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Billy the Kid's grave.
The cage can never keep Billy's spirit in, but it does keep ghoulish souvenir-hunters out.

Billy the Kid's Caged Grave

Field review by the editors.

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Not everyone believes that Billy the Kid was shot dead and buried in Fort Sumner, New Mexico -- but enough people do to make his grave one of the most visited of all Wild West burial plots.

Sign for Billy the Kid's Grave.
An outlaw's fate: bumped to second billing on his own historical sign.

Billy was -- probably -- killed on July 14, 1881, then carried a couple hundred yards to the Fort's old cemetery and buried with two of his gang members, who'd been killed only a few months earlier. The Kid's early wooden tombstones were subsequently stolen or destroyed, and the cemetery then flooded in 1889 and 1904, washing away all the headstones and probably redistributing all the bones.

Old-timers were asked to recall where Billy was buried. Depending on whose account you believe, they either pinpointed the exact spot or just made a wild guess.

Charles "Uncle Charlie" Foor, who gave tours of the graveyard, saved his tip money and paid for a single marble tombstone for the three outlaws, with the epitaph "Pals." That was in 1931. A year later the burial plot had be enclosed by a nine-foot-high chain-link fence to keep the headstone from being chopped to pieces by souvenir hunters.

1931 headstone for the Kid and his two outlaw Pals.

A Colorado stonecutter named James Noah Warner (1892-1962) read about the Fort Sumner cemetery and decided that Billy the Kid needed his own gravestone. He carved one with two crossed pistols, 21 notches for the men Billy had supposedly killed, and the epitaphs "Truth and History" and "The Boy Bandit King. He Died As He Had Lived." He then drove 400 miles from his home in Salida to Fort Sumner with the stone in the back seat of the family car. It was placed at the foot of Billy's grave on March 23, 1940, just in time for Easter Sunday.

Thus marked, Billy's grave lasted barely ten years. Warner's stone was stolen on July 6, 1950, just after a visit by Brushy Bill Roberts, who had claimed that he was Billy the Kid. The Billy the Kid Museum in town built a replica grave -- so that people would know what it had looked like -- but the original remained missing for 25 years. Then two visiting tourists revealed that they'd seen it in a pasture in Granbury, Texas. It was found there, hidden under an abandoned railroad boxcar.

Billy the Kid grave.
Billy didn't get this grave marker until nearly 60 years after he was dead.

Billy's tombstone -- which by now people thought had been there since 1881 instead of 1940 -- was returned to the Kid's grave on June 19, 1976. The town threw a huge party, with a Wild West bank robbery and square dancing on Main Street, and the stone was anchored to its concrete base with a steel safety cap. It wasn't enough. In February 1981 a truck driver with the CB handle "Billy the Kid" pried the stone loose with a crowbar, then drove it to his home in California. He was quickly apprehended, the gravestone was returned, and this time it was not only shackled in iron, but the entire cemetery plot was enclosed in a big cage, like something you'd see in a pro wrestling smackdown.

That put a stop to the grave rustlers. Billy's tombstone has remained in its Fort Sumner cemetery ever since, and the thefts even had a positive outcome -- they spurred the creation of the Fort Sumner Billy the Kid Tombstone Race, an annual event where contestants run around carrying an 80 pound tombstone (the actual tombstone is 100 pounds), just like the thieves who stole Billy the Kid's.

A visitor to the Kid's grave today will usually find it festooned with tributes of coins and pebbles, and occasional cigarettes, whiskey bottles, large caliber bullets, and shotgun shells, often deftly placed through the bars of the cage. "It's pretty crazy to see," said Gerald Cline, executive director of the Fort Sumner Chamber of Commerce, whose office is next to the cemetery and who cleans (and archives) offerings from the Kid's grave nearly every day. "Sometimes I come down here late at night if I've forgotten something," he said, "and there'll be people out there, walking around with flashlights. Stuff like that happens all the time."

Also see: Billy the Kid: Baddest Punk in the West

Billy the Kid's Caged Grave

Old Fort Sumner Cemetery

Billy the Kid Drive, Fort Sumner, NM
Billy's real grave is three miles east of town on US Hwy 60/84, then south three miles on Billy the Kid Drive. On the right, in Old Fort Sumner Cemetery.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Billy the Kid Museum and Replica GraveBilly the Kid Museum and Replica Grave, Fort Sumner, NM - 5 mi.
One Man's Privately-Built Rest AreaOne Man's Privately-Built Rest Area, Lake Sumner, NM - 15 mi.
Cowboy Rukus: Giant Cowboy CutoutsCowboy Rukus: Giant Cowboy Cutouts, Vaughn, NM - 45 mi.
In the region:
Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa, NM - 46 mi.

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