With a long day of driving ahead of us, likely close to ten hours, we made sure to get an early start from Portales. The donuts we’d purchased and hastily consumed combined with some high-test coffee fueled the first part of the drive and before we knew it we passed some signs indicating a turnoff for the Old Fort Sumner Cemetery, home to the grave site of Billy the Kid. Honestly, who can pass this up? So off we went for ten miles or so to arrive at the Cemetery.
Fort Sumner was a military fort charged with the internment of Navajo and Mescalero Apache populations from 1863 to 1868 at nearby Bosque Redondo. In 1862, Congress authorized the construction of the fort to offer protection to settlers in the Pecos River valley from the Mescalero Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche. It also resulted in the creation of the Bosque Redondo reservation, a 1,600-square-mile area where over 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apaches were forced to live because of accusations that they were raiding white settlements near their respective homelands.
The reservation was to be self-sufficient, while teaching Mescalero Apache and Navajo how to be modern farmers but the project was eventually abandoned due to the failure of the corn crop in 1867 and generally poor conditions such as insufficient water and too little firewood for the numbers of people who were living there. As a result, the Mescalero soon ran away and the Navajo who did stay longer eventually were permitted to return to their native lands. In 1868. A hundred years after the signing of the treaty that allowed the Navajo people to return to their original homes in the Four Corners Region, Fort Sumner was declared a New Mexico State Monument in 1968.
Fort Sumner was abandoned in 1869 and purchased by rancher and cattle baron Lucien Maxwell., who rebuilt one of the officers’ quarters into a 20-room house. We visited the cemetery next door where Billy the Kid (born Henry McCarty; September 17 or November 23, 1859) is buried, along with his sidekicks, Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. Billy started out simply as a robber, but after killing a blacksmith during an altercation in August 1877, he became a wanted man in Arizona and returned to New Mexico, where he joined a group of cattle rustlers. He became well known in the region when he joined the Regulators and took part in the Lincoln County War of 1878 and later, he and two other Regulators were later charged with killing three men, including Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady and one of his deputies.
McCarty’s notoriety grew in December 1880 when the Las Vegas Gazette, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and The Sun, in New York City, carried stories about his crimes. Sheriff Pat Garrett captured McCarty later that month and in April 1881, he was tried for and convicted of Brady’s murder and was sentenced to hang in May of that year. He escaped from jail on April 28, killing two sheriff’s deputies in the process and evading capture for more than two months., until Garrett shot and killed him, by then age 21, at the Maxwell House on July 14, 1881
We spent a short amount of time at the cemetery, just enough to walk its small circumference and view Billy’s grave, and then climbed back in the car to resume our journey, which would be delayed by an hour or more due to construction on I-40 with no ability to drive around it. Late in the day we arrived in Flagstaff at the Best Western Pony Soldier Inn. Under different circumstances we would have preferred to be closer to downtown, perhaps at the Hotel Weatherford as we’ve done before, but as this was just a stop between two long days of driving, it made sense to stay on the outskirts of town closer to the interstate.
This is an older, well-maintained facility and beyond the fact that again we were upgraded to a two-room suite, the best bonus is that we got the night for free due to the loyalty points we’d accumulated, one upside of being diligent about concentrating your purchasing decisions around those providers with reward programs. Basically, they all do and if the pricing is competitive, why not be loyal?
As it had been a long day, we again opted to not climb back into the car and instead ordered takeout from Satchmo’s, a great BBQ joint within walking distance. Our order of smoked beans (finished with beef and pork ends), bread pudding (deep fried), a pint of jambalaya (ham, andouille sausage, and veggies), and a small order of fried catfish bites, was possibly one of the best meals of the trip. Now perhaps it was just a result of a long day on the road and running into to good food, but you can bet when we’re in Flagstaff again (as will no doubt happen many times in the future), this will be a must stop for us.
Fort Sumner: https://www.nmhistoricsites.org/bosque-redondo
Best Western Pony Soldier Inn: https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-rooms.03002.html?iata=00171880&ssob=BLBWI0004G&cid=BLBWI0004G:google:gmb:03002
Billy the Kid attribution By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) – Billykid.jpg,