Was Brushy Bill Roberts Billy The Kid?

New Meixco governor, Thomas Mabry, denied to Brushy Bill Roberts the pardon that had been promised, approximately, seven decades before, by Territorial Governon Lew Wallace, author of that great Christian novel, Ben-Hur.

   The law firm hired by Brushy Bill to represent him did, as far as I am told, a valiant job in gathering affidavits of knowledge of his likeness to Billy, but Governor Mabry was not convinced.

   However, I believe one very important source of evidence was inadvertently overlooked, understandably; and, since Brushy Bill has long been deceased, it cannot now be used int the way it should have been.

   During Lew Wallace's term of office, his wife, Sue, remained mostly at their home in Crawfordsville Indiana, and only visited him sporadically because of the territory was deemed unsafe.  But . . . Lew Wallace wrote letters to her virtually every day.  In some of those letters, he transcribed conversations that he had had with Billy The Kid during the Kid's incarceration as a State's witness, which was part of the deal to obtain the pardon, a deal brokered by Lew Wallace singlehandedly.  They tell me that, from time to time, Governor Wallace would have two suppers delivered to the jail, one for Billy and one for himself, and that they would engage in conversation long into the night.  I believe, but cannot prove, that the relationship between Judah Ben-Hur and Arrius the Roman was influenced by the Governon's sympathy toward Billy.  (As an adolescent, Wallace had been very truant, and I think he saw something of himself in Billy.)

   The letters Lew Wallace dispatched to Sue were desposited, decades ago, in the archives of the Library of the University of Indianapolis.  Accredited scholars can read them, and have.  If Brushy Bill Roberts had been asked to testify as to the substance of his conversations with Lew Wallace, as transcribed in his letters to Sue, he---Brushy Bill---woud have been able to win his case.  I do, and will continue to, fault Governor Mabry for not making a more thorough inquiry.  

     I have had the privilege of visiting the Lew Walace Study in Crawfordsville, IN, a structure he designed himself to house his library and memorablia, and the place where he went to read and study in his old age.  I have sat---without permission, I admit---in the old rocking chair in which he sat to write the first part of Ben-Hur before he had received his appointment to govern the New Mexico territory.  As an anecdote, they tell me that Sue was the inadvertent cause of the construction of the Study.  She was entertaining the church ladies, one afternoon, and Lew Wallace came into the room to retrieve something, while smoking one of the stinking cigars he favored.  These cigars, apparently, looked like thick dog turds, and were almost nauseatingly pungent, to others, in their odor.  As he walked through the room, and the church ladies began to cough, Sue stood up, yanked the cigar from his mouth, and threw it into a flowerpot full of flowers and water.  Not willing to put on a scene in front of her guests, he told her quietly, "That will never happen again," and began to plan the Study immediately.  

   If I might boast just a bit further, in the study hangs a full length portrait of a prepubescent princess, the daughter of the sultan, signed by an artist whose name appears to be H. Schmidt.  Despite the prohibitions in Turkey against portraiture, or the depiction of any living beings, the Sultan had quite an art collection.  He often entertained Lew Wallace, who was then serving as the American Ambassador to Turkey, socially.  Wallace was the only diplomat know to have shaken the hand of the Sultan, which became, at all times, an end to their parting ritual after a night's conversation.  Wallace, who had free admission to the Sultan's private art gallery, always ended up at the portrain of the princess, and he told the Sultan, repeatedly, that it was the finest portrait among the many the Sultan owned.    After returning to the States, in the aftermath of his party's loss of the presidency, Lew found the portrait, having been shipped from Istanbul to Crawfordsville, waiting for him (the portrait arrived before him as he and Sue toured the Holy Land after departing Istanbul)d.  Now, this is the part of my bragging.  I asked the curator of the Study if they had tried to locate information on the artist, H. Schmidt.  They said they had asked several experts in Germany and Austria, due to the name, but no one had heard of a major or minor artist by that name.  I suggested to them that the search among known artists would have proven futile, because a known ordinary artist would have been admitted to the presence of the Sultan, much less his daugther, who is depicted leaning back on a couch, clad in sumptuous clothing, and barefoot (one of her feet follow you around the room as you change perspective before the paining).  I suggested that Herr Schmidt had been, most likely, a diplomant and in that capacity might have caught a glimpse of the princess which he then committed to his canvas.


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patriciajj's picture

What a fascinating story,

What a fascinating story, packed with rare and obscure anecdotes that any lover of history would delight in. I believe an extension of your writing talent and imagination may be your detective skills: such an ingenious deduction you arrived at regarding the portrait! Perhaps someday someone may discover more information about the artist because of you. 


You also raised some very intriguing questions concerning the legendary outlaw and a unique friendship that factored into his life story.  





Starward's picture

Thank you very much, and

Thank you very much, and thank you for the encouraging compliment.  I am glad you enjoyed my small essay about Billy and Lew and Sue.


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