Sensing an opportunity to be pardoned of all previous crimes, William Bonney – a man of many names, now best known as Billy the Kid – approached Governor Lew Wallace in 1878 and offered to stand as a prosecution witness. Bonney had recently observed the murder of a lawyer during the final stages of the Lincoln County War and Wallace, newly appointed as governor, was keen to make an impression. He agreed to Bonney’s plan, had him testify, and then reneged on his promise, refusing to pardon ‘the Kid’. Below is a letter sent to Wallace by the clearly frustrated outlaw, in which he reminds the governor of their previous agreement. Less than a month later he killed two guards and escaped from jail, just weeks before he was to be hanged.
Interesting fact: Whilst serving as governor, Lew Wallace wrote and released Ben-Hur.
Transcript follows. Other letters from Billy the Kid can be read here.
Santa Fe Jail New Mex.
March 29 1881
Gov. Lew Wallace
I wish you would come down to the jail and see me. it will be to your interest to come and see me. I have some letters which date back two years, and there are Parties who are very anxious to get them but I shall not dispose of them until I see you. that is if you will come imediately.
Wm H Bonney