Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

Infobox Person
name = Henry McCarty a.k.a. William H. Bonney a.k.a. Billy the Kid

image_size = 250px
caption = Billy the Kid. "(Reversed ferrotype photograph)"
birth_date = birth date|1859|11|23
birth_place = New York City, New York, United States
death_date = death date and age|1881|07|14|1859|11|23
death_place = Fort Sumner, New Mexico, U.S.
occupation = Ranch hand, Gambler, Cattle rustler, Outlaw
parents = Natural Father: not known, poss. Patrick Henry McCarty, Michael McCarty "or" William Bonney
Stepfather: William Antrim
Mother:Catherine McCarty or Katherine McCarty BonneyBrother:Joseph Antrim

Henry McCarty (November 23, 1859cite web | url = | title = Early Life | publisher = |accessdate = 2008-08-05] —July 14, 1881), better known as Billy the Kid, but also known by the aliases Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney, was a 19th-century American frontier outlaw and gunman who participated in the so-called Lincoln County War. According to legend, he killed 21 men, one for each year of his life, but he most likely participated in the killing of less than half that number.Wallis (2007), p. 244.]

McCarty (or Bonney, the name he used at the height of his notoriety) was 5 ft 8 in-5 ft 9 in (173-175 cm) tall with blue eyes, a smooth complexion and prominent front teeth. He was said to be friendly and personable at times,Wallis (2007), p. 129.] Rasch (1995), p. 126.] and many recalled that he was as "lithe as a cat". Contemporaries described him as a "neat" dresser who favored an "unadorned Mexican sombrero".Utley (1989), p. 15.] These qualities, along with his cunning and celebrated skill with firearms, contributed to his paradoxical image, as both a notorious outlaw and beloved folk hero.Wallis (2007), pp. 244–245.]

A relative unknown during his own lifetime, he was catapulted into legend the year after his death when his killer, Sheriff Patrick Garrett, published a sensationalistic biography titled "The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid". Beginning with Garrett's account, Billy the Kid grew into a symbolic figure of the American Old West.Wallis (2007), pp. 249—250.]


Early life

Little is known about McCarty's origins, but most reputable scholars of western history agree that he "was born on the eve of the Civil War in the bowels of an Irish neighborhood in New York City."Wallis (2007), p. 6.] Utley (1989), p. 2.] While his biological father remains an obscure figure, some researchers have theorized that his name was Patrick McCarty, Michael McCarty, William McCarty, or Edward McCarty. There is clear evidence that his mother's name was Catherine McCarty, although "there have been continuing debates about whether McCarty was her maiden or married name". It is generally believed that McCarty's parents were survivors of the Great Irish Famine of the mid-19th century. Some genealogists argue, however, that the future outlaw was born William Henry Bonney, the son of William Harrison Bonney and wife Katherine Boujean, paternal grandson of Levi Bonney and wife Rhoda Pratt and great-grandson of Obadiah Pratt, who in turn were the grandparents of Mormon leader Parley P. Pratt, making him and McCarty first cousins once removed.cite web | url = | title = The Ancestors of Mit Romney | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-03] Furthermore, the late New Mexico historian, Herman P. Weisner, contended that McCarty was of partial Hispanic ancestry. Weisner's theory was based, in part, on the outlaw's remarkable fluency in Spanish and his well-known sympathy for the Hispanic people of the New Mexico Territory.Wallis (2007), pp. 153—156.]

By 1868, Catherine McCarty had relocated with her two young sons, Henry and Joseph, to Indianapolis, Indiana.Wallis (2007), p. 14.] There, she met William Antrim, who was 12 years her junior.Wallis (2007), p. 16.] In 1873, after several years of moving around the country, the two were married at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico,Utley (1989), p. 1.] and settled further south in Silver City.Wallis (2007), pp. 52—56.] Antrim found sporadic work as a bartender and carpenter but soon became more interested in prospecting and gambling for fortune than in his wife and stepsons.Wallis (2007), p. 78.] Despite this, young McCarty often used the surname "Antrim" when referring to himself.Wallis (2007), pp. 55—56.]

Faced with a husband who was frequently absent, McCarty's mother reportedly washed clothes, baked pies, and took in boarders in order to provide for her sons.Wallis (2007), p. 64.] Although she was fondly remembered by onetime boarders and neighbors as "a jolly Irish lady, full of life and mischief",Utley (1989), p. 6.] she was already in the final stages of tuberculosis when the family reached Silver City.Wallis (2007), p. 76.] The following year, on September 16, 1874, Catherine McCarty died; she was buried in the Memory Lane Cemetery in Silver City. At age 14, McCarty was taken in by a neighboring family who operated a hotel where he worked to pay for his keep. The manager was impressed by the youth, contending that he was the only young man who ever worked for him that did not steal anything.Wallis (2007), 84—85.] One of McCarty's school teachers later recalled that the young orphan was "no more of a problem than any other boy, always quite willing to help with chores around the schoolhouse".Wallis (2007), p. 83.] Early biographers sought to explain McCarty's subsequent descent into lawlessness by focusing on his habit of reading dime novels that romanticized crime. A more likely explanation, however, was his slender physique, "which placed him in precarious situations with bigger and stronger boys".Wallis (2007), p. 87.]

