Billy The Kid

 Billy the Kid

Henry McCarty is reported to have been born on 23rd November 1859.

We say ‘reported” because this appears to be the most likely birth date for the boy who would later gain notoriety as the outlaw known as Billy the Kid.

He also went by the name William H. Bonney and probably many other names at various times.  He is quite probably the most misunderstood and most misreported historical figure in old west stories.

The legend says Billy the Kid was the greatest of the cold-blooded killers of anyone in the old west.  Whether or not he was cold-blooded is a matter of speculation but he certainly was a killer.

Billy the Kid was only one of many that took part in the Lincoln County Wars (another page will be created later to cover this particular story) but he is the one that lives on in history and even more so in legend.

It is believed he was born in New York but this is subject to the same speculation as his birth date.  The first references to him that are reasonably reliable are of him living in Wichita, Kansas, with his mother in 1870.  Prior to that it is likely he spent part of his childhood in Indiana.

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. Unfortunately, his mother was suffering from Consumption and she died on the 16th September 1874.

Note Added 12 January 2012

Hisorical records of Billy the Kid’s mother all show her name as Catherine.  Her tombstone, pictured at left, shows the name as Kathrine (Capital K and only one e).

It appears that this is a mis-spelling of the name and that she was originally “Catherine”.  I have been unable to find why this may have occurred.  The original grave marker apparently spelled her name with a “C” but I can  find no picture of that.  When it was replaced with a wooden marker, that was spelled with the “C”.

I had not noticed this spelling on the grave until it was pointed out by a reader, Rob J in a comment of this page.  An obscure but fascinating piece of Old West Stories trivia.

Thanks Rob J.

Billy the Kid soon found himself alone and needing to earn his own living.  After some time living such a hard life he eventually fell in with another of the old west’s legends from that time, Sombrero Jack.  Soon they were in trouble and Billy was arrested but escaped.  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.  He bummed around for a couple of years working as a ranch hand and gambler.  Neither occupation afforded him much success.  It is probably around this time he first got involved in horse stealing as an easy way to get some easy cash together.

At Camp Grant, still in Arizona, he got into his first truly serious bout of trouble with the law.  Involved in a fight with Frank Cahill, Billy used his gun and Cahill lay dead.  Billy didn’t stay long and soon returned to New Mexico, no doubt looking to avoid a murder charge.

Billy ended up running with Jesse Evans and a gang known as “The Boys”.  This gang ended up in Lincoln County and they ended up heavily involved in the Lincoln County War.

Things again went wrong and Billy ended up in jail for horse stealing.  When he got out he was still heavily embroiled in the war and started running with the Tunstall side.  This was when he first started using the name “William H. Bonney”.  This is also the time his friends began to call him “The Kid” because of his age and slight build.

Billy continued to get on the wrong side of the law and in particular, Sheriff Brady.  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 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.

He tried to sort his life out and worked out a deal with the new Governor of the Territory, Mr Lew Wallace, who was now trying to bring law and order to Lincoln.  Billy wrote to him and was promised a full pardon if he testified against others.  Billy testified in court as promised but the pardon never eventuated.

After yet another escape, he went back to his lawless ways.  At the time, there were many outlaws in that territory much worse than Billy but the newspapers and authorities singled him out and he now gained the name that would stay with him forever, “Billy the Kid”.

Billy kept dodging the law and getting into more skirmishes and trouble.  Then Pat Garrett was elected sheriff and made US Marshal to hunt for Billy the Kid.

Billy was again arrested, put to trial 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.  Billy 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.  But he started the legend.

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

More Detail on the Life of “Billy the Kid”

1827 – Lew Wallace was born on this day in Crawfordville, Indiana.

This future Governor of New Mexico Territory would play a role in the fate of Billy.  When Billy believed he had been promised he would receive a total amnesty from all charges, had he received this amnesty the later events may have been different.

Different maybe but Billy was showing signs of a man set on self-destruction.  Had he been set free it seems that he would have found some new way to get himself on the wrong side of the law.

He is shown here as Major General with the third Division of the Tennessee VIII Corps.


