Billy the Kid
He was also known as William H. Bonney and probably many more names. He is simply the most misunderstood and most misreported figure in old west history.
The legend says Billy the Kid was the greatest of the cold-blooded killers and killed 21 men, one for every year of his life.
Billy the Kid was only one of many that took part in the Lincoln County Wars but he lives on in our memory as the legend.
In 1873, his mother (Catherine McCartyam ) married William Antrim in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The new family moved to Silver City in Grant County, New Mexico. His mother died on the 16th September 1874.
Billy the Kid found himself living alone and needing to work for own living. After living such a hard life he eventually fell in with Sombrero Jack. Soon they were in trouble and Billy was arrested. He escaped and this was the first of several escapes from custody, one of the key things that contributed to the creation of his unique story that made him a legend of the old west. Billy ended up on the run in Arizona. It is probably around this time he first got involved in horse stealing.
At Camp Grant he got into his first truly serious bout of trouble with the law. Billy used his gun to kill Mr Cahill. Billy didn’t stay long and ran to New Mexico.
Billy continued to get on the wrong side of the law and in particular, Sheriff Brady during the Lincoln County War. Killings during the war continued and he was involved in the murders of Bill Morton, Frank Baker and William McCloskey. Then they ambushed Sheriff Brady and his deputy George Hindman.
The war was horrific and over two hundred died. After the war the gangs disbanded and Billy the Kid was again a fugitive. His lawless life continued and his legend grew into a mainstay of the Old West History classics.
There were many outlaws much worse than Billy but the newspapers and authorities singled him out. He now gained the name that would stay with him forever,
“Billy the Kid”.
Billy kept dodging the law until Pat Garrett was elected sheriff and made US Marshal to hunt him down.
Billy was again arrested and sentenced to die. On 28th April 1881 Billy made his most notorious escape and two deputies died in the process. Pat Garret went after him again and The Kid headed for Fort Sumner.
But Pat Garret found him there in July 1881. On 14th July, Pat Garret shot Billy the Kid through the heart and ended his life. This part of Old West History became the legend.
1875 – September – Following an escape, one of many, the Silver City Owyhee Avalanche printed this story:-
“Henry McCarty, who was arrested Thursday and committed to jail to await the action of the grand jury, upon the charge of stealing clothes from Charley Sun and Sam Chung, celestials, sans cue, sans Joss sticks, escaped from prison yesterday through the chimney. It’s believed that Henry was simply the tool of Sombrero Jack, who done the stealing whilst Henry done the hiding. Jack has skinned out.”
Mr Albert Fountain was editor of The Mesilla Valley Independent and made Billy the Kid a regular feature in the paper and pressured the law to act against him. When the law did start making moves against the gang they headed for Lincoln County and Billy the kid was heading for his encounter that would immortalise him.
When the gang riding with Billy arrived in Lincoln County they joined forces with James Dolan. “The Boys” were involved in stock theft across county. It included stealing Tunstall’s livestock. Billy was caught and placed in jail for his part in the operation. During his incarceration Tunstall offered him a deal. In return for testifying against the other members of the gang he would be free from prosecution and be employed in Tunstall’s outfit. Billy accepted the offer.
Billy was fighting on Tunstall’s side and probably hoped of a better life for himself. He probably had no understanding that this is not the way it works. When you put your life on the line like this you are actually fighting for somebody else’s better life; not your own.
1881 – July 14 – Pat Garrett went to Fort Sumner to track down Billy the Kid. A prominent citizen was Lucien Maxwell. Garrett learned that The Kid might be found at the house of his son, Pete Maxwell. Billy entered Pete Maxwell’s bedroom sometime during the night and was shot by Pat Garrett.
The killing turned Pat Garrett into a star, a genuine hero in Old West History. This did not last though and rumours about the manner of Billy the Kid’s death affected him for the rest of his life. At the next county election he lost that election.
It is a matter of record that he was never paid the $500 reward for The Kid’s capture because he was killed.