By most accounts, Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty in New York City, NY November 23, 1859, his parents being Catherine and Patrick McCarty, although it is not known for sure. Another view is that he was born William H. Bonney to Catherine and William McCarty Bonney. Billy did sign letters as William H. Bonney, but this was after he fled the Arizona territory, wanted for murder, so many assume that William H. Bonney was just an alias to hide from the law and that's why he used it signing letters. Another story has it as Billy being born as Henry McCarty to a Joseph McCarty of Cass County, IN. However, in the 1880 census of Lincoln County, NM, the Kid listed his name as William H. Bonney and his state of birth as New York.
One account of the family is that Billy's mother, Catherine, moved west with her two boys Henry (Billy) and Joseph and William Antrim, settling in Wichita, KS. in 1870. There Catherine ran a laundry business and invested in real estate. After Wichita, the family moved to Coffeyville, KS. for a short time which is where Billy got into his first trouble with the law, arrested for stealing items from a local store. Catherine then decided to move to the southwest with William Antrim and her boys, supposedly because she had tuberculosis and needed the drier climate. She married William Antrim in Santa Fe, NM March 1, 1873, with her two boys present.
The family then moved to Silver City, NM where Antrim worked as a miner and Catherine ran a boarding house. Catherine had many health problems and on September 16, 1874 she died, leaving her two sons to live with their stepfather, William Antrim. At the time Billy was 15 and had gotten into trouble in Silver City with the law, nothing major, petty theft and whatnot, but he and his stepfather never got along, Antrim thinking Billy was a troublemaker. Billy did attend school and worked at odd jobs. Billy and a friend, George "Sombrero Jack" Shaffer, as a prank, stole some clothes from a local laundry and were arrested. Billy, not wanting to face his stern stepfather for this offense, left town and ventured to the Arizona territory and worked at odd jobs on ranches and in towns.
During this period, not much is "recorded" of the Kid, although this is the time when Billy killed his first man. This was 1877, when Billy was first called "Kid". On August 17, 1877, a blacksmith, Frank P. Cahill, an Irishman, was in George Adkins' Saloon in Camp Grant, AZ. Cahill was a huge man and had been drinking, he and Billy argued. He called Billy a pimp and slapped him upside the head, which through Billy to the floor. Billy, realizing that he was no match for Cahill, drew his gun and shot Cahill in the stomach, Cahill died the next day. Billy was thrown into the camp guardhouse, but escaped and that's when he began running.
The Kid then drifted back to the New Mexico territory, to Lincoln County, taking on the name William H. Bonney, this was late 1877. He found work as a hired hand for L.G. Murphy and J.J. Dolan, who owned huge cattle ranches in Lincoln County and had a monopoly on the cattle and merchant trade. The Murphy-Dolan faction, also known as "The House", had one main competitor, Alexander McSween, a Lincoln attorney, and John Tunstall, a wealthy Englishman who were backed by the days biggest cattle baron, John Chisum. This became known as the Lincoln County War. Murphy-Dolan didn't particularly care for competition and were willing to do whatever they had to do to stop it. There were also investors in Murphy-Dolan from Santa Fe, called the Sante Fe ring, which included, among others, the attorney general.
The Kid spent most of his days rustling cattle for Murphy-Dolan from Chisum's Jinglebob Ranch. Murphy-Dolan would then sell the cattle to Mexican and Indian buyers, who didn't really care who's brand was on them as long as the price was right. By chance, the Kid met John Tunstall, the Murphy-Dolan chief rival, and they immediately hit it off. Tunstall would become the father figure Billy never had, for a while anyway. The Kid idolized Tunstall and left the Murphy-Dolan ranch and went to work for him. The Kid emulated Tunstall in many ways, and Tunstall was quite impressed with Billy and was quoted as saying of the Kid "That's the finest lad I ever met. He's a revelation to me everyday and would do anything to please me. I'm going to make a man out of that boy yet".
Tunstall's plans for the Kid were never realized. On February 18, 1878, Tunstall was killed in cold blood by men deputized by Sheriff William Brady, who was appointed to his position by Murphy-Dolan. These men, including Frank Baker, Jesse Evans, Jim McDaniel and Billy Morton, among others, who were at one time friends of the Kid's when he worked for Murphy-Dolan, stopped Tunstall on a road and informed him that they were taking part of his cattle herd, stating that the cattle belonged to Murphy-Dolan. Tunstall of course spoke out, saying that the cattle were his and to look at the brands to see he was telling the truth. The men drew their guns, ordering Tunstall to surrender. Tunstall climbed out of his buckboard and handed over his gun, stating "I don't want any bloodshed". As Tunstall was handing over his gun to Jesse Evans, Evans shot the unarmed man and he fell to the ground. Billy Morton then fired a second round, into Tunstall's head, killing him instantly.
