The Kid" McCarty 1859-1881
Myth: Billy the Kid was a
Westerner. (Implying he was born in the West.)
Fact: No one knows for certain. Three possible birth sites: New York City,
Indiana, and Missouri.
Myth: His name was William
Fact: His name was Henry McCarty.
Myth: He killed a man at age
Fact: He was seventeen when a bully sat on him and beat him. Billy pulled
a pistol out of his pocket and shot him.
Myth: Billy killed 21 men
by the age of 21.
Fact: Only 4 men he shot, dead. All were in self-defense. (Self-defense
also implies an act to escape being wrongfully killed or hung. There is
no proof he was the one to shoot Sheriff Brady.)
Myth: Billy rescued a wagon
train by scaring off the indians with an axe.
Fact: A bald-faced lie.
Myth: Billy rode 81 miles
in 6 hours to free a friend from jail.
Fact: A figment of a writer's imagination (it didn't happen)
Myth: The Kid escaped to Mexico,
where he died an old man.
Fact: Sheriff Pat Garrett killed Billy with a single shot to the heart,
in a dark room, when he recognized Billys voice saying "Who is it?"
Myth: Brushy Bill Roberts
of Texas was really Billy the Kid.
Fact: He was not. Too many saw the real Billy the Kid dead in old Fort
Myth: Billy the Kid was a
Fact: Billy the Kid shot only to revenge the killing of his employer who
treated him as a son. Billy was educated, wrote many letters to the then
Governor of New Mexico, Lew Wallace (Author of Ben Hur) asking him to
keep his promise of a pardon.
- Frederick Nolan, researcher
and author of The Lincoln County War - A Documentary History (1992) and
The West of Billy the Kid (1998).
His real name was Henry
McCarty and he was born in New York City. His father died when he was
a child. His mother Catherine moved West with him and his brother Joseph.
She supported them by operating various hotels, boardinghouses, and laundries.
They were living in Wichita, Kansas in 1871 when she sold all her properties.
She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and had probably been advised
to move to a drier climate. Billy was 12. They moved to Silver City, New
Mexico. On March 1, 1873, she finally married William H. Antrim, who had
courted her for several years. She operated a boardinghouse and William
worked in the mines. She died a year later.
Watching his mother slowly die may have somehow affected Billy. He no
longer attended school. He took up poker. Finally Antrim agreed to let
the Truesdall family take him in. They operated the Star Hotel. He worked
for his keep by waiting tables and doing kitchen chores.
In 1875, his first brush with the law occurred when he was arrested for
stealing clothes from two Chinese. He escaped from jail and was on the
run ever after. About this time he changed his name to William H. Bonney,
probably to spare his family name.
On August 17, 1877, he killed his first man. This was near Camp Grant,
Arizona at a saloon. The victim was a blacksmith named Windy. He had been
constantly tormenting the young, slender teenager Billy, slapping him
around and wrestling him to the floor. Finally Billy had enough and shot
him. He fled town and wandered among the cow towns of New Mexico and Arizona,
working at odd jobs.
Finally he arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He arrived just about
the time the Lincoln County War was about to heat up. It erupted because
of the land monopoly by John Chisum, whose ranch was one of the largest
in the west. Billy was working at the Coe ranch one of the smaller ranches
infringing on Chisum's space. The co-enemy was L.G. Murphy & Co. who
the ranchers saw as unfairly inflating prices in their stores. John Tunstall,
an Englishman who had set up a competing mercantile, took Billy in and
The war erupted in February 1878. Alexander McSween, a lawyer, had been
retained by the late Lt. Col. Fritz's brother and sister to collect a
$10,000 life insurance policy. Fritz was the partner of Murphy. McSween
was on Tunstall's side. There was a delay of several months while McSween
attempted to find out if there were any other heirs. Murphy & Co.
persuaded the heirs to sue for failure to deliver. In February, a "sheriff's
posse," rode out to the Tunstall ranch demanding payment of the debt
with Tunstall's property. Billy and others urged him to fight but Tunstall
said nothing was worth losing your life over. While riding in to Lincoln
with his herd, another Murphy group, not knowing that Tunstall had basically
given in, caught up with them and shot Tunstall dead.
Tunstall was a good friend, almost a family member of the Kid, and his
death was tragic for Billy. He swore revenge on all those who had been
responsible. A group of vigilantes called The Regulators, including Billy,
went out after the Dolan gang, part of Murphy's bunch. But Dolan was ready
and soon Billy found himself in jail. A few days later he was free and
he and his friends again went out and captured Billy Morton and Frank
Baker. Those two died while attempting to escape from jail. Soon after,
Billy, now the leader of the group with Doc Scurlock were involved in
a shootout with Sheriff Brady, who was in Dolan's pocket. Brady was killed.
