The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/1998-04-03/523121/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, April 3, 1998, Columns


A statue of Billy the Kid by Hico artist James Rice points down Main Street of the town that was the final home of Brushy Bill Roberts, who claimed to be the famous outlaw

photograph by Gerald E. Mcleod

Billy the Kid was killed at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, but died in Hico, Texas, according to Texas legend. Judge Bob Hefner, justice of the peace in Hico, says he has proof that Billy the Kid died in 1950 of a heart attack four days shy of his 91st birthday.

In 1986, Hefner, who published the local newspaper at the time and runs a print shop, printed a booklet telling the story of Brushy Bill Roberts, who claimed to be Billy the Kid. The booklet created a stir when the Dallas Morning News ran a story about it.

Brushy Bill Roberts showed up in North Central Texas west of Waco sometime in the mid-1900s - first in Comanche, then the county seat of Hamilton, and then he spent the last years of his life around Hico. The old man worked on area ranches and for many years would not publicly admit any connection with the outlaw.

It was not until 1948 that Brushy Bill's past caught up with him. William Morrison was an investigator working to settle an estate for a man who claimed to have been a participant in New Mexico's Lincoln County War. When asked if he was the last survivor, the man claimed that Billy was alive in Texas.

Intrigued by the possibility of finding Billy the Kid alive, Morrison's search lead to Hico. When confronted, Brushy Bill at first denied being the outlaw, but after persistent questioning, he relented. Bill agreed to tell his story if Morrison would help him get a pardon and that there be no publicity.

"Brushy Bill had no children and was at the end of his life," Hefner says, "fame and fortune were not a consideration for the old man." In 1950, Brushy Bill and Morrison met with the governor of New Mexico who turned the event into a circus, but never granted a hearing or a pardon.

In 1955, Morrison and El Paso historian C.L. Sonnichsen published Alias Billy the Kid, Brushy Bill's story. The book is out of print and highly collectable.

After the publication of his pamphlet recapping the local story, Hefner began receiving calls from around the world asking for more information, so he began doing some serious research of his own. "I had some questions too," he says.

Over the next 12 years, Hefner and an associate reviewed every claim that Brushy Bill made. "We can verify 95 percent of Brushy Bill's story," Hefner says. "In all of our research we never found a lie, not even an exaggeration."

Piecing together the true story of Billy the Kid is nearly impossible, as there are so many versions. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction - from what his real name was to how many men he killed.

The Hico legend says that Billy the Kid's real name was William Henry Roberts and he was born in New York City. His father left the family to join the Civil War, and his mother died soon after. Young Billy lived with an aunt for a few years until he drifted west, including a three-year stint on his father's homestead outside of Hico.

When Pat Garrett fired his six-shooter at Fort Sumner that July night in 1881, the legend maintains, he killed a friend of Billy's, but claimed it to be Billy in order to collect the $500 reward. By most accounts, Billy was tired of the violence by this time and was trying to secure a pardon from the governor.

At the urging of friends, he took advantage of the report of his death and moved to Mexico. Hefner thinks that the time he spent with his father was the only time Billy the Kid really had a home. "I think he drifted back home to die," Hefner says of why Billy would choose Hico.

Hefner has gathered his research for display at the Billy the Kid Museum on Main Street in Hico. He says it takes a few minutes to skim over the materials or all day to read everything, including a rare copy of Alias Billy the Kid.

Hefner has written three books of his own on the subject of Brushy Bill Roberts. The Hico Legend of Billy the Kid, The Trial of Billy the Kid, and Billy the Kid, Killed in New Mexico and Died in Texas.

The museum is open 8am-4pm, Monday-Saturday. Hefner is usually in the back in the print shop. "If it's locked up, hang around - we're probably just out for coffee," he said. For information on the museum or to order the books, call the print shop at 254/796-4244.

Looking like a set from a Western movie, Hico nearly disappeared after the five cotton gins closed. When the Jersey Lilly Cafe opened in 1994, there were only four or five other businesses left in the once-bustling community.

"The tourism committee has been working real hard," says Janet Allen. With the increase of visitors, shops have filled the storefronts. The town now has 10 antique shops. Cowboy artist Bobby Kerr opened the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the back of his gallery, honoring rodeo cowboys.

Besides the Mexican food at the Jersey Lilly, Hico has become a center of local cuisine. The Hide Out Cafe is open on weekends and has restored the drugstore soda fountain. The Witt's End Tea Room has sandwiches during the week in the same building. The Coffee Cup Cafe at US281 and TX6 is popular for coffee breaks and with deer hunters who wouldn't miss a chance to sample their pies. For snacks try the Wiseman House Chocolate Factory and gift shop.

Local lodging can be obtained at the Indian Mountain Bed & Breakfast outside of town or the Rock House B&B in town. For information on Hico, call the tourist committee at 800/361-HICO.


Coming up this weekend...

Billy the Kid Day in Hico celebrates Brushy Bill Roberts and the Old West with lots of fun in downtown, Apr. 4. 254/796-2686.

Roughneck Chili and Barbecue Cookoff brings cooks, classic cars, crafts, and a full day of entertainment to Luling, Apr. 4. 830/875-3214.

Bluebonnet Kite Festival in San Marcos' River Ridge Park takes advantage of the spring winds, Apr. 4. 512/393-5900.

Fiddle Contest at the American Legion Hall in Llano lasts all day, Apr. 4. 915/247-5354.

Night Skies of the LBJ Ranch takes visitors to the highest point on the ranch to look through telescopes at the stars, Apr. 4. Cost is $3 and reservations required. 830/644-2420.


Coming up...

The DeWitt County Historical Museum at 312 E. Broadway in Cuero will have a wildflower exhibit plus maps of where to find the best stands of flowers, thru Apr. 30. 512/275-9942.

State Motorcycle Rally roars through Hico with special events, Apr. 11. 254/796-2424.

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