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"Billy the Kid" and the Maxwells

Billy the Kid, 1859-1881

After selling the Maxwell Land Grant and relinquishing his position as largest private landholder in America, Lucien B. Maxwell retired to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. He purchased the buildings of the old fort for $5,000 and crafted a new 20- room mansion from what had been the officers’ quarters, also remodeling other buildings at the old fort to house the many Mexican-American and Indian employees who moved their families so they could remain with him. Among his visitors at the new home were such legendary figures as Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight and New Mexico cattle baron John Chisum. But it was a legendary old West outlaw who left his mark most permanently on Maxwell’s home: Billy the Kid.


After Lucien Maxwell died, his Fort Sumner mansion became the home of his only son, Peter Maxwell. Pete continued managing the family's cattle and sheep ranching and was responsible for many employees, but he mostly lived quietly in the shadow of his then-famous father.


It was during that time that Fort Sumner became a popular hangout for Billy the Kid, and “The Kid” knew Peter Maxwell quite well. More importantly, he knew Pete's sister, Paulita, even better. She is thought to have probably been the main reason Billy stayed so close to Fort Sumner even when he knew that Sheriff Pat Garrett was breathing down his neck.


Billy the Kid was not a native westerner; rather, he was born on the east side of New York City, in 1859, as Henry McCarty. He moved west with his mother and stepfather, finally reaching New Mexico in 1873. By 1877, using the name William Bonney, he had killed his first man and launched his brief but colorful career as an outlaw. Over the next four years, he became one of the most notorious of the Old West’s outlaws, weaving a legend which still fascinates observers of that period.


One night in mid-July 1881, Garrett burst into Peter Maxwell’s home at Fort Sumner looking for Billy the Kid. He woke Pete Maxwell and asked him if Billy was around. Just as he was asking, “The Kid,” who was visiting Paulita, sleepily stumbled into Pete’s bedroom and asked "Quien es?" ("Who is it?"). Sheriff Pat Garrett spun around, fired his gun, and killed Billy the Kid on the spot.


Lucien B. Maxwell’s home in Fort Sumner would have been significant enough for just having been the final home of the West’s largest land baron. It gained far greater infamy, however, as the place where one of the old West’s most famous outlaws was gunned down.

— Jim Maxwell, Woodway TX