The Nun Who Rode on Billy the Kid

SUMMARY:

The Nun Who Rode on Billy the Kid: Sleuthing a Foisted Frontier Fable is an exposé of the longstanding published claims that 19th century Sister of Charity nun, Blandina Segale, befriended the outlaw, Billy Bonney, known as Billy the Kid. Analysis of those claims reveals that no such relationship existed; though some have postulated that Sister Blandina did know a Colorado highwayman named Arthur Pond aka Billy LeRoy. But did Blandina, now being considered for sainthood, willfully perpetrate the first and strangest Billy the Kid hoax? And if she did not, who perpetrated the hoax in her name?

To answer these questions, this book’s research and analysis takes a fascinating journey through Blandina’s Old West journal, which became her book, At the End of the Santa Fe Trail; through the Sisters of Charity archives; and through the life history of little-known outlaw Billy LeRoy – all against the backdrop of the burgeoning print and film mythology of the real Billy the Kid, and the temptation to ride on his famous coattails.

And the now stakes are raised because Sister Blandina Segale is in the running for sainthood.

EXCERPT:

INTRODUCTION

SLEUTHING HOAXBUSTING CLUES: An historical hoax is a deliberate attempt to trick people with false information. It is detectable by contradiction of known facts, unreal presentation, and the hoaxer’s motives ranging from attention to riches.

The Nun’s Tale Hoax, which claimed that the published journal of a 19th century Sister of Charity of Cincinnati nun, Blandina Segale, described her long relationship with Billy Bonney aka Billy the Kid - when no such relationship existed - is arguably the strangest of all historical fabrications about that famous Old West youth.

Webster’s International Dictionary states that a hoax is “an act intended to trick or dupe” or “something accepted or established by fraud or fabrication.” So a hoax has to fool people intentionally. It follows that a hoaxer has a motive, and that is usually personal gain ranging from titillation to attention to riches.

When exposing an historical hoax, one must distinguish it from an honest mistake. Real hoaxes have tell-tale signs of being attention-grabbing, claiming first person participation, over-elaboration, and researching sources to feign reality:

  1. Attention grabbing: The motive for hoaxing is usually self aggrandizement or profit. That necessitates claims that are extreme enough for people to take notice.
  2. First person participation: Hoaxers put themselves into the action to shine by reflected glory.
  3. Over-elaboration: Because fiction is hard to create, most hoaxers err on the side of over-embellishing by fantasized details; and, thereby, resemble confabulators. Real confabulators are not purposeful liars; they have a mental disorder. Confabulation, according to Harold Kaplan’s and Benjamin Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, is “unconscious filling of gaps in memory by imagined or untrue experiences.” Hoaxers do the same thing to fill in facts for their fictions.
  4. Research: Hoaxers of history try to align their tall tales to historical events. They often do research for their claims and sprinkle in historic names. But repeating of tell-tale errors from their sources gives them away.

LURE OF BILLY THE KID’S FAME

In his own lifetime, William Henry “Billy” Bonney aka Billy the Kid became so famous that he could read and comment on his own press. He was arguably one of the first national media stars. To his readership, he was either a hero of the Lincoln County War’s people’s uprising against the corrupt land-grabbing political cabal of Santa Fe Ring, or a villain in that Ring’s propaganda myth of his being a gang-leading murdering desperado - thus offering something for everyone.

And the momentum of Billy’s fame never ceased, being meteorically propelled by his dramatic death at only 21 on July 14, 1881, by an ambush bullet from Sheriff Pat Garrett, in the Maxwell family mansion in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Billy’s killer cashed in immediately on the fame. In 1882, Patrick Floyd “Pat” Garrett - with alcoholic, failed journalist Ashmun “Ash” Upson, his boarder in his Roswell, New Mexico, home as his ghostwriter - published The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid The Noted Desperado of the Southwest, Whose Deeds of Daring and Blood Made His Name a Terror in New Mexico, Arizona, and Northern Mexico by Pat F. Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County, N.M., by Whom He was Finally Hunted Down and Captured by Killing Him, A Faithful and Interesting Narrative. Limited by Garrett’s and Upson’s minimal knowledge of Billy Bonney’s life history and Lincoln County War events, it compensated by fictional dramatizing in the dime novel tradition. But it set the hysterical hyperbolic tone of the outlaw myth which plagued Billy’s history ever since.

Billy himself objected to this unjust trend in a December 12, 1880 letter to Governor Lew Wallace, writing:

I noticed in the Las Vegas Gazette a piece which stated that, Billy “the” Kid, the name by which I am known in the Country was the captain of a Band of Outlaws who hold Forth at the Portales. There is no such Organization in Existence. So the Gentleman must have drawn very heavily on his Imagination.

Things only got worse as Billy’s posthumous fame burgeoned. In 1926, another journalist, Walter Noble Burns, published his The Saga of Billy the Kid. He used his imagination and Garrett as sources; though he also interviewed old-timers from Billy’s life, being unaware that they kept self-protective secrets about the Santa Fe Ring and real reasons that Billy had to be killed. Burns’s book was essentially a latter-day dime novel: a morality tale rabidly opposed to the demonic “outlaw” Billy the Kid.

By the late 1930’s, the first legitimate Billy the Kid historians were conducting scholarly research; and Billy’s old-timer contemporaries were getting their memoirs published by advertising their erstwhile friendships with Billy.

That trend toward truth-seeking was counterbalanced by the opposite. Old-timer freeloaders and dementia-sufferers, seeking fame and fortune, began to hijack Billy’s history by publishing, with hoaxing authors, faked first-person accounts of either having known Billy, or of being Billy the Kid by surviving Pat Garrett’s shooting to live to old age. And those shenanigans have continued, with variations, to modern-day opportunistic backers of those old fraudsters.

OTHER HOAXBUSTING

I have made it my task to protect Billy Bonney’s history by exposing Billy the Kid hoaxers. My book, Billy the Kid’s Pretenders, Brushy Bill and John Miller, came out in 2010, exposing those two mentally disordered old men - both posing as Billy the Kids who survived Pat Garrett’s shooting - who had acquired hoaxing authors. And in 2014, was published my Cracking the Billy the Kid Case Hoax: The Strange Plot to Exhume Billy the Kid, Convict Pat Garrett of Murder, and Become President of the United States - about a forensic DNA hoax, which was a throw-back scam, using illegal exhumations, with intent to claim that Oliver “Brushy Bill” Roberts was provable as Billy the Kid.

Then, in 2016, I first read on the internet about a 19th century nun named Blandina Segale, whose Old West journal was published in 1932 as a book titled At the End of the Santa Fe Trial. It achieved multiple reprints largely because of her surprising tales of befriending an horrific, scalping murderer, highwayman outlaw she identified as “Billy the Kid.” Her current fascination arose from announced progress in her sainthood petition, bestowing saint-and-sinner allure to her frontier gambits with “Billy the Kid.” She already had one TV program from the 1960’s, and another was now in the making. I smelled another hoax.