Forced to seek new lodgings when his foster family began to experience "domestic problems", McCarty moved into a boardinghouse and pursued odd jobs. In April, 1875, McCarty was arrested by Grant County Sheriff Harvey Whitehill, after McCarty stole some cheese. On September 24, 1875, McCarty was again arrested when he was found in possession of clothing and firearms that a fellow boarder had stolen from a Chinese laundry owner.Wallis (2007), pp. 87—88.] Two days after McCarty was placed in jail, the teenager escaped by worming his way up the jailhouse chimney. From that point on, McCarty was more or less a fugitive.Wallis (2007), p. 89.] According to some accounts, he eventually found work as an itinerant ranch hand and shepherd in southeastern Arizona.Wallis (2007), p. 95.] In 1876, he settled in the vicinity of Fort Grant Army Post in Arizona, where he worked local ranches and tested his skills at local gaming houses.Wallis (2007), p. 103.] Sheriff Whitehill would later say that he liked the boy, and his acts of theft were more due to necessity than criminality.

During this time, McCarty became acquainted with John R. Mackie, a Scottish-born ex-cavalry private with a criminal bent.Wallis (2007), p. 107.] The two men supposedly became involved in the risky, but profitable, enterprise of horse thievery; and McCarty, who targeted local soldiers, became known by the sobriquet of "Kid Atrim".Wallis (2007), pp. 110—111.] Biographer Robert M. Utley writes that the nickname arose because of McCarty's "slight build and beardless countenance, his young years, and his appealing personality".Utley (1989), p. 16.] In 1877, McCarty was involved in an altercation with the civilian blacksmith at Fort Grant, a loquacious Irish immigrant named Frank "Windy" Cahill, who took pleasure in bullying young McCarty.Wallis (2007), p. 114.] On August 17, Cahill reportedly attacked McCarty after a verbal exchange and threw him to the ground. Reliable accounts suggest McCarty retaliated by drawing his gun and shooting Cahill, who died the next day.Wallis (2007), p. 115.] Years later, Louis Abraham, who knew McCarty in Silver City, denied that anyone was killed in this altercation.cite web | url = | title = Eulogy | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-04] Records show, however, that a coroner's inquest concluded that McCarty's shooting of Cahill was "criminal and unjustifiable". Some of those who witnessed the incident later claimed that McCarty acted in self-defense.Wallis (s007), p. 116.]

In fear of Cahill's friends and associates, McCarty fled Arizona Territory and entered New Mexico Territory.Wallis (2007), p. 119.] He eventually arrived at the former army post of Apache Tejo, where he joined a band of cattle rustlers who targeted the sprawling herds of cattle magnate John Chisum.Wallis (2007), p. 128.] During this period, McCarty was spotted by a resident of Silver City, and the teenager's involvement with the notorious gang was mentioned in a local newspaper.Wallis (2007), pp. 123—131.] It is unclear how long McCarty rode with the gang of rustlers known as "the Boys", but reliable sources indicate that he soon turned up at the house of Heiskell Jones in Pecos Valley, New Mexico.Wallis (2007), pp. 144.] According to this account, Apaches stole McCarty's horse, forcing him to walk many miles to the nearest settlement, which happened to be Jones' home. When he arrived, the young man was supposedly near death, but Mrs. Jones nursed him back to health. The Jones family developed a strong attachment to McCarty and gave him one of their horses. At some point in 1877, McCarty began to refer to himself as "Willam H. Bonney".Wallis (2007), p. 159.]

Lincoln County War

In the Autumn of 1877, McCarty (now widely known as Bonney) moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico, and was first hired by Doc Scurlock and Charlie Bowdre to work in their cheese factory. [cite web |first=Kathy |last=Weiser |url= |title= Josiah Gordon "Doc" Scurlock - Cowboy Gunfighter |accessdate=2008-09-30 |publisher=Legends of America ] He met through them Frank Coe, George Coe and Ab Saunders, three cousins who owned their own ranch near to the ranch of Dick Brewer. After a short stint working on the ranch of Henry Hooker, McCarty began working on the Coe/Saunders ranch. [cite web |first=William H. |last=Wroth |url= |title=Billy the Kid |accessdate=2008-09-30 |publisher=New Mexico Office of the State Historian ]