1831 – A world away from the development that was the wild west, Lawrence Murphy was born in Wedford, Ireland.  Nearly five decades later his actions would play a crucial part in the creation of the Lincoln County War of 1878 that was central to Billy gaining his eternal reputation.

1834 – Lawrence Gustave Murphy was born on this day in County Wexford, Ireland.

1841 – October – George Warden Peppin, future Sheriff of Lincoln County, was born on this day.

1848 – Charlie Bowdrie, a future friend and fellow rustler of Billy, was probably born in 1848 in Mississippi.  Both the place and date are uncertain.

1850 – June 5 – Patrick Floyd Garret was born on this day in Cussetta, Alabama.  More than three decades later he would play a prominent role in the life of Henry McCarty who by that time would be involved in matters that would create one of the greatest Old West Stories ever and would become known as “Billy the Kid”.

1853 –March 16 – John Henry Tunstall, a future temporary saviour and employer of Billy the Kid, was born on this day in London, England.

1859 – November 23 – Billy the Kid was born and named Henry McCarty.  It is often quoted that he was born in New York City however, both the date and place are uncertain.  These appear in the book by Pat Garret (ghost written by Ash Upton) “The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid”.

You can read more about Pat Garret by clicking on his picture but please note, if you reading this before 23 April 2011, the page is not yet complete and you will need to check back after that date.

The date of Billy’s remains uncertain however, the place of his birth is probably correct.  His mother came to the US from Ireland and lived in New York.  Following his death, newspapers widely quoted New York as his birth place.  Although there is no official record to confirm it, it seems that this was accepted as fact at the time and there is and there is a strong probability they were right.

Billy’s real name is also clouded in some mystery.  Records commonly show him as Henry McCarty but there is evidence to suggest he was actually born William Henry McCarty.  These points include:-

  • A woman who knew him in Silver City during childhood, Ms. Chauncey Truesdell, made a statement that his first name was Billy but that everyone called him by his middle name so as not to confuse him with his father (referring to his step father) and as you know, Billy is a common nick name for William;
  • He used the name William H. Bonney during his life.  This could be that he retained the link to William Henry in that name;
  • The name Billy stuck with him throughout life and now, for eternity after his death in the legendary name Billy the Kid.

1861 – Another possibility as a birth date for Billy the Kid.  Records indicate that several people who claimed to have known him well, made statements that support this as his year of birth but no exact date is quoted.  These include:-

  • 1873 – It is quoted in several places that child hood friends of Billy that knew him in this year, said he was 12 years old at the time.  At this stage, I have not found any definitive sources to confirm this claim;
  • 1878 – George and Frank Coe were associates of Billy when he was in Lincoln County.  They recalled that when they knew him in 1878, he was 17 years old;
  • 1878 – Lily Casey lived in Lincoln County in this year and claims to have met Billy in November.  She also says he was 16 years old at the time.

1863 – (may have been 1862) Billy had an older brother, Joseph McCarty-Antrim.  His early days are shrouded in a mystery as difficult to decipher as that of Billy.  It is often quoted that he is Billy’s older brother and the evidence is confusing.  I needed to decide where I thought it sat and it seems that the best evidence is that provided by Joseph himself.   In 1916, on October 13, he registered to vote and gave his age as 53.  He had also given his aged in 1885 for the Colorado Census at being 21.  Both would indicate 1863 as his most likely birth year.

1863 – 1870 – Almost nothing is known about Billy’s life during this 7 year period.  Much is claimed however, I have found very little that is verifiable or seemed likely to be correct.

1869 – January 16 – Lincoln County was formally established on this day.  Placitas became the seat of power and had its name changed to Lincoln.  The new County and town were named in honour of President Lincoln, an honor afforded after his assassination.

1869 – Whilst Billy seems to have virtually disappeared, events were unfolding that were unrelated to him at the time but forming the foundation of later events that in 1881 would bring him to eternal prominence.  The famous “Santa Fe Ring” was in full swing in 1866 and the businessman and former soldier Lawrence Murphy, had come to prominence in the ring for his operations in the Lincoln County area.

