Our next stop was Lake Sumner State Park near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
As we turned off the highway we saw an interesting collection of memorials. We found that Ramond Samora has been placing memorials here since 2011. There are memorials to a number of veteran’s groups, military branches, and to those still missing in action.
We parked the trailer in a very large site that had a covered picnic table area designed for shade and wind break.
We sat there every day watching the storms as they rolled through.
Our site had easy access to our own little arm of the lake.
We finally got to use our inflatable paddle boards on a morning that was sunny and almost warm enough before it got windy. I have had the yellow paddle board for years and loved it. When we decided to buy a second paddle board this winter we opted to buy me a new one and Randy take the yellow one because it was a bit big for me to manhandle. My new board is smaller and lighter.
We explored other areas of the park that surround much of the lake.
Randy tried to see how this contraption might have worked carrying people or gear across the river. From this side it was clear enough – gravity works. He never did figure out how it would return but it likely hasn’t been used for years so some parts may be missing.
A little further on we saw our SECOND rattlesnake in just a few months. I had never seen even one despite our hiking all over the west for years. Now we have seen two… I’m not liking this trend! Unlike last time, Randy stayed well back as this snake was poised to strike. I’m glad we have a camera that zooms in.
We also explored the town of Fort Sumner. Two of the historical sites we hoped to see were closed but we did have Billy the Kid options. He’s the bad boy the town commemorates for tourism and we originally felt kind of strange about it.
We stopped at the Billy the Kid Museum and began with a 47 minute American Experience video about his life. He began as Henry, a fatherless boy born in the east. He moved west with his mother and she filed a homestead claim. She remarried and died while Henry was still a teenager. Henry drifted, getting in and out of trouble in New Mexico and Arizona territories.
Over time, Henry became William and formed a gang. Locals saw this gang as helping them against the rich land grabbers and welcomed them into their communities. The violence ramped up and William was dubbed “Billy the Kid” by a journalist.
Billy was once offered a pardon by the New Mexico territory governor for his testimony, which he gave, but the governor later reneged.
Billy was convicted in Masilla, New Mexico but escaped before being hanged. He killed two deputies in the process. This picture is of the former courthouse where that trial took place.
Instead of escaping to Mexico, he returned to Fort Sumner – possibly because of a young lady. He was found out, killed and buried in the Fort Sumner cemetery.
His story is long and detailed and this recap is not intended to be thorough. Billy the Kid died young and was a notorious killer in the wild west. However, it is easy to see that he had things happen to him along the way that influenced his path. After we learned a bit about him, we were somewhat more sympathetic.
There is an area in the museum that shows posters of many movies featuring Billy the Kid. This one caught my eye: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. I haven’t looked yet to see if it is on Netflix.
The museum has all things Billy the Kid, but also shows some things around life and times in New Mexico.
Our next stop was the Fort Sumner Cemetery where Billy the Kid is only one of two famous occupants.
Billy the Kid’s original gravestone (front right) was stolen twice and recovered years later. It is now under lock and key within the caged gravesite. The large white stone commemorates Billy and two of his gang friends who are buried with him.
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell is also buried in the Fort Sumner Cemetery. He was once the largest landowner in the United States with massive holdings of 1,700,000 acres. (The dispersal of this land in a variety of grants was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court.)
Lucien Maxwell died in 1875 and son Peter Maxwell took over operations of the large estate. Billy the Kid was tracked down and killed in Peter’s home at midnight on July 14, 1881. It was suggested that Peter gave him up to Sheriff Pat Garrett because Peter didn’t approve of Billy’s relationship with his younger sister. So much speculation!
We decided to finish our Billy the Kid morning with lunch. Randy opted for the World Famous Billy the Kid Burger!
Our stay at Lake Sumner State Park was right up there with Las Cruces as one of our favorite stops on the itinerary. We’re happy enough that there are two things we missed as an excuse to go back.
During our stay we commented several times about the vultures always circling around. Two of them sat for a picture. They aren’t exactly beautiful!
But this boy is! We saw him as we were driving out – one last gift from Lake Sumner State Park. Thanks to our birding friend Mark, we know “he” is a Western Tanager.