Late in 1877, McCarty, along with Brewer, Bowdre, Scurlock, the Coe's and Saunders, was hired as a cattle guard by John Tunstall, an English cattle rancher, banker and merchant, and his partner, Alexander McSween, a prominent lawyer.Wallis (2007), pp. 193—196.] A conflict known today as the Lincoln County War had erupted between the established town merchants, Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, and local ranchers.Wallis (2007), pp. 196—197.] Events turned bloody on February 18, 1878, when an unarmed Tunstall was spotted herding cattle on the open range and murdered by William Morton, Jessie Evans, Tom Hill, and Frank Baker — all members of the Murphy-Dolan faction.Wallis (2007), pp. 197—198.] After murdering Tunstall, the gunmen shot down his prized bay horse.Utley (1989), p. 46.] "As a wry and macabre joke on Tunstall's great affection for horses, the dead bay's head was then pillowed on his hat", writes Frederick Nolan, Tunstall's biographer.Nolan (1965), p. 272.] Although members of the Murphy-Dolan faction sought to frame Tunstall's death as a "justifiable homicide", evidence at the scene suggested that Tunstall attempted to avoid a confrontation before he was shot down.Jacobsen (1994), pp. 87—90.] Tunstall's murder enraged McCarty and the other ranch hands.Wallis (2007), pp. 198—199.]

McSween, who abhorred violence, took steps to punish Tunstall's murderers through legal means; he obtained warrants for their arrests from a local justice of the peace.Wallis (2007), p. 199.] Tunstall's men formed their own group called the Regulators.Jacobsen (1994), pp. 107—108.] After being deputized by rancher Richard "Dick" Brewer, Tunstall's foreman, who had been appointed a special constable and given the warrant to arrest Tunstall's killers, they proceeded to the Murphy-Dolin ranch.Wallis (2007), p. 200.] The wanted men, Bill Morton and Frank Baker, attempted to flee, but they were captured on March 6. Upon returning to Lincoln, the Regulators reported that Morton and Baker had been shot on March 9 near Agua Negra during an alleged escape attempt.Wallis (2007), pp. 200—201.] Jacobsen (1994), pp. 111—112.] Burns (1953/1992), pp. 89—90.] During their journey to Lincoln, the Regulators also killed one of their own members, a man named McCloskey, whom they suspected of being a traitor.cite web | url = | title = Chronology of Billy the Kid | publisher = Shadows of the Past, Inc. | accessdate = 2008-08-04] Burns (1953/1992), p. 90.] On the very day that McCloskey, Morton, and Baker were slain, Governor Samuel Beach Axtell arrived in New Mexico Territory to investigate the ongoing violence. The governor, accompanied by James Dolan and associate John Riley, proved hostile to the faction now headed by McSween. Thus, the Regulators "went from lawmen to outlaws."Wallis (2007), p. 201.] Axtell, Dolan, Riley and the rest of the faction that had murdered Tunstall were part of the infamous "Santa Fe Ring", a corrupt group of Republican carpetbaggers, mostly Irish, who had taken over New Mexico after the Civil War. [Joel Jacobsen, Such Men as Billy the Kid: The Lincoln County War Revisited. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.]

Unfazed, the Regulators planned to settle a score with Sheriff William J. Brady, who had arrested McCarty and fellow deputy Fred Waite in the aftermath of Tunstall's murder. At the time Brady arrested them, the two men were attempting to serve a warrant on Brady for his suspected role in looting Tunstall's store after the Englishman's death.Wallis (2007), p. 199.] On April 1, Regulators Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, Fred Waite, Henry Brown and McCarty ambushed Sheriff Bradycite web | url = | title = Sheriff William Brady | publisher = The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. | accessdate = 2008-08-04] and his deputy, George W. Hindman,cite web | url = | title = Deputy Sheriff George Hindman | publisher = The Officers Down Memorial Page, Inc. | accessdate = 2008-08-04] killing them both in Lincoln's main street. McCarty was shot in the thigh while attempting to retrieve a rifle that Brady had seized from him during an earlier arrest. With this move, the McSween faction disillusioned many former supporters, who came to view both sides as "equally nefarious and bloodthirsty".Wallis (2007), p. 202.]

The connection between McSween and the Regulators was ambiguous, however. McCarty was loyal to the memory of Tunstall, not necessarily to McSween, however.Jacobsen (1994), p. 133.] There is some doubt as to whether McCarty and McSween were even acquainted at the time of Brady's death. According to a contemporary newspaper account, the Regulators disclaimed "all connection or sympathy with McSween and his affairs" and expressed their sole desire to track down Tunstall's murderers.

On April 4, in what became known as the Gunfight of Blazer's Mills, the Regulators sought the arrest of an old buffalo hunter known as Buckshot Roberts, whom they suspected of involvement in the Tunstall slaying.Wallis (2007), p. 203.] Roberts, however, refused to be taken alive, even after he suffered a severe bullet wound to the chest.Burns (1953/1992), pp. 97—98.] During the gun battle that ensued, Roberts shot and killed the Regulators' leader, Dick Brewer.Jacobsen (1994), pp. 144—145.] Four other Regulators were wounded in the skirmish. The incident had the effect of further alienating the public, given that many local residents "admired the way Roberts put up a gutsy fight against overwhelming odds."Wallis (2007), p. 204.]