Amongst other crimes, members of the gang were accused of selling land new farmers when the land was not actually theirs to sell.  They obtained government contracts to supply beef to Indian Reservations, obtaining contracts through corrupt political contacts with the liberal use of bribes and then under supplying or handing out poor quality, cheap and sometimes spoiled meat for the Indians.

After Murphy rose to prominence he formed a strong relationship with Emil Fritz.  In this year (1866) they formed the company “L. G. Murphy & Co.  When Murphy became ill with cancer he was sent to hospital in Santa Fe.  Dolan took his place. With the powerful Santa Fe Ring supporting him a the power base was strong.


1870 – Catherine McCarty arrived in Kansas with Billy and Joseph.  They were travelling with William Antrim, her long-standing boy friend.  Mrs. McCarty opened a laundry service.  She also dealt in real estate and apparently created sufficient income to create a good living.  When she was diagnosed with Consumption (Tuberculosis) she was told to go to a hot, dry climate.

1871 – August – Catherine McCarty put her house up for sale in preparation of  a move to Colorado.

1872 – Billy and his family headed to Colorado for a brief period.  Exact dates are uncertain.

1873 – March 1 – Catherine McCarty married William Antrim in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  They were married in a Presbyterian Church.  The date of their arrival in Santa Fe could not be determined.

1873 – April – After the wedding the family headed for Silver City in Grant County, New Mexico.  This fulfilled her medical advice to seek a hot climate for her health.  It was probably hoped it would be good for her new husband too who had been involved in prospecting and this was promising new country.

The family bought a cabin and William Antrim took work at various times as a carpenter and a butcher.  He continued to spend time prospecting and was commonly seen in gambling houses.

1874 – January 5 – Billy and Joseph entered school.  Around this time is when Joseph seems to have acquired his nickname, Josie.

1874 – March 28 – School closes for the end of semester break.  Many of the children take part in plays and other theatrical productions and Billy featured prominently.

1874 – There are many reports and sources that attribute a killing to Billy this year.  Stories speak of a man who insulted his mother and paid the ultimate price.  People who knew Billy at the time (including Chauncey Truesdell and a school friend Louis Abraham) denied any knowledge of this.

Additionally, no newspapers or legal records contain information that would fit this story.  In common with many that become legend though, allegations stick.

Reports of Billy around this time actually portray him as the exact opposite of what you would expect of a youth heading toward becoming a feared murderer.  He is described as small and slender.  Due to his size and reported mild manner, he was subject to bullying and harassment.  He was apparently a well behaved student at school, loved music and sang.  These things may not have been viewed as manly pursuits and added to his bullying problems.

At the end of his days, nobody could have described Billy as ordinary.  At this time in his life though, everything seems to say that is exactly what his was.

1874 – September 16 – Catherine Antrim does not seem to have received a huge benefit from the hot climate.  On this day, she died.

A close look at the head stone shows her name spelt with a “K”.  This appears to be an error and Catherine appears in all texts with a “C”.

William Antrim was travelling at the time (Prospecting?).  When he returned it seems that without Catherine’s presence, he simply abandoned the boys.  In fact, he had almost abandoned them before her death and when she needed him most after becoming gravely ill and confined to her bed, he was rarely there.  After her death he wasted little time placing both boys with the Knight family and disappearing.  He moved to Arizona and appears to have provided no further parenting.

William Antrim appears to have been a step father in name only and probably never formally adopted Billy or his brother Joseph.

It would seem that it was during this time after his mother’s death that Billy strayed from the path of righteousness.  Without parental control, without direction, without money, turning to crime may have seemed his only way to survive.

It seems that his first criminal act was the theft of butter from a local rancher.  He sold this to a merchant and the County Sheriff caught up to him.  Sheriff Harvey Whitehall reportedly gave him a stern warning and let him off with that.

1875 – In the year following his mother’s death, Billy moved into a boarding house run by Mrs. Brown.  He took on work washing dishes at the Star Hotel and may have also waited on tables.  He became friends with another young man, George Schaefer. Old West Stories will probably do a feature on him in the future as he is famous in his own right.  The man who became known as Sombrero Jack, had a substantial effect on Billy.

