the youngster from Gatesville
knocked on the door, an old man wearing jeans, Western shirt, bandanna,
boots and an un-creased, round-brimmed Stetson answered.
A. J. Gordon told the man that his parents were in Hico
visiting some of his mother's relatives and that one of them had
suggested that he ought to go see a Mr. Roberts. A kindly seeming
man, Brushy Bill Roberts allowed as how that was him and invited
the boy inside.
"Mr. Roberts was a dapper elderly gentleman with white thinning
hair, sporting a well trimmed white mustache, and was very gracious
to me even though I was a stranger and there was a big difference
in our ages," Gordon later wrote in his self-published memoir, "The
World According to Jake: A Collection of Short Stories Describing
the Adventures and Misadventures of a Boy Growing Up in Central
In recalling his visit with the old-timer, Gordon had first expounded
on his kinfolks and the way kids were expected to behave around
adults in the 1940s and '50s-a version of the "children should be
seen, not heard" dictum. As for family, his was large. His mother,
particularly, "Had cousins that I...never saw and don't know to
this day, so no matter where you are we might find relatives that
you don't know about."
That explains why he happened to be in Hico
back in the late '40s-his mother had come to spend a little time
with her elderly aunt and uncle. "It took me no time to find all
that I needed to know about them," Gordon revealed. Not only that,
he quickly "grew tired of all the grown-up talk."
the boy was bored and restless, either his aunt or uncle, he didn't
say who, said he might enjoy meeting Mr. Roberts, who lived only
a few houses from them on West 2nd Street.
"I may have been a poor ol' country boy but I wasn't shy, so down
the street I went to Mr. Robert's house," he continued.-
Well, Mr. Roberts was no Mr. Rogers. It may have been a beautiful
day in the neighborhood, but Mr. Roberts did something Mr. Rogers
never would have done on his television show: He walked Gordon back
to his bedroom and showed the wide-eyed grade schooler the shiny
Colt .45 six-shooter he kept under his pillow. It was loaded, though
the hammer did at least rest on an empty chamber. If Mr. Roberts
let Gordon heft the weapon, he didn't mention it in his account
of the incident.
Gordon would be long grown before PBS's Mr. Rogers would famously
ask his millions of young viewers, "Did you know? Did you know?
Did you know it's alright to wonder?" But on that day in Hico,
Gordon did wonder why the grandfatherly Mr. Roberts felt the need
to have a pistol handy in a small town where most people didn't
even lock their doors.
Another thing the old man had intrigued the youngster almost as
much as the shooting iron, a set of well-worn leather cuff protectors
cowboys favored when roping.
After an enjoyable visit, Gordon walked back to his relative's house
and resumed being board. Not until he was older did he learn that
the old man he'd spent time with had for years been telling folks
in Hamilton County
that he had a secret maybe someday he'd talk about. Finally, in
1948, he "confessed" that he was Billy the Kid, not that guy they'd
buried at Fort Sumner, NM.
It being well documented that the Kid had been shot and killed by
Pat Garrett on July
14, 1881, only Brushy Bill's close friends and some who wished it
were so believed his story. Still, Roberts traveled to New Mexico
to ask the governor for a pardon. The governor said no.
Back in Hico,
Roberts was walking along a sidewalk toward the post office on Dec.
27, 1950 when he dropped dead of a heart attack. Since then, several
books have been written on the old man's wild claims and some people
still believe that the remains in BTK's grave are not his.
"The debate still goes on between the people of Hico
and the people of New Mexico as [to] who had the real Billy the
Kid, each claiming to be correct," Gordon wrote. "I don't really
care as I remember Brushy Bill Roberts as a man who would take time
to talk [to] and befriend a young boy."
Gordon wrote about his meeting with Brushy Bill and told other stories
in a manuscript he completed in 1998. Following his death in 2006,
his son had it published.
No serious student of Wild West history believes that Brushy Bill
Roberts was actually Billy the Kid, but there are some diehards
who are quite satisfied that the famed outlaw lived to old age and
died in Texas. And while his traditional gray granite tombstone
in the Hamilton cemetery identifies him as William Henry Roberts,
a large stone spanning two pillars on either side of his grave says
in big letters, "Billy the Kid."