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“A Well-Mannered Bandit and a Killer”: Little Berta Ballard Remembers Billy the Kid

The New Deal tried to end the Depression by spending government money to employ the jobless. One of its most ambitious efforts, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), put 8.5 million people to work between 1935 and 1943, mostly on projects that required manual labor, but also on projects for artists, writers, actors, and musicians. At its peak, the Federal Writers Project employed about 6,500 men and women, some of whom later became famous. In the late 1930s the project’s writers began a series of “life histories,” recording the experiences of diverse Americans from Florida to Alaska. Sometimes they recorded people’s words verbatim; other times they rewrote them into narratives. In this example, Berta Ballard Manning recalled meeting the famous outlaw “Billy the Kid” as a child in New Mexico. He was unassuming and gentle, with good manners, but she also remembered him as a bandit and killer who kept their county in turmoil

Pioneer Story

Child Friend of Billy The Kid

Little Berta Ballard

(Given by Berta Ballard Manning)

"I was a child, age ten years, when we came from [?] Griffin Texas in 1879 with our parents, A. J. Ballard and Katherine Redding Ballard and settled in Fort Sumner New Mexico.

"The homes of all the families at the fort were built around the patio, and there was a store where liquor was sold, which contained kegs of gun-powder. One day there was a set of drunken man who proceeded to shoot up the place, because the proprietor of the store refused to sell them more whiskey. A keg of powder was lit by a shot, exploded and the store and our home were demolished.

“We then moved to Lincoln and were living there when ”Billy the Kid" killed Ollinger and Bell and made his escape. However I did not see the shooting. I don’t see how my mother ever stood the excitement and anxiety of those wild lawless days. Of course we children didn’t realize the danger of the outlaws shootings and escapades, that kept the old town of Lincoln in a constant turmoil.

"Yes I remember Billy the Kid real well, He was not rough looking and was very quiet [unassuming?] and friendly. I never saw anything ugly about him or in his manners.

[I ] was a ['?] special child friend [of?] Billies," He took [me?] on his lap and petted me when he came frequently to our home.

"He was kind and could be a good friend, but I am sure we should not make a hero of Billy, for after all he was a bandit and a killer.

“Billy was killed July 14–1881 at Fort Sumner by Pat Garret—in execution of his duty as sheriff—the following year after we moved to Lincoln.We had moved to [Roswell?] when Billie was killed. ”Pat Garret was a brave man, he knew it was Billies life or his, for the boy would [a] never have been taken alive. So to Pat Garrett we owe the accomplishment of freeing New Mexico of a dangerous out-law and killer."

Source: Life History Collection at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; see Web site at