Roswell, UFOs, and Billy the Kid… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

Are aliens for real? What about UFOs? I found this charming character in a diorama at the Roswell UFO Museum.

Are aliens for real? What about UFOs? I found this charming character in a diorama at the Roswell UFO Museum.

 

“While working with a camera crew supervising flight testing of advanced aircraft at Edward’s Air Force Base, California, the camera crew filmed the landing of a strange disc object that flew in over their heads and landed on a dry lake nearby. A camera crewman approached the saucer, it rose up above the area and flew off at a speed faster than any known aircraft.”

—NASA astronaut, L. Gordon Cooper.

 

I was getting tough, no doubt about it. In four days I had biked from Springerville, Arizona to Roswell, New Mexico. The first three days, I had crossed the Rockies and half of New Mexico, checking out Pie Town, the VLA, and the location of the world’s first atomic bomb blast. On day four, I had cycled up into the Capitan Mountains and found the gravesite of Smokey Bear. But my day wasn’t over. Twelve miles down the road was the community of Lincoln that had been the center of New Mexico’s infamous Lincoln County War in 1878.

My intention was to call it a day in Lincoln and go in search of Billy the Kid, or at least his ghost. He’s said to haunt the area. But I really couldn’t find any place I wanted to camp so I just kept pedaling— another 57 miles. For much of the afternoon, I travelled along the Rio Hondo River with its small ranches, pine trees and cottonwoods, a welcome break from the dry deserts I’d been crossing. Dusk found me flying down a hill into Roswell. I was bushed, it had been a 90-mile day across another mountain range, but I couldn’t help scanning the skies for UFOs. The area is known for being the crash of a flying saucer in 1947, an incident that is still debated today. I had seen one once. I wanted to see another.

The UFO/or weather balloon crash site was on the other side of this mountain.

The UFO/or weather balloon crash site is on the other side of this mountain.

So today’s post is about desperadoes and little green men. There’s a lot to cover. I’d best get to it. I’ve blogged about Billy the Kid before. Here’s what I had to say:

Henry McCarty, aka Kid Antrim, aka William Henry Bonney, aka Billy the Kid initiated his life of crime in Silver City during the 1870s stealing butter from the local ranchers. And then he got serious; he was caught with a bag of stolen Chinese laundry. His buddy Sombrero Jack had given it to him to hide.  The local sheriff decided to lock Billy up for a couple of days as a lesson that crime doesn’t pay but the Kid escaped through the chimney.

Two years later, at 16, he killed his first man. Five years and some 11-21 murders after that (depending on press reports), he would be shot down by Sheriff Pat Garret. Billy liked to twirl his guns and enjoyed the polka— a fun guy.

There wasn’t much fun involved in the Lincoln County War; lots of people got killed. It’s the age-old story about the new guys riding into town and trying to dethrone the old guys. The ‘old’ guys in this case were Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan. Arriving in the early 1870s, Murphy and Dolan had built large ranches and Lincoln’s only dry goods store and bank. They controlled the law and were able to set prices to maximize profits. Corrupt friends higher up in New Mexico politics had enabled them to gain lucrative contracts selling beef to the US Army. They made lots of money; they didn’t want to share.

Enter from stage left, John Turnstall, a wealthy Englishman, and Alexander McSween, a lawyer. Backed by John Chisum, one of the largest cattle barons of the Old West (he had a herd of 100,000 cattle), they set out to obtain what Murphy and Dolan had. So they established cattle herds and built a dry goods store and bank in Lincoln. Soon they were taking business away from Murphy and Dolan, an intolerable situation. Dolan challenged Turnstall to a gunfight which Turnstall avoided. Instead, he hired Billy the Kid, someone eminently qualified to fight his gun battles for him.

This is a copy of the only known photo of Billy the Kid. It's found in what was once Murphy and Dolan's dry goods store and headquarters in Lincoln, NM. Later it would become Sheriff Pat Garret's Office. Billy would escape from here by killing two deputy sheriffs.

This is a copy of the only known photo of Billy the Kid. It’s found in what was once Murphy and Dolan’s dry goods store and headquarters in Lincoln, NM. Later it would become Sheriff Pat Garret’s Office. Billy would escape from here by killing two of Garret’s deputies.

Being thwarted, Murphy turned to the local law, his law, Sheriff William Brady. Faster than you can say trumped-up charges, three deputies were out on the trail of Turnbull. Naturally they had to shoot and kill him. This irritated Billy no small amount and the war was on. Then things really got complicated with competing bands of outlaws and lawmen, local cattlemen, the US Army, two New Mexico governors, and the President of the Unite States involved. Ultimately the Kid and McSween were killed along with 16 or so other folks including Sheriff Brady. Murphy and Dolan ended up bankrupt. McSween’s widow seemed to end up owning much of the stuff. There must be a moral of some kind here.