When the Kid got word of the killing of Tunstall, he said "He was the only man that ever treated me kindly, like I was free born and white". Billy then said in a rage "I'll get every son of a bitch who helped kill John if it's the last thing I ever do". Word got to the Murphy-Dolan boys of the Kid's vendetta, which left them very apprehensive, given the fact that they knew Billy as a single minded man that would ride out of his way to confront his enemies. They also know Billy was quick at the draw and an expert marksman. The Kid wasn't that impressive to look at, reports show his height between 5'8" and 5'10", he had a receding chin and large teeth, some said he was bucktooth, but he just had a pronounced overbite. His eyes were like blue ice and some said he could look right through you. Make no doubt about it, the Kid was clever and proved to be an unconventional adversary.
The Kid heard that Richard M. "Dick" Brewer was sworn in as a special constable to arrest the killers of Tunstall and quickly joined the group, known as "The Regulators", and was sworn in as a deputy. On March 6, 1878, after several days of searching, Brewer's posse came across a group of riders about 6 miles from the Rio Pecos. The group of riders rode off, breaking up into small groups and Brewer's posse was in pursuit. The Kid went after Billy Morton and Frank Baker, firing at them with his pistol and rifle as he rode. Billy caught up with the pair after their horses went down and took them prisoner, but vowed he would kill them both. The posse took Morton and Baker to the Chisum ranch. On March 9, 1878, The Regulators, including the Kid, were moving the two prisoners to Lincoln, but stopped in Roswell first so Morton could mail a letter. M.A. Upson, the postmaster, said that Morton told him to let his family know if anything happened to him, when Upson asked Morton if he thought harm would come to him at the hands of the posse, Morton replied that the posse had given John Chisum their word that the prisoners would be delivered safely to Lincoln and he trusted their word. William McCloskey, a former hand with Murphy-Dolan, now a Regulator, overheard Upson and Morton talking and said "Billy, if harm comes to you two, they will have to kill me first".
The posse, with prisoners in tow, rode off to Lincoln. The Kid and Charlie Bowdre leading, some distance from the posse, on the lookout for Murphy-Dolan men who might try to free Morton and Baker. Then there was Morton and Baker with William McCloskey and John Middleton behind them. Following them were Dick Brewer, Frank McNab, J.G. "Doc" Skurlock, Henry Brown, Fred Wayt, Jim French and Sam Smith. The party would never make it to Lincoln.
On March 11, 1878, McNab rode into Roswell and reported that Morton and Baker had tried to escape and killed McCloskey in the process, and in turn, were killed themselves by the posse. This was later proven to be a lie. The posse, not including McCloskey, had decided to kill the two prisoners before they reached Lincoln. It is not known if the Kid and Bowdre knew of their plans, since they were riding out front, and the posse decided this as they rode in the rear. After leaving Roswell, near Black Water Holes, also called Steel Springs, McNab put a six-gun to the head of McCloskey and said "You are the son of a bitch who's got to die before harm can come to these fellows, are you?" McNab fired, blowing McCloskey's brains out and McCloskey fell from his horse. Seeing this, Morton and Baker fled, knowing they would be next. The Kid turned, seeing them flee and took out after them, overtook them and fired two shots, killing them both. The posse left their bodies where they fell, including McCloskey, whom they believed to be in cahoots with the prisoners, they were buried by Mexican sheepherders.
The posse split up and McNab returned to the Chisum ranch, where he worked and the rest of the posse went off to other destinations. The Kid went to Lincoln to work for McSween. The Kid heard that Andrew L. "Buckshot" Roberts, who was working for Murphy-Dolan, was hunting him and the others for the killing of Morton and Baker. In April of 1878, Brewer and the Regulators, including the Kid, went after Roberts, tracking him down to Blazer's Saw Mill, which was about 40 miles south of Lincoln. As the Regulators rode into the area, Roberts saw them and charged them on his horse and guns blazing. Roberts was one tough character, a veteran of the war (although, it has been reported that he may have been a deserter) and of many gunfights and he didn't scare off easy. One of the bullets Roberts fired from his Winchester came close to the Kid's head, Billy jumped from his horse and fired at Roberts, hitting him in the abdomen, but the rough old gunfighter climbed down from his horse, with guns in hand, took refuge in an outhouse. The Regulators sprayed the outhouse with dozens of shots and it appeared that they got their adversary. Brewer stood up and walked towards the outhouse, Roberts was laying in wait, he stuck his Winchester through a hole in the outhouse and blew the top of Brewer's head off. Roberts's Winchester fired again, this time seriously wounding Charley Bowdre in the side, but luckily for Bowdre, his cartridge belt deflected the shot and saved his life. The Regulators again fired on the outhouse in a flurry of shots, hitting Roberts several times. Roberts was dead, with his Winchester in hand.