Killing of Frank McNab and after

After Brewer's death, Frank McNab was elected as captain of the Regulators.Wallis (2007), p. 204.] For a short period, the Regulators benefited from the appointment of Sheriff John Copeland, who proved sympathetic to the McSween faction. Copeland's authority, however, was undermined by the Murphy-Dolan faction, which promptly rounded up recruits from among Sheriff Brady's former deputies.Wallis (2007), p. 205.] On April 29, 1878, a posse including the Jessie Evans Gang and the Seven Rivers Warriors, under the direction of former Brady deputy George W. Peppin, engaged Regulators Frank McNab, Ab Saunders and Frank Coe in a shootout at the Fritz Ranch. McNab was killed in a hail of gunfire, while Saunders was severely wounded and Frank Coe was captured. Frank Coe escaped custody a short time later, when his captors were occupied elsewhere.Wallis (2007), p. 206.]

What is known about the morning following McNab's death is that the Regulator "iron clad" took up defensive positions in the town of Lincoln, trading shots with Dolan men as well as U.S. cavalrymen.Wallis (2007), pp. 205—206.] The only casualty was Dutch Charley Kruling, a Dolan man wounded by a rifle slug fired by George Coe at a distance of 440 paces. [cite book |last=Caldwell |first=C.R. |title=Dead Right - The Lincoln County War |year=2008 |publisher=Clifford, Caldwell | url= |isbn=0615171524 |page=108 ] By shooting at government troops, the Regulators earned their animosity and gained a whole new set of enemies. On May 15, the Regulators tracked down Seven Rivers gang member Manuel Segovia, the suspected murderer of Frank McNab, and shot him to death.Wallis (2007), pp. 209—210.] Around the time of Segovia's death, the Regulator "iron clad" gained a new member, a young Texas "cowpoke" named Tom O'Folliard, who became McCarty's close friend and constant companion.Wallis (2007), p. 212.]

The Regulators' position worsened when the governor, in a quasi-legal move, removed Copeland and appointed George Peppin (an ally of the Murphy-Dolan faction) as sheriff.Wallis (2007), p. 211.] Under indictment for the Brady killing, McCarty and the other Regulators spent the next several months in hiding and were trapped, along with McSween, in McSween's home in Lincoln on July 15, by members of "The House" (as the Murphy-Dolan faction was known) and some of Brady's men.Wallis (2007), pp. 212—213.] On July 19, a column of U.S. cavalry soldiers entered the fray. Ostensibly neutral, the column's actions worked to the clear advantage of the Dolan faction.Wallis (2007), pp. 213—214.] After a five day siege, McSween's house was set on fire. McCarty and the other Regulators fled, although McCarty is believed by some to have killed one "House" member named Bob Beckwith. [cite web |url= |title=Billy the Kid |accessdate=2008-09-30 |publisher=New Mexico Tourism ] McSween was shot down while fleeing the blaze, and his death essentially marked the end of the Lincoln County Cattle War.Wallis (2007), pp. 214—215.]

Lew Wallace and amnesty

In the Autumn of 1878, a former Union Army general, Lew Wallace, became Governor of the New Mexico Territory.Wallis (2007), p. 225.] In an effort to restore peace to Lincoln County, Wallace proclaimed an amnesty for any man involved in the Lincoln County War who was not already under indictment. McCarty, who had fled to Texas after his escape from McSween's house, was under indictment, but Wallace was intrigued by rumors that the young man was willing to surrender himself and testify against other combatants if amnesty could be extended to him.Wallis (2007), pp. 227—228.] In March 1879, Wallace and McCarty met in Lincoln County to discuss the possibility of a deal. True to form, McCarty greeted the governor with a revolver in one hand and a Winchester rifle in the other. After taking several days to consider Wallace's offer, Bonney agreed to testify in return for amnesty.

The arrangement called for McCarty to submit to a token arrest and a short stay in jail until the conclusion of his courtroom testimony. Although McCarty's testimony helped to indict John Dolan, the district attorney, one of the powerful "House" faction leaders, disregarded Wallace's order to set McCarty free after his testimony.Wallis (2207), pp.228—229.] After the trial, McCarty and O'Folliard slipped away on horses that were supplied by friends.Wallis (2007), p. 229.]

For the next year-and-a-half, McCarty survived by rustling, gambling, and taking defensive action. In January 1880, during a well-documented altercation, he killed a man named Joe Grant in a Fort Sumner saloon.Wallis (2007), p. 233.] Grant was boasting that he would kill the "Kid" if he saw him, not realizing the man he was playing poker with was "Billy the Kid." In those days people only loaded their revolvers with five bullets,Fact|date=March 2008 since there were no safeties and a lot of accidents. The "Kid" asked Grant if he could see his ivory handled revolver and, while looking at the weapon, cycled the cylinder so the hammer would fall on the empty chamber. He then informed Grant of his identity. When Grant fired, nothing happened, and Bonney then shot him. When asked about the incident later, he remarked, "It was a game for two, and I got there first".Wallis (2007), p. 234.] Other versions of this story exist. In one version, Billy emptied the gun. In another, Grant had just purchased the six-shot pistol from a Chisum-employed cowboy named Jack Finan, who had fired three rounds earlier without reloading. According to this account, the Kid turned the empty cartridges up to the hammer.Fact|date=August 2008

