Albuquerque Museum exhibit gives inside look at rare artifacts including ‘Billy the Kid’ letters

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Rare pieces of New Mexico history are coming to life in a new exhibit here in town, including items from an infamous outlaw. ‘A Past Rediscovered’ brings in hundreds of items from centuries of New Mexico history to the Albuquerque Museum.

“What you’ll see in this exhibition is an incredible journey through time that’s told through a whole variety of objects,” said Josie Lopez, Curator of Art at the Albuquerque Museum. “It really spans the whole history of New Mexico beginning in the 1700s and going through to some of the most contemporary objects that are held in the Palace of the Governors collection.”

‘A Past Rediscovered’ includes priceless pieces of history from the Palace of the Governors, now immortalized for the public at the Albuquerque Museum.

“There’s culture, there’s conflict, there’s art, there’s beauty, but there’s also challenging moments in history,” said Lopez.

Items in the exhibit include photographs as early as 1843, just years after the invention of photography, as well as a rare battle tapestry on bison hide from the early 1700s, a printing press and more.

As you walk through, each color symbolizes a different era. In the green, you’ll see an old penny farthing bicycle, classic dresses, and a set of letters signed by William H. Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid.

“In the first letter, he is basically saying, ‘I have witnessed this murder and I would like to testify in court in exchange for my freedom,'” said Lopez, who explains it was written shortly before he was captured, then escaped custody. “In the second letter that he writes, he still wants to somehow make a deal. So he writes again and says, can we please meet again to discuss some kind of an arrangement? It turns out that second letter was written just a couple of months before he ended up being killed in the infamous kind of battle scene.”

Addressed to New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace, the letters filled with lines of articulate penmanship ask for mercy and freedom—things he would not get before he was killed.

“One of the questions I get when I discuss those letters with our audience is, ‘Did he really write those? Because the penmanship is beautiful,'” said Lopez. “His mother was actually a school teacher in Silver City, so Billy the Kid was actually pretty literate.”

The museum says these letters, along with dozens of items from that era, provide an interesting perspective to what we think about history.

“We make assumptions that these were sort of gun-slinging outlaws, but they had their own interesting histories with their families and their pasts,” said Lopez.

As the journey through New Mexico history takes us from the 1700s to recent years, curators hope locals and visitors will come to see these treasured items for themselves. The exhibit will only be available for a limited time.

“I hope audiences will take this opportunity to see some of these objects that come from one of the most important collections in New Mexico,” said Lopez.

This weekend, the museum is hosting a lecture open to the public, based around one of the items in the exhibit, the printing press used for the Taos literary journal Laughing Horse. You can catch the lecture at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and the lecture is free with the cost of museum admission. The exhibit will be in place until Oct. 20.

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