With Dick Brewer dead, the Kid vowed to continue the pursuit of those responsible for John Tunstall's death. Billy and the Regulators went after Sheriff William Brady and deputies J.B. Matthews and George Hindman. Billy and J.B. Matthews had had a run in before, on the streets of Lincoln, but to avoid a gunfight with the Kid, Matthews slipped away and hid in a building. On April 1, 1878, the Kid and 5 others quietly rode into Lincoln, unseen. They hid behind an adobe wall and made holes to put their guns through and waited. Sheriff Brady, Matthews and Hindman came walking down the street, guns in hand. As soon as they were in firing range, the Kid and his companions opened fire, Brady was shot several times and fell dead, next to him Hindman fell, mortally wounded, Matthews was able to get away and hid in a building. The Kid then went to the body of Sheriff Brady, to take his guns. When he picked up the rifle, it was shot out of his hands my Matthews, the Kid ran back to the wall and he and the group mounted their horses and rode out of town. The Kid lost support from some of the town because of the brutal ambush of Brady, saying it was a cowardly act, but some say Brady and Hindman got their just reward for the cold blooded killing of the helpless and unarmed John Tunstall.
Depending on whose count you listened to, some say the dead left in Billy's wake after Brady and Hindman, was at 17, although some say 3 at that point.
After Brady's murder, George "Dad" Peppin became the new Sheriff of Lincoln county, another Muphy-Dolan man. Peppin put a large force together to bring the Kid in, and the Kid being the Kid, made it easy for him. Billy, and 14 of his companions, visited Alexander McSween at his mansion in Lincoln and barricaded themselves inside, the mansion was immediately surrounded by Peppin's posse, about 40 strong of the roughest gunfighters in the territory. A Roswell merchant, by the name of Marion Turner, who was once on the side of McSween-Tunstall, was now with the Murphy-Dolan faction and had control of the Peppin posse and ordered them to open fire on the McSween mansion, this was on July 15, 1878. The battle raged for 5 days solid before a truce was finally called.
Marion Turner called out to the Kid and told him he had warrants for him and his men for the murders of Brady and Hindman. It was silent for a moment, then the Kid shouted back, saying "We too, have warrants for you and all your gang which we will serve on you hot from the muzzle of our guns!" The firing again commenced. The posse outside was aided by a company of U.S. Infantry troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Augustus Monroe Dudley. The mansion was a shambles, riddled with bullets, but the men inside kept up their fire, wounding many a men outside, many were wounded inside too. Colonel Dudley threatened the men in the house that if they didn't surrender, he would open fire with his two cannons, reducing the house to rubble and them along with it.
One of the men inside the McSween house, who worked for McSween, had had enough of this battle. He called out to the posse outside and said that they had enough, they will surrender. Hearing this, the Kid ran to this man, knocking him out with his gun. Outside, this call was heard. Robert Beckwith and John Jones approached the house, the back of the house at the kitchen door. Beckwith stood in the doorway and called out to McSween, the Kid immediately put a bullet into Beckwith's head, killing him and wounding Jones. The Kid then yelled "come on" to the others, with guns blazing, the Kid and his men jumped over Beckwith's body in a mass escape from the bullet riddled mansion. Somehow, through the hundreds of bullets being fired, the Kid made it to the river behind the house, crossed it and disappeared in the high reeds on the other side. His men followed, many being wounded. McSween refused to run from his own house. He stepped out in the yard, unarmed, and was quickly shot to death, being hit 9 times.
The Lincoln County War had gained national attention and was an embarrassment for President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes replaced the New Mexico Territorial Governor Axtell with Lew Wallace. Wallace was bound and determined to put an end to the war, whatever it would take to do it. He figured the best way to go about this was to offer an amnesty to all involved in the war if they lay down their guns, unless they were charged with murder, as Billy was. Billy heard of the offering, but also knew there was a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Sheriff Brady and Deputy Hindman. The Kid witnessed the murder of Huston Chapman, who had been an attorney of McSween. Chapman was murdered in cold blood by William Campbell, James Dolan and William Matthews, the Kid saw them kill Chapman, but didn't pull his gun. His idea was to testify against the killers in exchange for a full pardon.