In November 1880, a posse pursued and trapped McCarty's gang inside a ranch house owned by one of the Kid's friends, James Greathouse, at Anton Chico in the White Oaks area.Wallis (2007), p. 236.] A posse member named James Carlyslecite web | url = | title = Deputy Sheriff James Carlysle | publisher = The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. | accessdate = 2008-08-04 ] ventured into the house under a white flag, in an effort to negotiate the group's surrender. Meanwhile, Greathouse was sent out to act as a hostage for the posse.Fact|date=August 2008 At some point in the evening, Carlysle evidently decided the outlaws were stalling. According to one version of events, Carlysle heard a shot that had been fired accidentally outside. Concluding that the posse members had shot down Greathouse, he chose to run for his life. Carlysle crashed through a window and jumped into the snow.Fact|date=August 2008 The posse, mistaking Carlysle for a member of the gang, fired and killed him. Recognizing their mistake, the posse members became demoralized and scattered, enabling McCarty and his gang to slip away. McCarty vehemently denied shooting Carlysle, and later wrote to Governor Wallace, claiming to be innocent of this crime and others attributed to him.Wallis (2007), p. 237.]

Pat Garrett

During this time, McCarty became acquainted with an ambitious local bartender and former buffalo hunter named Pat Garrett. While popular accounts often depict McCarty and Garrett as "bosom buddies", there is no concrete evidence that they were ever friends.Wallis (2007), p. 235.] Running on a pledge to rid the area of rustlers, Garrett was elected as sheriff of Lincoln County in November 1880, and in early December, he assembled a posse and set out to arrest McCarty, now known almost exclusively as "Billy the Kid" and carrying a $500 bounty on his head.Wallis (2007), pp. 236—238.]

The posse led by Garrett fared well, and his men closed in quickly. On December 19, McCarty barely escaped a midnight ambush in Fort Sumner, which left one member of the gang, Tom O'Folliard, dead.Wallis (2007), p. 238.] On December 23, the Kid was tracked to an abandoned stone building located in a remote location known as Stinking Springs. While McCarty and his gang were asleep inside, Garrett's posse surrounded the building and waited for sunrise. The next morning, a cattle rustler named Charlie Bowdre stepped outside to feed his horse.Jacobsen (1994), p. 226.] Mistaken for McCarty, he was shot down by the posse. Soon afterward, somebody from within the building reached for the horse's halter rope, but Garrett shot and killed the horse, whose body blocked the building's only exit.Wallis (2007), p. 239.] As the lawmen began to cook breakfast over an open fire, Garrett and McCarty engaged in a friendly exchange, with Garrett inviting McCarty outside to eat, and McCarty inviting Garrett to "go to hell". Realizing that they had no hope of escape, the besieged and hungry outlaws finally surrendered later that day and were allowed to join in the meal.

Escape from Lincoln

McCarty was transported from Fort Sumner to Las Vegas, where he spent much of his time giving interviews to reporters.Wallis (2007), p. 240—241.] Next, the prisoner was transferred to Santa Fe, where he peppered Governor Wallace with letters seeking clemency.Wallis (2007), p. 241.] Wallace, however, refused to intervene, and the Kid's trial was held in April 1881 in Mesilla.Wallis (2007), p. 242.] On April 9, after two days of testimony, McCarty was found guilty of the murder of Sheriff Brady, the only conviction ever secured against any of the combatants in the Lincoln County Cattle War. On April 13, he was sentenced by Judge Warren Bristol to hang.

With his execution scheduled for May 13, McCarty was removed to Lincoln, where he was held under guard by two of Garrett's deputies, James Bell and Robert Ollinger, on the top floor of the town courthouse. On April 28, while Garrett was out of town, McCarty stunned the territory by killing both of his guards and escaping.Wallis (2007), pp. 243—244.] The details of the escape are unclear. Some researchers believe that a sympathizer placed a pistol in a nearby privy that McCarty was permitted to use, under escort, each day. McCarty retrieved the gun, and turned it on Bell when the pair had reached the top of a flight of stairs in the courthouse. Another theory holds that McCarty slipped off his manacles at the top of the stairs, struck Bellcite web | url = | title = Deputy Sheriff James W. Bell | publisher = The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. | accessdate = 2008-08-04] over the head with them, grabbed Bell's own gun, and shot him with it.

Whatever happened, Bell staggered into the street and collapsed, mortally wounded. Meanwhile, McCarty scooped up Ollinger'scite web | url = |title=Deputy Marshal Robert Olinger |publisher=The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. |accessdate=2008-08-04] 10-gauge double barrel shotgun and waited at the upstairs window for Ollinger, who had been across the street with some other prisoners, to come to Bell's aid. As Ollinger came running into view, McCarty leveled the shotgun at him, called out "Hello Bob!" and shot him dead.Burns (1953/1992), pp. 248—249.] The townsfolk supposedly gave him an hour that he used to remove his leg iron. The hour was reportedly granted in appreciation for his work as part of "The Regulators." After cutting his leg irons with an axe, the young outlaw borrowed (or stole) a horse and rode leisurely out of town, reportedly singing. The horse was returned two days later.Wallis (2007), p. 245.]