Murphy's sharpshooters used this tower in the Lincoln County War. It was originally used for protection against marauding Apaches.

Murphy’s sharpshooters used this tower in the Lincoln County War. It was originally used for protection against marauding Apaches.

A letter of appeal that Billy wrote to Governor Lew Wallace who had been appointed to clean up the mess in Lincoln County and the corruption in New Mexico's government. What interested me was how neat, and how well written the letter was.

A letter of appeal that Billy wrote to Governor Lew Wallace who had been appointed to clean up the mess in Lincoln County and the corruption in New Mexico’s government. What interested me was how neat, and how well written the letter was.I doubt you will find penmanship like that in our schools today.

Peggy and I found these red peppers in Lincoln. They made it onto my blog because I thing there is an unwritten law in New Mexico that anyone who blogs about the state has to include a shot of red peppers.

Peggy and I found these red peppers in Lincoln. They made it onto my blog because there is an unwritten law in New Mexico that anyone who blogs about the state has to include a shot of red peppers.

This rock is here because I found it near Lincoln along Highway 380. I think Billy would have liked it.

This rock is here because I found it along NM Highway 380 near Lincoln. I think Billy would have liked it, or shot it.

My road shot for the day. I really enjoyed the trees and green grass I found riding along the Rio Hondo River. This may look dry and barren to you. Believe me, it wasn't.

My road photo for the day. I really enjoyed the trees and green grass I found riding along the Rio Hondo River. This may look dry and barren to you. I thought I was in Eden.

Now, on to little green men.

A little green man contemplates what to do about earth while standing on the streets of Roswell.

A little green man contemplates what to do about earth while standing on the streets of Roswell. Don’t worry; the sign on the right says he’s under 24 hour video surveillance.

It was 1968. I was standing outside on my small porch in Sacramento, California, innocently minding my own business and sipping scotch when aliens entered my life. A round, disk-like object flew into a cloud going in one direction, and then flew out going another, accelerating at an unbelievable speed. It was only seconds of my life, but ever since, I have been interested in UFOs.

My flying saucer looked a lot like this, except it was clearer.

My flying saucer looked a lot like this, except it was clearer. (From a photo in the UFO museum.)

You might imagine my excitement as I approached Roswell. The story of the 1947 crash of an unidentified flying object near Roswell has been the subject of numerous news stories over the years. A local rancher had found mysterious debris on his property and turned it over to the military. At first the military reported that a UFO had crashed. As a media storm gathered, the military quickly changed its story and said it was a weather balloon. Meanwhile, tales of dead alien bodies being found begin to circulate.  A nurse reputedly said she had seen the aliens and drew a picture. Everything, it was claimed, had been shipped off to Area 51 in Nevada.

It was the grist for dozens of sci-fi movies, books and TV shows— and one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all times. It continues to rage, refusing to die. And probably never will as long as people continue to see disk-like objects zipping across the sky.

Roswell loves its aliens and the UFO story. It’s cash in the bank; it draws thousands of tourists annually. When Peggy and I went through there retracing my bike route in April, we wandered around town taking photos of businesses that displayed alien-related themes. We also spent a couple of hours at the UFO Museum, which is dedicated to uncovering the truth about the crash, and continuing to propagate the UFO story. It’s all fun. BTW, if you want a silly but fun R-rated movie that ties aliens, Roswell, and Area 51 together, Peggy and I recommend “Paul.” You might also want to check out my blog: Area 51— Where Alien Conspiracy Theories Continue to Breed Like Rabbits.

I've always wondered about the food served at McDs.

I’ve always wondered about the food served at McDs.

It isn't required, but Peggy and I found numerous businesses in Roswell with alien themes. This was a print shop.

It isn’t required, but Peggy and I found numerous businesses in Roswell with alien themes. This was a print shop.

As expected, you could find cute T-shirts...

As expected, you can find cute T-shirts…

Fun signs...

Fun signs…

And other alien stuff.

And other alien stuff.

The UFO Museum is filled with interesting facts and speculation about the UFO crash.

The UFO Museum is filled with interesting facts and speculation about the UFO crash.

This news story was based on the original release from the US Army, before it begin claiming a weather balloon had crashed.

This news story was based on the original release from the US Army, before it claimed a weather balloon had crashed.

I'll conclude today's post with this cartoon I found in the museum (grin).

This cartoon was the last thing I found in the museum. I left smiling.

NEXT BLOG: On to Texas. I am surprised I am not still bicycling across it.

27 comments on “Roswell, UFOs, and Billy the Kid… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. Poor John was born on the day of the crash in Roswell. He has an interesting way of looking at the world and we (the kids and me) still wonder about his declared heritage.
    Thanks for the tip about New Mexico and chillies.