1875 – April – Billy, Sombrero Jack and others are reported to have been caught throwing rocks at local Chinese men.

I am sure you can imagine, a teenager fending for himself, short of money and working for sustenance wages, may not have been particularly well presented.  His new friend Sombrero Jack, had stolen clothing from a Chinese Laundry and provided Billy with its contents.  Mrs. Brown discovered the bundle of clothes hidden in Billy’s room and reported him.  Billy was arrested by Sheriff Whitehill.

1875 – September 22 –  Billy was imprisoned whilst awaiting trial.

1875 – September 24 – After two days, he escaped by climbing a fireplace and fled.  He was given money by the Truesdell family and left on the stage for Arizona in search of his step father.  He found him but received no refuge there.  Alone, broke and barely surviving, Billy was now at grave risk and ready to throw in with anyone offering hope.  That hope was John Mackie.

1875 – Late September – Following the 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.”




Legend has it that Billy was always the wild one, a leader in all things illicit.  On this occasion it is much more likely that he was the follower and not a leader as he and John Mackie became involved in horse stealing and the misappropriation of saddles and other military equipment the Cavalry operating in the Camp Grant area.

As almost always happens with the inexperienced thief, they were caught and ended up in jail, this time the Camp Grant Jail.  The Cavalry never looks kindly on horse thieves.  Even when Billy had gained significant experience in stealing of all kinds, he never quite got the idea that returning to the scene of your crime might contribute to your chances of getting caught.  After initial trouble in the area he fled but soon came back.

When Billy actually acquired his nickname “The Kid” is unsure and has been the subject of much speculation.  It would seem that it probably came about around this time when he was associated with John Mackie.  Several renown characters portrayed in Old West Stories are referred to as “The Kid”.  In large part, the name came from his small stature and youthful appearance.  All through his early life this resulted in him being the subject of bullying and it was no different around Camp Grant.

1875 – December 10 – An incident occurred on this day that appears to be completely unrelated to Billy in any way.  I have included it as a point of historical interest that demonstrates the nature of the times. William Wilson was hanged from the gallows twice on this day.  He was hanged and dangled from the noose, reportedly for ten minutes, was taken down and placed in a coffin.

People heard noises coming from the coffin and William Wilson was found to be still alive.  He was taken out and hanged a second time.

1876 – August 8 – John Tunstall travelled to San Francisco and then leaves by train for Santa Fe, New Mexico.

1876 – October? – In late 1876 and probably around October, Billy had been working a the Hotel de Luna but quit.  He hooked up with a rustling operation that was stealing cattle and mules, as well as horses and saddles from the army.  This gang was being led by John Mackie, a former soldier.  The gang operated in a wide area that encompassed the Sierra Blanco and included:-

  • Globe;
  • Bonita;
  • Cedar Springs;
  • Camp Thomas; and
  • Fort Grant.

– – – – – – – – – –    Sierra    Blanco    Cabin    –     Note    the    modern    fences    in    the    foreground    and    near    the    cabin,    everything    else    looks    authentic.    – – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –    Sierra    Blanco    Landscape    –    If    you    were    on    the    run    from    the    law,    could    you    imagine    a    better    place    to    hide    out.    – – – – – – – – – –

1876 – November 6 – John Tunstall and Juan Patron arrived in Lincoln County on this day to check opportunities for ranching and investment.

1876 – November – Billy stole a horse at Camp Thomas belonging Cavalry Sergeant Louis Hartman.  The Sergeant later found Billy but because there was no warrant out, did not arrest him.  A lucky break for Billy but his luck would not hold forever.

1876 – November – Pat Garret was working in Texas as a buffalo hunter in the vicinity of Fort Griffen.  He found himself involved in a serious altercation with Joe Briscoe.  Briscoe worked with Garret in the buffalo trade but they exchanged insults that included ethnic slurs.  Briscoe grabbed an axe and attempted to kill Garret.  Apparently Garret tried to elude the man by running around a wagon but Briscoe continued the pursuit.  Finally, Pat Garret learned he had the capacity to kill a man and his first recorded killing took only a single shot.