Responding to rumors that McCarty was still lurking in the vicinity of Fort Sumner almost three months after his escape, Sheriff Garrett and two deputies set out on July 14, 1881, to question one of the town's residents, a friend of McCarty's named Pedro Maxwell (son of land baron Lucien Maxwell).Wallis (2007), p. 246.] Close to midnight, as Garrett and Maxwell sat talking in Maxwell's darkened bedroom, McCarty unexpectedly entered the room.Wallis (2007), p. 247.] There are at least two versions of what happened next.

One version suggests that as the Kid entered, he failed to recognize Garrett in the poor light. McCarty drew his pistol and backed away, asking "¿Quién es? ¿Quién es?" (Spanish for "Who is it? Who is it?"). Recognizing McCarty's voice, Garrett drew his own pistol and fired twice, the first bullet striking McCarty just above his heart, killing him. In a second version, McCarty entered carrying a knife, evidently headed to a kitchen area. He noticed someone in the darkness, and uttered the words, "¿Quién es? ¿Quién es?" at which point he was shot and killed in ambush style.

Although the popularity of the first story persists, and portrays Garrett in a better light, many historians contend that the second version is probably the accurate one.cite web | url = | first = Deborah | last = O'Toole | title = Billy the Kid: Myths and Truths | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-04] A markedly different theory, in which Garrett and his posse set a trap for McCarty, has also been suggested. Most recently explored in the Discovery Channel documentary, "Billy the Kid: Unmasked", this theory contends that Garrett went to the bedroom of Pedro Maxwell's sister, Paulita, and bound and gagged her in her bed. Paulita was an acquaintance of Billy the Kid, and the two may have considered getting married. When McCarty arrived, Garrett was waiting behind Paulita's bed and shot the Kid.

McCarty was buried the next day in Fort Sumner's old military cemetery, between his fallen companions Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. A single tombstone was later erected over the graves, giving the three outlaws' names and with the word "Pals" also carved into it. The tombstone has been stolen and recovered three times since it was set in place in the 1940s, and the entire gravesite is now enclosed within a steel cage.cite web | url = | title = Tourist Attractions | publisher = Fort Sumner Chamber of Commerce | accessdate = 2008-08-04]

Notoriety, fact vs. reputation

Like many gunfighters of the "Old West", Billy the Kid enjoyed a reputation built partly on exaggerated accounts of his exploits.Wallis (2007), p. 220.] While McCarty was credited with the killing of no less than 20 men, his proven murder count was four. Some historians speculate that his image was created deliberately to distract the public's attention from the nefarious activities of the Dolan faction and their influential supporters in Santa Fe, notably regional political leader Thomas B. Catron.

Ironically, the undeserved notoriety that McCarty gained during the Lincoln County War effectively doomed his appeals for amnesty.Wallis (2007), pp. 236—237.] A number of the Regulators faded away or secured amnesty, but McCarty was in no position to accomplish either. His negotiations with Governor Lew Wallace (famed Civil War general and author of the novel Ben Hur) for amnesty came to nothing. His position was further undermined by a string of negative newspaper editorials that referred to him as "Billy the Kid". When a reporter reminded Wallace that the Kid was depending on Wallace's intervention, the governor supposedly smiled and said, "Yes, but I can't see how a fellow like him can expect any clemency from me".

One widely reported characteristic of Henry McCarty, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, has stood the test of research: his personal charisma and popularity. Various accounts recorded by friends and acquaintances describe him as fun-loving and jolly, articulate in both his writing and his speech, and loyal to those he cared for.cite web | url= |title=Chronology of the Life of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, Part 2 | | accessdate = 2008-08-04] He was fluent in Spanish, popular with the Latina girls, an accomplished dancer, and thus especially well-loved within the territory's Hispanic community. There he was regarded as a champion of the oppressed. "His many Hispanic friends did not view him as a ruthless killer but rather as a defender of the people who was forced to kill in self-defense", Wallis writes. "In the time that the Kid roamed the land he chided Hispanic villagers who were fearful of standing up to the big ranchers who stole their land, water, and way of life". In this sense, the Lincoln County War was a microcosm of the struggle of New Mexico's established Hispanic ranching communities to hold onto their lands in the face of the encroachments of northern Republican carpetbaggers such as Dolan, Fritz, Martin, Murphy and other corrupt members of the faction called "The House". This post-war struggle between Anglo-newcomers and ancestral Hispanic ranchers divides New Mexico to this day along the old Republican-Democrat lines.

Left-handed or right-handed?

