Wild West

THEY CALLED HIM BILITO

The young man that Miguel Antonio Otero Jr. observed in the plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, appeared a cheerful beardless youth, not a desperate outlaw. He wore a sombrero tilted back atop a mop of light brown hair above sharp blue eyes, an aquiline nose and a thin upper lip that accentuated protruding front teeth and an often ready smile. Standing about 5 feet 9 inches tall with a slender frame, the youth was hardly imposing. Only the shackles linking him to fellow prisoner Dave Rudabaugh hinted at his status as a desperado who had wreaked havoc during the violent Lincoln County War two years earlier.

The date was Dec. 27, 1880, and the young man Otero had encountered was Billy the Kid (as newspapers had recently christened him). Having been captured by a posse led by recently elected Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett, the Kid awaited transport by train to Santa Fe, the territorial capital. So intrigued by the young outlaw was 21-year-old Otero that he would make the same train journey, along with older brother Page and father Miguel, during which he would befriend Bilito, as many Hispanos (Southwesterners of Spanish descent) affectionately called the Kid.

The younger Otero visited Billy in the Santa Fe jail, taking him cigarette papers, tobacco, chewing gum, candy, pies and nuts. “He was very fond of sweets and asked us to bring him all we could,” Otero recalled. “He was always in a pleasant humor when I saw him—laughing, sprightly and good natured.” Authorities soon transported Billy south to Mesilla for trial. In the months that followed he was sentenced to death by hanging, made an infamous jailbreak in Lincoln and, on July 14, 1881, met his end when surprised by Sheriff Garrett in Fort Sumner.

While Billy the Kid entered the annals of infamy, Miguel Antonio Otero

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