What happened to Billy’s missing first meal in the Santa Fe jail?
In December 1880, Lincoln County Sheriff-elect Pat Garrett and his posse captured Billy and several gang members and brought them to the Santa Fe jail. Billy remained there for three months awaiting trial for murder.
Garrett had little to say about Billy’s actual stay in Santa Fe in the book he later wrote. Although he did not mention it, Billy’s incarceration began badly, according to the December 30, 1880 edition of the Daily New Mexican:
The Kid, Wilson and Rudabaugh were jailed in Santa Fe at about 7:30 Monday evening. Tuesday morning 11 o’clock when Pat Garrett and his men went down to see them, it was discovered that they had had not a mouthful to eat since they were put in jail.
Upon which one of the posse went down to the keeper of the restaurant who has a contract for feeding United States prisoners and asked him why he had not sent down meals to the three.
The man said he had done so, and after a little investigation it was discovered that Jailer Silva or some of his henchmen had eaten the grub themselves. It’s pretty rough on prisoners when their jailers eat the meals sent to them.
The case of the missing meals seemed to fascinate the newspaper staff who continued to give it attention. Although Jailer Silva had his defenders, it did not seem to make a difference to the newspaper:
The New Mexican has received a communication from Mr. A. J. Moorhead, of the European Hotel and several of the prisoners in the County Jail, exonerating the Jailer Silva from all blame in the matter of the filching of the meals sent to The Kid, Wilson and Rudabaugh.
This does not at all alter the fact that food sent to United States prisoners in the jail was made away with by someone connected with the jail. The New Mexican is willing to admit that Silva had nothing to do with the matter, but the meals were sent to the jail for the three prisoners, did not reach them and were appropriated by some of the officials at the calaboose.
It is to be noticed also that the names of neither of the three who were sufferers by the theft appear in the communication. (December 31, 1880)
At the end of January, a reporter delighted in providing one more brief update—the last—focusing on the misfortunes of Jose Silva, the jailer accused of diverting Billy’s first Santa Fe meal to his own stomach:
Silva, who used to be jailer under the old regime and who has lately been employed as a guard at the new jail received the grand bounce yesterday. Silva loves newspaper men. (January 27, 1881)
(This selection comes from Billy the Kid ‘s Jail Santa Fe, New Mexico)
You might also enjoy Lynn Michelsohn’s book about Billy the Kid’s youth in Santa Fe:
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