Pat Garret was never charged but the incident marked the end of his buffalo hunting days.  One more piece fell into place as Garret moved on and would eventually end up in Lincoln County.  Pat Garret was known in some circles as “Big Casino“, probably because of his 6′ 4” height and heavy build.  He was destined to play a definitive role in Billy’s life.

1877 – February – Around the 12th of this month Billy stole three horses in Cottonwood Springs.  He was aided by John Mackie and other.

1877 – February 16 – Two soldiers from Cap Thomas (Sergeant Hartman and Mojor Compton) appear before a Justice of the Peace (Miles Wood) seeking a warrant for the arrest of Billy.  They succeed.

1877 – February 17 – Billy is arrested by the Constable in Globe and taken to Cedar Springs.  Billy still has some luck and manages to escape.

1877 – March 25 – Billy and John Mackie arrived at the Hotel de Luna near Fort Grant.  Miles Wood decides to be the hero that day and with the subdefuge of hiding a gun under a serving tray while pretending to be a waiter, he captures them both.  He then took them to Fort Grant and they were thrown in the guardhouse.

Billy tried to escape by blinding a guard with salt and grabbing his gun but is overwhelmed by other guards.

When returned to the the guardhouse, Billy is shackled hand and foot to contain him.  It wasn’t enough because whilst unguarded for a short time, he escaped with the shackles still on.  How he escaped is a complete mystery but there were suspicions a soldier had helped him.

1877 – One of the well known characters in the area was Frank Cahill, known to his friends and others as “Windy”.  His reputation was that of a thug who enjoyed intimidating others.  A ranch hand who worked in the area was Gus Gildea and he recalled events later.  His statements described the situation:-

  • Billy had trouble with Cahill from the moment he arrived in the area;
  • He verbally abused Billy when ever they met;
  • He would throw Billy to the floor and while he was down, ruffle his hair, slap and face and taunt him; and
  • He publicly humiliated Billy over and over.

Billy seems to have allowed this to go on for some time and it is hard to escape the conclusion that at this time the infamous and dreaded “Billy the Kid” was frightened and intimidated.  I can’t imagine a dreaded killer would allow this to happen more than once, can you.

1877 – August 18 – Billy and Windy Cahill had a major disagreement at Atkins’s cantina.  There are many varying accounts of the encounter.  My research indicates that most likely, but by no means proven, version run along the lines of:-

  • Windy Cahill started the affair by called Billy a “pimp” or similar;
  • Billy returned the insult by calling Cahill a “son of a bitch” or similar;
  • Cahill assaulted Billy and threw him to the ground.  Being bigger, stronger and more experienced, he probably had little trouble doing so;
  • He sat on Billy’s chest, holding Billy to the ground;
  • He started slapping Billy around;
  • During the altercation, Cahill left Billy with his gun on his hip, apparently a .45 Colt;
  • Billy freed his right arm and a single gunshot was heard; and
  • Cahill was mortally wounded and Billy fled the scene.

Even though the details of Cahill’s history of abuse was known and it was widely reported that he had attacked Billy, the shooting was considered by the authorities to be unjustifiable.  Billy now had a murder charge waiting to be executed and he did what he probably thought was the only sensible thing and headed back to his well known trails in New Mexico.  Now with a murder rap hanging over him, the young fugitive hightailed it back to New Mexico.

A pivotal moment in Billy’s development as an outlaw was about to occur.  Although he sought refuge with the Knight Family and probably the Truesdell family as well, he received none and headed to Dona Ana County near La Mesilla.  He fell in with a gang that was amongst the most notorious at the time under the leadership of Jesse Evans.  They called themselves “The Boys”.

At this time Jesse Evans was the gang leader however, one John Kinney was the real power in charge.  He was known at the time as the “King of the Rustlers”.  They operated by stealing cattle and horses whilst terrifying the honest citizens.  Everyone was afraid and unwilling to risk themselves to stop this operation and there were plenty of willing buyers who didn’t want to ask too many questions.

