The pardon hearing, which will likely convene in November in the town of Lincoln, will be complete with period costumes and Wild West facial hair. Mr. Richardson himself will preside, playing a role somewhere between Judge Judy and Judge Roy Bean.

Mr. Richardson has a good sense of humor, but governors who play with history often get burned — witness Gov. Robert McDonnell of Virginia and his ill-advised Confederate History Month proclamation. Governor Richardson has already drawn public criticism: descendants of Pat Garrett and Lew Wallace have implored him not to follow through with his plans; Billy the Kid, they and others note, was a cop killer.