A meeting was set between the Kid and Gov. Wallace and took place on March 17, 1879 in the home of a John Wilson. Billy showed up with his Winchester and six shooter and asked if Wallace was there. Wallace immediately stood up and was surprised that Billy was the Billy that everyone feared, given the Kid's appearance. Wallace proposed to Billy that if he surrendered and testified against the killers of the attorney Chapman, he would grant him a full pardon. Although, Billy had a problem with the word "surrender", he thought it would make him sound weak. So Wallace proposed that Billy be "captured" instead, and the Kid agreed.
Part of the deal with Wallace was that the Kid would stand trial for the murder of Brady and Hindman, but Wallace promised Billy that he would do no time. As Billy was waiting for the court date, he grew impatient and decided to escape from his loosely guarded cell in the back of a store and took off for Fort Sumner. There the Kid ran into a Texan by the name of Joe Grant. Grant was boasting how he would be famous by being the man who shot down Billy the Kid, the Kid had heard about this before. Billy asked Grant to see his fine six gun, and Grant handed it to him. While the Kid had it and out of Grant's view, he pulled out 3 bullets and set the hammer on an empty chamber. The Kid handed Grant back his pistol. Billy informed Grant as to who he was and they squared off, both pulling their weapons, but of course Grant's didn't fire and Billy killed him on the spot.
Some time later, a posse was on the trail of the Kid and his gang and had them surrounded in a ranch house close to Fort Sumner. The Kid asked for a truce, a man by the name of Jimmy Carlyle stepped out to talk, but the Kid shot him where he stood and killed him. The rest of the posse fled.
In 1880, Pat Garrett was made sheriff of Lincoln County. Some say that Pat and the Kid were close friends, working together on the Maxwell ranch and drinking together. Others say they barely knew each other. Anyway, with Gov. Wallace putting a $500 reward on Billy's head, for breaking his promise to him for not standing trial on murder charges, Garrett wasted no time in forming a posse. On December 18, 1880, Garrett got a tip that the Kid and his gang would be riding into Fort Sumner. Garrett waited with a posse of 12 men. Garrett and his men saw Tom O'Folliard riding towards him, O'Folliard was riding point for the gang. Garrett's posse opened fire, striking O'Folliard in the chest. O'Folliard then rode towards Garrett and said "don't shoot again, I'm killed". Garrett ordered him off of his horse, but O'Folliard said he couldn't get down on his own. O'Folliard died a short time later and the Kid and his gang fled.
The Kid and his gang were on the run again and Garrett pursued them like there was no tomorrow. On December 21, 1880, Garrett had the gang cornered in an abandoned house near Stinking Springs. Inside the house were the Kid, Charlie Bowdre, Tom Pickett, Billy Wilson and Dave Rudabaugh, Billy's closest friends. Garrett called for the gang to surrender, but was answered with only gunfire from the gang, which was answered back by Garrett and his 20 men. I've seen several accounts as to how Charlie Bowdre was shot. One is that he was outside tending the horses when the posse rode up, saw him and shot him in the chest. The other is, when the initial shots were exchanged after Garrett ordered the gang's surrender, Bowdre was shot while crossing in front of a window. I've also seen an account that the one room building they were in had no windows, but one way or the other, Bowdre was shot in the chest. I believe he was shot while in the room, because the story goes that after he was shot, he said to Billy: "I'm killed Billy, they killed me". Then Billy stood Bowdre up and pushed him to the door, telling him: "They have murdered you Charlie, but you can get revenge. Go out there and kill some of them sonsabitches before you go". Billy shoved Bowdre out of the door, but Bowdre didn't even have the strength to hold up his six gun and was shot several more times and fell face down. His body lay rotting for the two days the standoff lasted. With no food or water and out of ammo, the Kid and his gang finally surrendered. Garrett and his posse took them to Santa Fe. This is where the Kid wrote a letter to Gov. Wallace, reminding him of his promised pardon. Wallace refused to answer the Kid, saying he reneged on his promise to stand trial and that there would be no pardon.
There are a couple, if not more, of versions as to what happened next, this is the one I think happened. The Kid was taken to Mesilla, NM to stand trial for the murder of Andrew "Buckshot" Roberts. He was found guilty and Judge Bristol sentenced Billy to death, telling the Kid that he would hang "until you are dead, dead, dead!" They say the Kid laughingly said back to the stern judge that "you can go to hell, hell, hell!" While waiting for his execution date, Billy gave interviews to eager newsman, telling them "I expect to be lynched. It's wrong that I should be the only one to suffer the extreme penalties of law". The story goes that he also told the reporters that he was being singled out for punishment even though there were many many other more deserving of the hangman's noose. He was moved to Lincoln County to await execution by two of Garrett's deputies, Bob Ollinger and J.W. Bell. Ollinger, was at one time a gun for the Murphy-Dolan faction and hated the Kid with a passion. Once the Kid was locked up in the jail, Ollinger harass the kid, poking him with the butt of his shotgun, daring the kid to escape so he could shoot him in the back "just like you did Brady". Billy did nothing and kept his temper in check, for now. On many occasions, Bell urged Ollinger to stop tormenting the Kid, as Bell was known to be a kind man.
