Albert Tietjen - Missionary and Colonizer" By Gary Tietjen,
Chapter 7 "Locomotives and Longhorns",
of our stories thus far rivals a story of New Mexico’s—nay, the
nation’s—best-known outlaw. It was reported that he was shot and killed
by Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881. There is an interesting tale of a mysterious
stranger who came to the Ramah country to live shortly after Billy the Kid was
“killed”. The man went under the name of John Miller and lived in the country
southeast of Ramah, around Cerro Alto.
In an interview with Atheling Bond, this author was told that when Billy the
Kid was shot by Pat Garrett, his body was turned over to the Mexican women for
burial. They found him still breathing and substituted for his body in the
coffin that of a Mexican man who had died the night before. One woman, Isadora,
carefully nursed him until he could be taken by night to Reserve (then
Milligan’s Plaza), where he recovered. His brush with death convinced him to
leave Lincoln County and to live under an assumed name in a very sparsely
populated area. In that way he made his way to the El Morro country under the
name of John Miller. Atheling and a friend, Rulon Ashcroft, had ridden all one
day around Cerro Alto. Night fell, and being many miles from home, the boys
decided to stop by and see if they could stay all night with John Miller.
Atheling said that
“After supper, we got to talkin’ about Billy the Kid. Course, he always said he
wasn’t Billy the Kid, but he told how many times Billy the Kid was shot. There
was a six-shooter hanging up on the wall, so I said, ‘What’s all those notches
on that six-shooter?’ He said, ‘Well, those represent the men I’ve killed.’ It
was about eight inches longer than an ordinary six-shooter. We got to talkin’
and he pulled off his shirt and showed us his back where he had been shot.
Where the shots came out there was a white spot about the size of a fifty-cent
piece. Where they went in they were about the size of a 22 bullet—the white
spot was real small. He had been shot about twelve times. You could tell real
plain which ones were shot in front and which ones were shot in the back.
“Then he got a rope and put it on his wrists and said, ‘Now tie me up. Tie this
like you was puttin’ hand cuffs on.’ So I tied it tight like I was hobblin’ a
horse. He just turned his hands and rolled it down off his arms just like that.
‘Now’, he said, ‘Billy the Kid could do that.’ The next morning when we went to
feed the horses, his wife said in Spanish, ‘His name is not John Miller, his
name is Billy the Kid.’ She couldn’t talk a word of English. She told us how
when he was shot and wounded she took care of him and had hid him in a straw
mattress when the officers had come into her house. Her name was Isadora.
“When we got ready to go, he came out and there was a hawk flew over and he
said, ‘See that hawk?’, and he never took aim or nothin’, just shot from the
hip and that hawk came right down. We got to talkin’ about shootin’ and he told
Rulon, ‘Now throw that hat up in the air and if it ain’t got five bullet holes
in it when it comes down, I’ll buy you a brand new Stetson hat.’ So Rulon said,
‘Why, you can’t do that—nobody can put five bullet holes in a hat in the air
like that.’ So he threw that hat up and when he picked it up, it had five
bullet holes in it—and it wasn’t so that they come in one way and went out the
other—there was five holes in it.
“John Miller used to go over and visit old Herman Tacklanburg a lot. My Dad and
I went over there one night and Tacklanburg gave us a bed and him and John
Miller sat out there on a log all night long and talked. Next morning John
Tacklanburg told my Dad that Miller was Billy the Kid, but he was tryin’ to do
right now and goin’ under a different name, but not to cross him and you won’t
have any trouble with him. All the outlaws were acquainted with John Miller.
There was a Carl Manning that stayed with him quite a bit. He told Miller that
he was going to steal this one horse from my Dad, and Miller said, ‘Why are you
going to do that? These are poor people and that’s all they have.’ Manning said
that didn’t make no difference, he liked that horse and was going to steal him.
So John Miller came in and told my Dad and Dad put a chain around the stable
door and put a lock on it. The next night after John Miller was there, he went
down there in the night and found the chain nearly filed through.”
