Friday, December 31, 2010

Lew Wallace, Ben Hur, and "Billy the Kid"

Former Union Civil War General Lew Wallace is mentioned in a New York Times article titled No Pardon for Billy the Kid:

Historical documents show that former Gov. Lew Wallace held out the possibility of a deal if the Kid would testify before a grand jury about a killing he had witnessed. Billy the Kid did testify, but the proposed pardon never happened, something the outlaw grumbled about as he managed to escape the law, get caught and then escape again, only to be gunned down in the dark by a frontier lawman in 1881.

Some historians suggest that Mr. Wallace never explicitly offered a pardon to the outlaw, who also went by the names Henry McCarty and William H. Bonney, and might have been trying to trick him. Shortly before Mr. Wallace left office, he told a newspaper: “I can’t see how a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me.”

The New York Times article omitted several items of relevance to Lew Wallace:

#1. The amnesty offer was made to many men involved in the Lincoln County War, and there were strong political issues involved.

#2. Wallace was a lawyer.

#3. Wallace, in his earlier career, had been tarnished by certain actions at Shiloh. Wallace felt he had been unjustly treated, and used his own life as a model for the title character in his novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) , which was written and published during his term as New Mexico governor (1878-1881).

[See wikipedia on Lew Wallace.]

Richardson sounded like a lawyer in the NYT text: But Mr. Richardson said he decided not to act “because of a lack of conclusiveness and the historical ambiguity as to why Gov. Wallace reneged on his promise.”

[Wikipedia notes: [Richardson] earned a Bachelor's degree at Tufts in 1970, majoring in French and political science and became a president and brother of Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He went on to earn a master's degree in international affairs from Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1971. ]


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