Maybe Valencia County historian and author Richard Melzer said it best: “Gus Raney was a larger-than-life remnant of the Old West … he probably would have felt more comfortable living in the 19th century than in the 20th.”
But Don Bullis wrote it best, thanks to Melzer’s preference to stay away from writing about the murderous life of this man, chronicled in Bullis’s latest book, “Badman of the New Mexico Badlands” (Rio Grande Press, 2022).
“It was too dark for Melzer,” Bullis said, more fascinated by Raney because of his own two decades “in the cop business.”
Raney, says Bullis, a longtime resident of Rio Rancho, “is legendary as well as historically renowned for the crimes he committed” and is a mysterious “multiple mankiller.”
His crimes included many murders – certainly more than those of Billy the Kid or The Kid’s killer, Sheriff Pat Garrett. Bullis had to separate fact from fiction – did Raney really kill someone when he was only 7 years old, or drown two of his own sons in 1939?
When Bullis digs into a story, it’ll be well-researched because this is what he does best. He’s written quite a few books about crime and killers.
Bullis, 83, said he spent about a year writing about Raney and was grateful for the help lent him by Melzer and a few others, including former Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Robinson, who assembled a file on Raney.
“The fact that Gus lived the life he did in 20th century western New Mexico makes his story worth telling,” Bullis wrote in the foreword.
Raney was born, Bullis and others agree, in 1902 in Uvalde, Texas. And there is agreement on his date of death: December 1983.
Raney killed a man and his son in October that year – his final victims. They were a 60-year-old California man, purportedly a longtime friend of Raney, and the man’s 21-year-old son. At least 35 weapons were recovered at the scene, Raney’s shack, which didn’t have running water or electricity.
Ten years earlier, he was convicted in the murder of Max Atkinson, but he served just four years of court-ordered probation.
He and his wife of many years lived near Grants, at what is called the Point of the Malpais, for much of his life. He killed at least four men, and maybe as many as 14.
Bullis met Raney at a bar in nondescript Budville, N.M., when bartender Joe Garcia introduced the two. Bullis doesn’t recall any chitchat with Raney.
“He was carrying a gun,” Bullis recalled, although in the book it reports he probably had at least two and maybe four guns on his person. “He and Joe were talking to each other.”
Garcia gave him some information on Raney.
True information would be hard to find when Bullis decided it was time for him to write the book.
He turned to online newspaper archives and what Melzer handed over.
“There are no official documents regarding his life,” Bullis said.
He wound up talking to dozens of people who knew, or claimed to know, Raney.
Official documentation showed Raney was convicted of murder in late September 1932 in the shooting death of W.V. Faulkner on July 2 that year and sentenced to three to seven years in prison. He was released on parole less than 23 months later.
What about Raney’s wife, “Sugarfoot”?
Bullis relates a story told to him by a source who said a hermit approached Raney and wanted to trade a mule for Sugarfoot, but Raney refused, apparently making his wife happy.
“(The mule) smelled worse than Gus and I was already used to him,” is what that source said Sugarfoot said.
On deck for Bullis, always grateful for the help his wife Gloria puts into his writing, will be a “novel set in 1910 in a fictional county in southeast New Mexico,” he says