FORT SUMNER, N.M. – One of the world’s most famous outlaws just got cleaned up.
The 2,000 pound tombstone of Billy the Kid, which was damaged by vandals last month, was repaired in a methodical restoration project that ended this week.
Authorities in New Mexico's De Baca County said the tombstone of the Old West legend was tipped over and damaged by vandals, who also stole three antique rifles and a shotgun from the old Fort Sumner Museum.
The thieves also vandalized other graves in the cemetery.
The criminals are still at large.
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Billy the Kid, born William Henry McCarty, Jr. in 1859, became a famed outlaw in the Wild West who according to legend killed 21 people, although it is generally believed that he actually killed between four and nine people.
He was a central figure in a violent, Irish-English land war in New Mexico, and was beloved by Mexican-American ranchers who felt discriminated against by racist white bankers and land thieves.
Most likely born in New York City, he came to New Mexico with his mother while searching for a better economic future.
It was in Silver City, N.M., that a young Billy the Kid learned Spanish and Mexican dances as he mingled easily among the territory's large Mexican-American population when others from the East Coast didn't even bother, according to Paul Hutton, a University of New Mexico American West historian, who appears in the new film.
When his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 15, Billy the Kid was left an orphan and raised largely by Mexican-American ranchers and sheepherders.
This helped the Kid later when he was on the run from the law and was given shelter by poor Mexican-Americans ranchers he befriended, Hutton said.
The Kid was swept up in what was known as the "Lincoln County War" after his British mentor was gunned down by a corrupt Sheriff William Brady. In revenge, Billy the Kid organized the assassination of Brady, which escalated into a war between faction.
He then fell in love with the daughter of a Mexican-American landowner. When he was being chased down by another sheriff, Billy the Kid refused to leave Maxwell for safe haven south of the border. Her brother tipped off Sheriff Pat Garrett who eventually gunned down the 21-year-old Kid at the Maxwell's Fort Sumner, N.M. home.
For decades, Billy the Kid has been an important figure in New Mexico's Old West past and any story mentioning him often generates a lot of attention, as well as a lot of disagreements over historic detail.
When former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson considered a much-belated pardon for Billy the Kid after an Albuquerque attorney petitioned, it sparked international news and controversy, to cite one recent example.
Richardson's office received 809 emails and letters about the pardon, with most favoring it. He left office without granting the pardon.
Gov. Susana Martínez, in the days leading up to her inauguration, announced she would not consider the pardon of the state's most famous outlaw. "There's an awful lot of work to be taken care of for us to be wasting so much time on such a consideration," Martínez said.
However, last year the state's tourism department launched a "Catch the Kid" summer campaign aimed at promoting travel around the state. Under the campaign, the state offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Billy the Kid during a game where clues were handed out at various events. Two groups of hunters "caught" the Kid at Expo New Mexico at the State Fair in September.
"His whole life he was searching for a home," said filmmaker John Maggio, who directed a documentary about Billy the Kid. "There was more to him that the fact that he killed and was an outlaw."
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.