The first time I saw a picture of the workbench was in Fred Nolan’s book “The West of Billy the Kid” pg 287 (pic #1). The picture is credited as, “The table on which the Kid’s body was laid out. Date and photographer unknown. R.N. Mullin Collection. HHC.”
I guess I became a detective because God made me curious sort. Who took the picture? Where’s the bench now? So I asked around and was told the bench was washed away in the flood of 1906. But that can’t be, in “They ‘Knew’ Billy the Kid” pg 100, Billy Abrea and Peter Abrea are talking about the bench in 1936 and saying it was in a museum in Sumner. Here is the story Cold West unraveled about the bench.
Monday, November 7th, 1910, Stella Abrea was born to Odila Abrea, Pete Maxwell’s sister, and Manuel Abrea. At 13, Stella’s mom gave her the artifacts from the old fort, she had received from Pete; the bed in which Pete, who she never met, slept the night Garrett came into his room and sat down; the washstand; tables, trunks, and the famous carpenter’s workbench.
1923 Stella opened a museum for the tourist, of which there were few but one was Walter Noble Burns. He was researching “The Saga of Billy the Kid” when he stumbled across “The Billy the Kid Museum”, some 12 miles out of Fort Sumner. Stella had displayed all the artifacts from that historical night 43 years before.
In the early 20’s Burns and Maurice Fulton, and other historians interested in the Kid were in contact with each other through letters and like today they were fighting. After Burns found the workbench he wrote Fulton telling him about his find. Fulton was excited and wrote Robert Mullin, a Texan historian, telling him of it.
Fulton drove to the Abrea place and makeshift museum, he paid the twenty-cents admission and slowly walked into a shabby, poorly lit, old building where he came face to face with history, the workbench where Billy the Kid’s body had been laid. Fulton takes his camera off his shoulder and with the permission of Stella snaps the famous picture of the bench. He had the picture developed and sent a copy to Robert Mullin in a letter describing his find.
After Fulton snapped the picture of the workbench he and Stella came outside and sat on the porch. Fulton handed his camera to the 57-year-old Odila. She stepped back a few steps and took a picture of the historian and her daughter, Stella (pic#2).
It was on this day the famous photograph of the workbench was taken. On the back of the photo, it reads, “Fulton and custodian of the Billy the Kid Museum. The custodian was a Maxwell descendant- an Abreu [sic] I think”.
We owe thanks to that little girl and the old woman (pic#3) Stella Abrea for recognizing a bench that many would have put on the fire because it was just old stuff.
NOTE FROM A DETECTIVE – Stella thank you. It was a thrill the day in 2003, 122 years later, when you boy unlocked that chicken coop and I saw the bench for the first time. it was WAY COOL!