On April 28, 1881, Ollinger left the jail to have a bite to eat, leaving Bell to guard the Kid. There are more than a couple versions as to what happened next. One is that Billy told Bell he needed to use the outhouse and at the top of the stairs, Billy used his shoulder to know Bell down the stairs, then ran into Garrett's gun room and grabbed a pistol and shot Bell dead, who was at the bottom of the stairs. Another version is that after asking Bell to take him to the latrine, that someone had left a pistol there for Billy, and after returning to the courthouse, shot Bell, either way, Bell was dead. After shooting Bell, Billy went upstairs and waited by the window, with the same shotgun that Ollinger was poking him with, the Kid knew that Ollinger would come running after hearing the shot. As Ollinger was running across the street, the Kid said "Hello, Bob", and fired both barrels, nearly blowing Ollinger's head off. Billy ran outside, supposedly to a blacksmith and had the leg irons removed. He grabbed a couple of pistols and Winchester's from the jail and someone's horse and rode down the street, stopping at Ollinger's lifeless body. Some say he then took off his hat, waving it and said "Adios, Amigos", and rode off.
During all of this, Garrett was in White Oaks on business. When he heard about the escape and the deaths of his deputies, he vowed to get Billy and spent the next three months chasing him around New Mexico. On the night of July 14, 1881, Garrett rode to the Maxwell ranch, where he and the Kid supposedly worked together before. It's a little unclear as to why Garrett went there, some say Maxwell set Billy up, others say is was by pure chance. The Kid was there, visiting a young Mexican woman who he spent much time with, Deluvina Maxwell, who worked for Maxwell. Garrett went inside, as his posse waited outside. Garrett was waiting in Maxwell's bedroom. Now either Billy was staying in the main house or he went there to get some fresh beef to take back to the house he was staying in, but Billy was outside walking towards the main house. When he got to the doorway, he heard the sound of horse hooves and called out several times in spanish "Quien es? Quien es?" (Who is it?) Not getting an answer, Billy stepped inside the open door of the house and went to Maxwell's bedroom to ask Maxwell who was there. In the dark, two shots were fired, Garrett shot Billy where he stood, in stocking feet, killing him instantly, according to some, a shot right through the heart, the second shot going wild. Billy supposedly had his six gun in his right hand and a knife in his left. In Garrett's report, he stated that "He came there armed with a pistol and a knife expressly to kill me if he could. I had no alternative but to kill him or suffer death at his hands".
The posse waiting outside didn't know what to think, until Garrett ran out of the house, yelling "I killed the Kid, I killed the Kid!". He stayed outside for some time, trembling and saying nothing. He then went back into the house, where he saw Deluvina Maxwell cradling the Kid's head in her arms, crying. She accused Garrett of shooting Billy in the back, adding "You didn't have the nerve to kill him face to face". Like most everything else about the Kid, his death was also a controversy. Did Garrett shoot the Kid in the back? Did Garrett shoot the Kid at all? For the most part, Garrett was praised for his act, but murder charges were also filed, although an inquest proved it was justifiable homicide.
The local Mexican's, after hearing what happened, ran to the Maxwell house, Billy was their friend. They demanded they be allowed to prepare his body for burial. They then moved his body to a carpenter's shed and lay him on a bench, where they set candles all around him and cleaned him, dressing him in clean clothes. The next day he was buried on the Maxwell property. Deluvina Maxwell put a white cross on his grave that said "Duerme bien, Querido" (Sleep well, beloved).
Souvenir hunters began arriving, despoiling his grave at the Maxwell ranch. Eventually Billy's body was moved to Fort Sumner and he was buried with two of his best friends, Charlie Bowdre and Tom O'Folliard. The inscription at the top of the tombstone says "Pals", which the boys always told each other, pals to the end, and that they were.
Garrett wanted, but did not receive, the notoriety that Billy had,
although he did receive some fame. He even wrote a book about
Billy, although some say it was only Garrett's name on the book, which
was actually written by Ash Upton. On February 28, 1908,
Garrett was killed by an angry tenant rancher that accused Garrett of
cheating him out of his wages.
see more photo's related to the Kid & Lincoln County here
letters written by the Kid to Gov. Wallace
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