While Billy the Kid was right-handed, it was widely assumed in the 20th century that he was left-handed. This belief stemmed from the fact that the only known photograph of Bonney, an undated ferrotype, shows him with a Model 1873 Winchester rifle in his right hand and a gun belt with a holster on his left side, where a left-handed person would typically wear a pistol. The belief became so entrenched that in 1958, a biographical film was made about Billy the Kid called "The Left Handed Gun" starring Paul Newman. Late in the 20th century, it was discovered that the familiar ferrotype was actually a reverse image. This version shows his Model 1873 Winchester with the loading port on the left side. All Model 1873s had the loading port on the right side, proving the image was reversed, and that he was, in fact, wearing his pistol on his right hip. Even though the image has been proven to be reversed, the idea of a left-handed Billy the Kid continues to widely circulate. Perhaps because many people heard both of these arguments and confused them, many hold the belief that Billy the Kid was ambidextrous. Many Billy the Kid sites describe him as such, and the idea of him being ambidextrous is still widely disputed. [cite web | url = | title = Fact v. Myth | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-04] cite web | url = | title = Brushy Bill–The Truth? | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-04] cite web | url = | title = Wild West: Billy the Kid | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-04]

Personality traits by first hand accounts

* Frank Coe, who rode as a Regulator, years after Bonney's death: "I never enjoyed better company. He was humorous and told me many amusing stories. He always found a touch of humor in everything, being naturally full of fun and jollity. Though he was serious in emergencies, his humor was often apparent even in such situations. Billy stood with us to the end, brave and reliable, one of the best soldiers we had. He never pushed in his advice or opinions, but he had a wonderful presence of mind. The tighter the place the more he showed his cool nerve and quick brain. He never seemed to care for money, except to buy cartridges with. Cartridges were scarce, and he always used about ten times as many as everyone else. He would practice shooting at anything he saw, from every conceivable angle, on and off his horse". [ "Eulogy."] "About Billy the Kid". Page 1.]

* George Coe, cousin to Frank and also a Regulator: "Billy was a brave, resourceful and honest boy. He would have been a successful man under other circumstances. The Kid was a thousand times better and braver than any man hunting him, including Pat Garrett".

* Susan McSween, widow of Alexander McSween: "Billy was not a bad man, that is he was not a murderer who killed wantonly. Most of those he killed deserved what they got. Of course I cannot very well defend his stealing horses and cattle, but when you consider that the Murphy Dolan and Riley people forced him into such a lawless life through efforts to secure his arrest and conviction, it is hard to blame the poor boy for what he did".

* Deluvina Maxwell, friend to Billy the Kid: "Garrett was afraid to go back in the room to make sure of whom he had shot. I went in and was the first to discover that they had killed my little boy. I hated those men and am glad that I lived long enough to see them all dead and buried".

* Louis Abraham, a friend to Bonney in Silver City, New Mexico: "The story of Billy the Kid killing a blacksmith in Silver City is false. Billy was never in any trouble at all. He was a good boy, maybe a little too mischievous at times. When the boy was placed in jail and escaped, he was not bad, just scared. If he had only waited until they let him out he would have been all right, but he was scared and ran away. He got in with a band of rustlers in Apache Tejo in part of the county where he was made a hardened character".

People claiming to be Billy the Kid

Legend grew over time that Billy the Kid had somehow cheated death, despite eyewitness accounts.Wallis (2007), p. xiv.] In 2004, researchers sought to exhume the remains of Catherine Antrim, McCarty's mother, "so her DNA could be tested and compared with DNA to be taken from the body buried under the Kid's gravestone". The case ended up locked in the courts "much to the delight of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who knows all too well the value of Billy as a cultural icon and a draw for tourists". At least two men claimed to be McCarty, and were successful in convincing at least a few people.

Brushy Bill

In 1949, a paralegal named William Morrison located a man in West Texas named Ollie P. Roberts, nicknamed "Brushy Bill", who claimed to be the actual Billy the Kid, and that he indeed had not been shot and killed by Pat Garrett in 1881. Most historians reject the Brushy Bill claim. There were numerous points that both supported and discounted Roberts claim. Although, as stated, most historians discount his claims, people continue to proclaim that he was Billy the Kid. Despite discrepancies in birth dates and physical appearance, the town of Hico, Texas (Brushy Bill's residence), has capitalized on the Kid's infamy by opening the "Billy The Kid Museum".

John Miller

Another claimant to the title of Billy the Kid was John Miller, whose family claimed him posthumously to be Billy the Kid in 1938. Miller was buried at the state-owned Pioneers' Home Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona. Tom Sullivan, former sheriff of Lincoln County, and Steve Sederwall, former mayor of Capitan, disinterred the bones of John Miller in May 2005.cite web | url = | first = Leo W. | last = Banks | title = A New Billy the Kid? | publisher = Tucson Weekly | accessdate = 2008-08-04] DNA samples from the remains were sent to a lab in Dallas, Texas, to be compared against traces of blood taken from a bench that was believed to be the one McCarty's body was placed on after he was shot to death. The pair had been searching for McCarty's physical remains since 2003, beginning in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and eventually ending up in Arizona. To date, no results of the DNA tests have been made public.

