By Darrell Todd Maurina
Fort Sumner Mayor Raymond Lopez on Tuesday accused the De Baca County sheriff of “trying to cause a war in De Baca County, city versus county” over testing a body buried in Fort Sumner Cemetery to see if it is really Billy the Kid.
In a press release, city officials object to an ongoing effort to exhume the bodies of Billy the Kid and his mother, Catherine Antrim, characterizing their efforts as “cheap stunts designed to further the personal interests of Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan, De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves and Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall.”
Lopez said that despite a large amount of documented evidence proving Billy the Kid was killed and buried in De Baca County, Sullivan, Graves and Sederwall continue to try to prove otherwise.
“What are their motives?” Lopez asked. “It appears they want to rewrite history and make themselves a part of it. Apparently, they feel they can make money from this. But who is paying the tab? The taxpayers will pay for it, on both sides.
“It’s a waste of time and money and you would think these men would spend their time doing their jobs in the communities that pay them.”
Reached at home Tuesday night, Graves denied Lopez’ accusations and said he wants to prove Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner. Graves said the controversy dates back to Lopez being unhappy that Graves defeated an incumbent sheriff in the 2002 election.
“Mayor Lopez is claiming we have spent oodles and gobs of money, and we haven’t spent any money at all of the state or of the county,” Graves said.
Graves said he has 20 years of law enforcement experience and took personal offense to statements by Lopez that he wasn’t doing his job.
“Mayor Lopez says you’d have to have a search warrant to find our officers, but (Sunday) when we had the armed robbery, we were on the street looking for the suspect before his own officer in Fort Sumner was out,” Graves said. “Mayor Lopez has wanted to build his own police department and this issue has just exploded.”
One issue on which Lopez and Graves do agree is that Fort Sumner’s reputation as the final resting place of Billy the Kid is at stake. Two other towns, one in Arizona and one in Texas, claim that Billy the Kid was not killed in 1881 by Sheriff Pat Garrett and is actually buried in their communities.
Graves said the whole point of his desire to dig up the bodies is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner.
“We’re already up about 40 percent in tourism since we started this Billy the Kid incident back in June,” Graves said. “We plan on this getting interesting. Sederwall has proceeded to contact legal assistance and we plan to have Catherine Antrim out of the ground by the middle of next month, and prove once and for all that Billy the Kid is buried here.”
Sullivan, the Lincoln County sheriff, and Sederwall, the Capitan mayor, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.