Billy continued to roam the county looking for others involved in Tunstall's
death. They were involved in another shootout, this time with Andrew "Buckshot"
Roberts, who had been in the sheriff's posse. Billy's friend Bowdre actually
shot Roberts, but Billy got blamed. Now there was a price on his head.
In May, the governor appointed George Peppin the new sheriff. Unfortunately
he was also on the payroll of Murphy & Co. He and his posse harassed
Billy and The Regulators all spring and early summer. His posse was largely
made up of deputized outlaws and desperadoes. Billy's friend Frank McNab
was killed. His friend Ab Sanders was badly wounded and Frank Coe was
taken into custody.
On July 11, 1878, Billy joined forces with a large band of Mexicans led
by his old friend Martin Chavez. Peppin hired a new posse. He appealed
to Col. N. A. M. Dudley at nearby Fort Stanton to give him some men. Dudley
complied, even though the U.S. military was not supposed to get involved
with civilian disputes. He needed Murphy's supplies of goods and services.
It was a standoff. The two factions traded shots at the city of Lincoln.
On July 19, 1878, the enemy set fire to McSween's house. As Billy and
his friends attempted to rescue McSween, the posse shot McSween five times
and killed him. Billy and his friends fled unharmed. They hid out at Fort
Sumner on the Pecos River where Billy had many friends. They worked at
nearby ranches for awhile. It was about this time that Billy met Pat Garrett,
who then was a bartender for Beaver Smith's saloon/gambling hall.
On February 18, 1879, Billy and Tom O'Folliard rode into Lincoln to meet
with Dolan and Jesse Evans to discuss a truce. Supposedly the truce was
made but immediately Campbell killed H. J. Chapman, Mrs. McSween's lawyer
and set fire to his body. The new governor Lew Wallace, a former civil
war general and future author of Ben Hur, was furious. He called for the
immediate arrest of Dolan Evans and Campbell. He also offered a $500 record
to bring an Billy as a witness. The kid was afraid to come in though because
of past charges against him. So Wallace arranged a secret meeting with
Billy. The governor promised him a pardon if he would testify. When Billy
said he was still worried the Dolan gang would try to get him, Wallace
promised full protection. An "arrest" was set up and Billy was
taken in. On March 23, 1879, he gave a detailed statement regarding the
rustling activities in the county. In April he testified before the grand
jury. Unfortunately no one was convicted due to corruption, and soon Billy
then found himself about to be tried for the murder of Sheriff Brady.
He escaped from jail and fled with O'Folliard and Doc Scurlock. He went
back to Fort Sumner working on ranches. During that time he met Dave Rudabaugh,
another outlaw on the run. The two joined their forces. With Dave were
Billy Wilson and Tom Pickett. With Billy were O'Folliard and Scurlock.
On December 19, 1880, Billy was captured at Stinking Springs. Billy and
his five men had just returned to Fort Sumner to get supplies. They were
jumped by Garrett, who had been appointed Deputy Sheriff, and his men.
O'Folliard was shot on the spot and died two hours later. The rest escaped
to a nearby ranch. Garrett set out with 16 men but couldn't catch Billy
at first. But it was snowy outside and the moon was full so tracking was
fairly easy. Garrett cornered him at an old deserted house at Stinking
Springs about 3 a.m.
At first light, Charlie Bowdre stepped outside and was shot by the posse.
The others wanted to surrender but Billy didn't. Eventually though, they
did surrender and were taken into custody to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Pat
Garrett then escorted the outlaws to Santa Fe. Billy was tried, convicted,
and sentenced to hang in Mesilla by Judge Warren Bristol, suspected of
being on the payroll of the Santa Fe ring and the Dolan gang. The execution
date was set for May 13, 1881. They moved back to Lincoln to await that
date. Billy escaped from jail on April 18. He killed jailor J. W. Belle
with a six-shooter that his friends hid in the privy. He killed Robert
Olinger, the other jailor, with a shotgun. It was easy for him to find
people who sympathized with him and helped him remove the leg iron. He
headed to his old hideout at Fort Sumner. However, now his friends were
encouraging him to escape to old Mexico. But he wouldn't go.
In May 1881, Garrett hired John W. Poe as Deputy. Poe discovered that
the Kid was still at Fort Sumner. He and Garrett and Roswell Deputy Thomas
L. (Tip) McKinney rode after him. The two scouted around for Billy and
were about to give up when Poe suggested they visit Pete Maxwell, a local
wealthy rancher, who they hoped could tell them about Billy. While there,
Billy walked in and Garrett shot him dead, on July 14, 1881. He was buried
at the old military cemetery at Fort Sumner. He was 21 years, 7 months,
and 22 days old when he died.
-copyright 2005 by Beth