elected references in popular culture

Billy the Kid has been the subject or inspiration for many popular works, including:


* "Billy the Kid", 1930 film directed by King Vidor, starring Johnny Mack Brown as Billy and Wallace Beery as Pat Garrett.Wallis (2007), p. xvi.]
* "Billy the Kid Returns", 1938: Roy Rogers plays a dual role, Billy the Kid and his dead-ringer lookalike who shows up after the Kid has been shot by Pat Garrett.
* "Billy the Kid", 1941 remake of the 1930 film, starring Robert Taylor and Brian Donlevy
* "The Outlaw", Howard Hughes' 1943 motion picture
* "The Kid from Texas" (1950, Universal International) film starring Audie Murphy--location of title character's place of origin changed to appeal to Texans and capitalize on Murphy association with that state
* "The Left Handed Gun", Arthur Penn's 1958 motion picture starring Paul Newman
* "Chisum", 1970 movie starring John Wayne as John Chisum, dealing with Billy the Kid's involvement in the Lincoln County War, portrayed by Geoffrey Deuel
* "Dirty Little Billy",cite web | url = | title = Dirty Little Billy | publisher = | accessdate = 2008-08-04] Stan Dragoti's 1972 film starring Michael J. Pollard.
* "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", Sam Peckinpah's 1973 motion picture with Kris Kristofferson as Billy, James Coburn as Pat Garrett and with a soundtrack by Bob Dylan
* "Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid",imdb title|id=0097450/ |title= Billy the Kid] Gore Vidal's 1989 film starring Val Kilmer as Billy and Duncan Regehr as Pat Garrett
* "Young Guns", Christopher Cain's 1988 motion picture starring Emilio Estevez as Billy and Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne as Pat Garrett
* "Young Guns II", Geoff Murphy's 1990 motion picture starring Emilio Estevez as Billy and William Petersen as Pat Garrett
* "Requiem for Billy the Kid", Anne Feinsilber's 2006 motion picture starring Kris Kristofferson


* Bob Dylan's album "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", soundtrack of the 1973 film by Sam Peckinpah
* Jon Bon Jovi's album "Blaze of Glory", used as part of the soundtrack for "Young Guns II", and featured the song "Billy Get Your Gun".
* Marty Robbins' song "Billy the Kid" from the album "Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs Volume 3"
* Marty Robbins' song "Fastest Gun Around" from the 1963 album "Return of the Gunfighter"
* Dave Stamey's "The Skies of Lincoln County", which features the deceased Bonney as narrator, answering historical distortions by Pat Garrett


* Aaron Copland's 1938 ballet, "Billy the Kid"
* Joseph Santley's 1906 Broadway play co-written by Santley, in which he also starred

Television and radio

* " [ Billy the Kid] ", a New Mexico PBS documentary
* The 2003 Discovery Channel Quest, "Billy the Kid: Unmasked", investigated the life and death of Billy the Kid through forensic science.
* TV series "The Tall Men" ran from 1960 to 1962, starring Clu Gulager as Billy and Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett
* TV series "Maverick" featured an episode where Bret (James Garner) meets several infamous outlaws, including Billy the Kid.


* "Billy the Kid Returns", a PC game based on the life of Billy the Kid published by Alive Software in 1993
* "The Legend of Billy the Kid", a game published by Ocean Software in 1991 for PC and Amiga.
* "Call of Juarez", a 1st person shooter based on the events surrounding "Billy the Kid"



* Burns, Walter Noble (1953/1992). "The Saga of Billy the Kid". New York: Konecky & Konecky Associates. ISBN 1568521782
* Jacobsen, Joel (1997). "Such Men as Billy the Kid: The Lincoln County War Reconsidered". Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803276060
* Nolan, Frederick (1965). "The Life & Death of John Henry Tunstall". Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
* Rasch, Philip J. (1995). "Trailing Billy the Kid". Stillwater, OK: Western Publications. ISBN 0935269193
* Utley, Robert M. (1989). "Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life". Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803295588
* Wallis, Michael (2007). "Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride". New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393060683

Further reading

* Nolan, Frederick (2007). "Tascosa: Its Life and Gaudy Times". Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press.
* Trachman, Paul (1974). "The Old West: The Gunfighters". New York: Time-Life Books.
* Tuska, John (1983). "Billy the Kid, A Handbook". Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803294069

External links

* [ Findagrave: Billy the Kid]
* [ Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang]
* [ About Billy the Kid]
* [ Court TV's Crime Library: Billy the Kid]
* [ Wild West magazine] , "Billy the Kid: The Great Escape", Barbara Tucker Peterson and Louis Hart, August 1998
* [ Wild West magazine] , "The Hunting of Billy the Kid", Frederick Nolan, June 2003
* [ Wild West magazine] , "Billy the Kid and the U.S. Marshals Service", David S. Turk, February 2007 (issued December 2006)
* [ Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway]
* [ DesertUSA: "The Desert's Baddest Boy"]
*worldcat id|id=lccn-n79-55264

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