Momaday’s Billy the Kid Pistola

The famed Pulitzer Prize writer shares his obsession for Billy the Kid in his tale of a gun he believes the outlaw owned.


Click image above for larger view

This is the story of a gun, a handgun that appears to have belonged to Billy the Kid. I have been deeply interested in the life and times of Billy the Kid for many years, and I have written widely on that subject in poetry, fact and fiction.

I purchased the gun from my friend Will Channing of Santa Fe, New Mexico, with whom it had been placed for auction. Knowing of my interest in Billy the Kid, Channing informed me by telephone that the gun was available.

I was dubious. Immediately I asked, “Is it a .41 caliber Colt Thunderer?”

Channing answered, “Yes.”

I became excited; I knew that particular model was the Kid’s weapon of choice. As I recall, I obtained the gun in or about 1983. It has been in my possession ever since.

With the gun, as an item of provenance, came a notarized statement as follows:

To whom it may concern:

This particular piece has been in my family, at least to my knowledge, for over 90 years. The 41 cal. Colt is believed to have been used by William H. Bonney alias Billy the Kid for whom I am named.

This is supposedly the gun that was hidden in a juniper tree after his famous escape from Lincoln County April 28, 1881. He had given the gun to Teresa Guererro who was my great great grandmother and has been passed down to the eldest son in each generation until now.


William H. Bonney II

This original document bears the signatures of William H. Bonney II and Janice (Bolinger) Blevins, notary of the state of New Mexico, in their respective hands. It is dated August 7, 1982. Blevins, on the same document, swore and affirmed that she had witnessed the purchase by Bob Ward of the gun on June 9, 1976, at the Original Trading Post that Ward owned in Santa Fe. At that time she examined the identification card presented by William H. Bonney II and found it to be genuine.

I am not so naïve as to believe that “William H. Bonney II” is the real name of a real person. If it were, he would surely be visible, even conspicuously so, on account of his name. Here, one is bound to conclude, is an imposture, a ruse concocted perhaps to facilitate the sale of the gun. Be that as it may, the fact is that someone, a real person, signed that name to a bill of sale before a notary public in 1982. Who was that man?

From the time of Billy the Kid’s escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse on April 28, 1881, to the time of his death on July 14, 1881, almost nothing is known of him. Between Lincoln and Fort Sumner, in the last 78 days of his life, he became a legend and a virtual ghost. In this period the Momaday gun takes on a mantle of special importance. During this obscure interval, was this .41 Colt Thunderer in the hands of Billy the Kid?

In a letter dated February 16, 2012, Beverly Jean Haynes, historian at the Colt Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, authenticated the Momaday gun. The .41 Colt double-action revolver of 1877 bears the...

The full text of this article is available to registered users of Register now!

Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on, please log in below.

Already Registered?

SUBSCRIBE today and save!

Get instant access to subscriber content on!

When it comes to keeping the lore of the West alive, nobody does it better. True West readers get the no-holds-barred, straight shootin' facts about the West from our staff of experts and historians.

Save up to 67% off the newsstand cover price!

1 year (12 issues) - only $29.95
(Newsstand cover price--$71.88)

For even greater savings:

2 years (24 issues) - only $49.95
(Newsstand cover price--$143.76)

3 years (36 issues) - only $69.95
(Newsstand cover price--$215.64) BEST OFFER!

After subscribing, just come back here and register with us by clicking on the register link below.

True West Site Guide


True West captures the spirit of the American West with authenticity, personality and humor by linking our history to our present. Whether you call it the Wild West, the Old West or the Far West, America's frontier history comes to life in True West, the world's oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine.

Western movie fans, re-enactors, history buffs and road warriors, we got your history covered: outlaw, cowboy, Indian, lawman, gunfighter, fur trapper, miner, prospector, gambler, soldier, entertainer and pioneer. Check out these True Westerners now!

Product of the Month

The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

"Your book is fascinating, coupling your powerful illustrations [and] tracking...from birth to Tombstone to the legend [Wyatt] had become;...even Wyatt would approve." --By Hugh O'Brian, of the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

"Hands down the definitive books on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday." --By Allen Barra, New York Newsday