about the Lincoln County War in Dr. Ealy’s account not recorded in other sources. Here are examples:

  • Tunstall’s funeral was held at 3 pm. His bullet-holed, bloody clothes were lying on the dirty ground in McSween’s back yard during the service.
  • The Lincoln county jail when Sheriff Brady was shot was “a hole in the ground with a watch-tower over it.”
  • Sheriff Brady had handcuffs in his pocket when he was shot.
  • The book provides many details about Tunstall’s store: “The floors were good ones and the windows were large.” One room was “12 feet high, 18 feet long, and 18 feet wide, with a huge window and a door with a large glass in it.” That room was “large enough to hold three hundred people.” The store lot was five acres in size and fully fenced.
  • When the McSween house was fired during that 5-day shootout, one of Elizabeth Shield’s children stepped in the coal oil used to ignite the fire.
  • Among the items in McSween’s house destroyed by the fire were an elegant piano, a Brussels carpet, costly furniture, rich curtains, and fine paintings.
  • After Taylor testified at the Dudley Court of Inquiry, he was warned by anonymous note that he would be killed before he got back to his home in Zuni (a “coffin note”).

From Lincoln, Dr. Ealy went to Zuni Pueblo. There, he entered a long-isolated, deeply ethnocentric world that had not changed for hundreds of years. His keen observations are one of the primary, early sources of halcyon life in Zuni in 1878.

Dr. Ealy was in Zuni when the first James Stevenson anthropological expedition arrived in New Mexico. He knew well pioneer ethnologists such as Frank Hamilton Cushing, Matilda Coxe Stevenson, and Alfred Kroeber. He was present when John Karl Hillers took his famous photographs of Zuni Pueblo.

The Editor has added an extensive introduction, contextual notes, footnotes, appendices, and an index to the text of this extremely rare book.

Supplementing the text are 45 photos, including many photos never published before. 208 pages.

Available in both paperback and hardcover.

Paperback, ISBN 978-1952580109
Hardcover, ISBN 978-1952580116

Press Release: Water in a Thirsty Land

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall by David G. Thomas

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The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall - Book

The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

By David G. Thomas

“In the matter of the cause and circumstances of the death of John H. Tunstall….”

So begins the single most important contemporary document recounting the origins of the Lincoln County War. That document is the “Report of Special Agent Frank Warner Angel on the Death of John Henry Tunstall,” known today to historians as the “Angel Report.”

The 395-page, hand-written Report that Angel submitted on October 3, 1878, on Tunstall’s unprovoked, sadistic murder is published for the first time after 144 years in this book.

The Report documents the events leading to Tunstall’s murder – the testimony of the men present at the brutal killing – including Billy the Kid’s eye-witness account – and the violent consequences that followed.

It includes sworn accounts by William “Frank” Baker, Robert W. Beckwith, Henry N. Brown, James J. Dolan, William Dowlin, Pantaleón Gallegos, Godfrey Gauss, Florencio Gonzales, John Hurley, Jacob B. Mathews, Alexander A. McSween, John Middleton, Lawrence G. Murphy, John Wallace Olinger, Juan B. Patron, George W. Peppin, David P. Shield, Robert A. Widenmann, and 18 others..

Supplementing the Report are an extensive introduction, notes, contemporary documents, associated letters, biographical details, and a timeline.

The book also reveals the brazen attempt by two powerful politicians – Thomas Catron and Stephen Elkins – to destroy the Report, depriving history of its priceless contribution.

Forty six images, many never published before.

254 pages, paperback.

Paperback, ISBN 978-1-952580079
Hardcover, ISBN 978-1-952580055

Press Release – The Frank W. Angel Report on the Death of John H. Tunstall

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David G. Thomas is joining Dr. Robert Stahl, Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, for a panel discussion at the 2022 New Mexico-Arizona History Convention. The panel title is “Anything New on Billy the Kid?”

The 2022 Convention will be held April 7-9, 2022, at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, 4100 Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

SESSION 5A, April 9, 2022
Anything New on Billy the Kid?

Moderator: Heidi Osselaer has taught Southwest history and is the author of numerous articles and two books – Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics and Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight.
Presenters: David Thomas, Robert Stahl, and Nancy Stahl

“The Trial of Billy the Kid” – Based on the book about Billy the Kid’s trial for murder at the Doña Ana County Courthouse in Mesilla, this presentation will expand on some of the little-known events and issues of the trial and review issues such as the governing territorial laws, the charges, ask questions about his defense, the witnesses, jury, the trial judge. and whether the trail was fair. David Thomas is an author, historian, filmmaker, producer, actor, screenwriter, travel writer, and co-founder of the Pat Garrett Western Heritage Festival and Friends of Pat Garrett.

“Billy the Kid’s Escape from the Lincoln County Jail: What Really Happened?” – This paper will provide a detailed timeline of what happened, where, and why things happened during Billy the Kid’s escape from the Lincoln County Jail and the killing of James Bell. We will review the physical evidence and sequence of events as Billy planned them. Robert Stahl is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and after retirement is a full time Arizona and New Mexico historian. Nancy Stahl is retired from the position of Director of Gifted and Talented Education, Arizona Department of Education and a part-time researcher and editor.