A reporter from Gallup interviewed Tacklanburg in his later years and heard his
story. As a stowaway from Germany he came to this country and worked his way to
the Ft. Sumner area where he knew Billy the Kid as a youngster. Later both of
them came to the Ramah area and Tacklanburg recognized Bonney but kept his
identity close. The story of Billy the Kid being around Ramah precedes Atheling
and involved Ernest’s family. Tom McNeill told Warren Child that while the
Tietjens were living in Savoyeta Canyon a group of outlaws came by and demanded
a meal. Emma O. was alone at the house. During the conversation she got very
mad about some remark that one of the outlaws made and she picked up a bowl and
hit him over the head hard enough to break the bowl. The outlaw took it
gracefully. Later she was told that she had hit Billy the Kid over the head.
This was sometime prior to the time they moved to Bluewater. If it was Billy,
it was characteristic of him. He was always in a good humor, and always
courteous to the women.
Another part of the story came from a Navajo who worked for Adrian Berryhill.
This Navajo, Max Miller, had been adopted as a child by John Miller and raised
by him. My brother, Joe Tietjen, worked with Max. On several occasions, when
Max had started to drink, he told Joe and Adrian that Billy the Kid was his
dad. Perhaps he had been warned not to tell this and it was only when liquor
loosened his tongue that he let it out. This story of John and Max Miller was
well known to Gene Lambson and to the Crocketts who lived near Miller. It is
recorded in a forthcoming book by Helen Airy of Albuquerque.
In partial vindication of this story we have evidence from a number of sources
that Billy the Kid did not die that night in Ft. Sumner. There were a number of
people who did not believe the account given by Pat Garrett, partly because
Garrett was not wholly reliable as a witness. One of these was a Mr. Poe, a
cattleman who drove cattle from Coleman County, Texas, to Lincoln County. Poe
was a cousin of the John Poe who was present when Billy was killed. Poe was
interviewed by D.D. Sharp in 1938 as part of the Federal Writer’s Project. The
interviewer wrote that Poe
“doubts very much if Pat Garrett really killed Billy the Kid. For one thing he
says that Frank Coe told him some six or eight years ago that he (Coe) could
saddle his horse at sunrise at his ranch on the Ruidoso, near the resort there,
and eat supper with the Kid at sundown.”
It must be admitted that Frank Coe was an important witness. He knew the Kid
well and had often ridden with him.
Billy the Kid’s body was turned over to friendly Mexican women, moved to the
carpenter shop and buried as soon as possible next day. A key point is when the
body was moved. Deputies Poe and Rudolph say the body was moved the night of
the shooting. The coroner’s jury said they examined it the next morning in
Maxwell’s room, so someone who was there is not telling the truth. So angry
were some of the residents of Ft. Sumner over the killing that Garrett and his
men barricaded themselves in a room that night for fear of an attack. A story
that has recently surfaced (Arizona Highways, July, 1891) tells how Garrett
took Billy’s girlfriend captive, and when Billy came into the room, they shot
Poe mentions Perry Carney who was the right hand man of Pat Coglin, cattle
king, who lived at Tularosa. The little Irishman worked for him and received
the stolen cattle the Kid brought. He says,
“Perry Carney told me and two Mexicans told me the Kid positively was not
killed. Carney told me the Kid came over and got a saddle after Pat Garrett was
supposed to have killed him”.
Another story that Billy was not dead was told by Ben Kemp.32 Kemp had made the
acquaintance of Henry Cox at Ft. Davis. When he next saw Cox,
“They told him that after leaving Fort Davis, they had moved to White Oaks, New
Mexico where they had lived for two years. During this time, Henry Cox’s
daughter, Tibitha, married a cowboy by the name of John Collins. Later, the
family learned that Collins had been a friend of Billy the Kid. He had warned
the Kid against going to Pete Maxwell’s house in Ft. Sumner on the night of
July 14, 1881, when Sheriff Pat Garrett supposedly killed him. Collins claimed
the next day he helped bury the corpse of the man Garrett killed and it was not
Billy the Kid.”
While John Miller was an impressive outlaw, and it is possible that he was
Billy the Kid, there is so much evidence to the contrary that we take the story
with a grain of salt.
Excerpt from "Ernst Albert
Tietjen - MISSIONARY and COLONIZER" By Gary Tietjen, Reprint Edition,
2003, Copyright 1992, 2003 by Gary Tietjen, The United States of America,
All rights reserved