  2. We passed through the area in 2001 and I have two clear memories. Like you, Billy’s remarkably well-educated letter impressed me; and the sign outside Roswell — “Roswell, New Mexico has nearly forty-five thousand people of whom forty-four thousand six hundred are sorry they ever heard of aliens.” Roswell also has a nice small art musuem.

    • Cute on the sign. But at least if you say you are from Roswell, you always have a conversation starter. I wish I would have seen the sign. It certainly would have made it into the blog! 🙂 –Curt

  3. Curt – years ago (many years) I saw my first James Coburn movie. I watched a few after that and it seems he always plays a similar character. Perhaps you too have seen “Pat Garret and Billy the Kid.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070518/ It’s full of other stars and western movie cliches. I’ve been meaning to check it out again to see if there are any redeeming moments to it. This might be the right time for you to watch while you are in your New Mexico wake. I don’t remember if there are any red peppers in the movie, but it is certainly possible that Peckinpah was at the front end of that unwritten rule. Speaking of writing, I too like Billy’s handwriting.

    As always, I enjoyed wandering around with you.

    • Hey, Bruce, I’ll check it out. Somewhere floating around our house, there is also a copy of Young Guns, another movie on the conflict. One of my distant cousins who is seriously into genealogy (he’s Mormon), tells me we are related to Garret. The family also married in to the Earp clan. Apparently we liked lawmen, or at least the western version. Glad to have you along on the trip. –Curt

    • I’ve always been a fan of Western History, too, Katy. It was probably a result of all the cowboy books I read as a kid. I love the peppers but Peggy doesn’t. 🙂 Most of my heat has to come as an add in, or when Peggy is out of town. –Curt

  4. Aliens galore!! What a crazy fun town doing well on this story. I’ve read a lot about it over the years and never knowing the truth is soooo frustrating. I loved reading about your own sighting – how wonderful! Also thank you for the fascinating history of Billy the Kid. The cowboy films really don’t do him any justice I feel. Great pictures and puts a while new spin on the ‘rock carvings/paintings’!

    • Roswell has hit the bonanza with aliens, Annika, whether they are for real or not. Apparently, not all the people from Roswell appreciate the distinction, however. 🙂 Ever since I started traveling in that country, I have been interested in Billy the Kid. Geronimo is another local. Wasn’t the ‘rock art’ fun. BTW, one of the best Native American rock art sites is 30-40 miles south of Lincoln at the Three Rivers National Petroglyph site… if you are ever in the neighborhood. –Curt

    • I think that the old statement about one photo being worth a thousand words applies to that cartoon. As for Billy’s handwriting, I am amazed that he ever had time to learn it given his profession. –Curt

  5. I think I told you about my own experience with a UFO — in July, 1964, when our high school band was returning from the NY World’s Fair. Two school buses of kids saw it, after a middle of the night stop at a Howard Johnsons. It followed us for about two miles or so, gently bobbing up and down, and then lifted straight up in a flash and disappeared. It was vaguely cigar-shaped, rather than round. I have no idea what it was, but I definitely saw it.

    Your post reminded me that my systematics prof in seminary also was a Ufologist. As a matter of fact, he was in on the beginning of MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network) and still shows up at their conventions to give speeches. I never had done much exploring, but a search combining Ted Peters and UFO will provide proof that the Lutherans, at least, have tolerated a little fringiness in their theologians. 🙂

    • I remember your story, Linda. I think you told me about it when I was writing about Area 51. It’s on the fringe until you see one, and then not so sure, eh. Good for the Lutherans. My religious story on the fringe edge would be James Pike when he was an Episcopal bishop in California during the late 50s and early 60s which coincided with my time of being relatively serious about religion. He had some spooky experiences in relation to his dead son. But Pike was a good man, he fought for gays to be accepted into Grace Cathedral in SF, pushed for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, and openly opposed Eugene McCarthy. Of course, the church eventually ran him out, which didn’t do a lot for my faith. –Curt

  6. I can’t believe you saw a UFO. That is FASCINATING!!!! I have long been interested in sightings, myself. Not because I’ve had any personal experience with it, but because so many accounts are alike.

  7. Another great post on your bike trek. We love the inclusion of red peppers (obligatory, as you mentioned) and documentation of UFO sightings. We’ve been to Roswell, and I must say that even though the museum is a bit dated and somewhat “cheesy,” it does share documentation of the event that makes you wonder just what did happen in these here parts. And I, for one, really like that there’s no definitive proof. After all, why spoil the reason for tourism in Roswell??

    • Roswell has definitely benefitted from it’s tie to aliens! I thought the museum was a little less cheesy than the first time I visited, but it is still a great description of its PT Barnum allure. There is enough information there to tantalize, however. I confess to the desire to wander around the ‘crash’ site. 🙂 –Curt

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