Longform

THE KID IS ALL RIGHT

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"A lot of our organizations have been Anglo-oriented," said Bob Hart, director of the Lincoln County Heritage Trust. "The Hispanics are the people Billy the Kid felt safe with. Those families would be ideal subjects for future research. "The Hispanic community probably has watched all these silly Anglos running around, getting excited about all this stuff, when they know all the answers. In their time, at their pace, those answers will come forward."

Joe Salazar came forward for one day of the symposium, primarily to hear Herman Weisner's talk. Salazar's family has been saying for years that Billy had family in the area, and that they were it. Joe's grandpa, Yginio Salazar, was about the same age as Billy the Kid during the time he and Billy were friends (and, now, maybe cousins). Yginio was shot during one particularly hairy episode of the Lincoln County War, as he and Billy escaped from a burning house with guns blazing, but he survived and lived to be an old man.

Born and raised in Lincoln, Joe Salazar took off almost as soon as he could. He served in the Navy for a while, lived in California but moved back to town in 1976. He lives in his grandfather's house, on a ranch a couple of miles outside of Lincoln. There have been times when Joe Salazar has walked into his grandfather's living room to find a search party of Billy buffs making themselves at home. "Maybe they think it's a museum," he said. "Some Billy the Kid fans are at the point of being sick, you know," said Joe, who ranches and performs with a country band in area roadhouses. "It's kind of a problem to screen some of them.

"When I was a kid in school, Billy the Kid was about all I heard. There was a point when I was sick of hearing it. Now it means a lot more to me."

Perhaps someday Salazar will collaborate on a book about Billy's Hispanic roots, and commit to print some of the Salazar family theories. If so, Billy traditionalists are not going to like all of what they read. Salazar, separated from the real Billy the Kid by just one generation (Joe's mom--Yginio's daughter--still lives on the family ranch), isn't all that sure that the Kid is buried at Fort Sumner. Neither is he certain that Pat Garrett killed Billy in Pete Maxwell's house in 1881. He even questions the tintype. The Salazars have said for years that the guy in the photograph might not be Billy the Kid. "The people that really loved Billy, and I think a majority of 'em did, they didn't want him to die in Fort Sumner," said Joe Salazar. "Nobody wants their heroes to die, you know.

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Dave Walker