Mr Albert Fountain was editor of The Mesilla Valley Independent and was making the gang a regular feature in the paper and pressuring the law to act against the gang.  When the law did start making moves against the gang the headed for Lincoln County and Billy the kid was heading for his encounter that would immortalise him.  More about Albert Fountain and his disappearance after another encounter with the lawless can be found on the Sheriff Pat Garret page (NOTE:- this page will not be available until 23 April 2011).

1878 – John Tunstall came to Lincoln County to start his own business and a ranch, but James Dolan didn’t like the competition and set out to drive him away.  Tunstall refused to be intimidated and instead tried to fight back with legal action.  When he realized he couldn’t beat his enemies through legal means their disagreement became violent and became a full scale war.  With Judge Bristol and Governor Sam Axtell on Dolan’s side, Tunstall determined there was no other way forward.

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.

Many sources confidently state that the offer was made because Tunstall had noticed that Billy was different from the other rustlers being a just a boy with a bad start to life.  I can find no sources that can confirm this statement in any way and it would seem more likely that Tunstall probably made the same offer to all of them and Billy was simply the first to accept.

Billy was now fighting on Tunstall’s side and probably formed hopes of a better future for himself.  He probably had no way of understanding that this is not the way it works out in these situations.  When you are fighting and putting your life on the line in this way, what you are doing is fighting for somebody else’s better life.

It was during these events that Billy added another alias to the list of names he had used, William H Bonney. People continued to call him “The Kid”.

Sheriff Brady was operating on the other side and members of his crew murdered Tunstall in brutal fashion.  Following his death you would be excused for thinking that the feud (war) was over.  Tunstall’s men reacted differently and formed a vigilante posse and called themselves “The Regulators”.  The law and regulations may have been the furthest thing from their minds though.

If it hadn’t been a war yet, it was now.

The Regulators were formally deputized and appear to have made some early efforts to accomplish their goals legally and served warrants.  With Sheriff Brady acting against them and biased judges to contend with, this was never going to work.  A total certainty was that they would eventually take the law into their own hands and they did.

The Regulators held special animosity toward Bill Morton because he had led the posse responsible for killing Dunstall.  That went after him, killed him and also killed Frank Baker and William McCloskey in the same action.

The Regulators later ambushed Sheriff Brady and his deptuty William Hindman.

The action continued until a classic gun fight of the style portrayed in many old West Stories with one of Dolan’s key gun fighting men, Buckshot Roberts.  The Regulators lost their leader during the fight when Dick Brewer was killed.

Even though the Regulators were formally deputized, the killings made things worse for them.  The killings were not viewed as justifiable or as actions taken within the law.   Billy and all the Regulators were now viewed as the villains in these matters.

Dolan now sought retribution and had his men strike back.  A new Sheriff had been appointed, George Peppin.  He had a posse working with him and surrounded Alex McSween’s house with Alex and several other members of the Regulators trapped inside.  The law sent for Army help and Colonel Dudley arrived with troops, a Howitzer and a Gaitling Gun.

Even with the over whelming weaponry and man power, the siege lasted for several days.  On the fifth day Peppin set fire to the house.  It seems that at this time, the teenage Billy took actual control of a gang for the first time.

With the house ablaze Billy led half the men out the door in one direction and McSween led the other half in the other direction.  A wild gun fight ensued that ended with McSween and three other men dead.  Billy and his team escaped into the darkness.

This was the real end to the Lincoln County War and the Regulators broke up.  Billy the Kid was now a fugitive in Lincoln County with the law on his trail and powerful forces seeking to end his days.

1878 – September – Lew Wallace was appointed to the position of Governor to the New Mexico Territory.  Many reports claimed it was his reward for his support of Rutherford B Hayes in his run up to becoming President.  Following the hotly contest presidential election in 1876 against Democrat Samuel J Tilden, he needed a lot of support to become president in 1877 after the famous “Compromise of 1877”.  Lew Wallace was part of that support.

I think it is a mistake thought to think of this as a favour.  Handling Billy the Kid was only a small part of the job after the Lincoln County War and trying to settle the Apache Indian disputes that had become for the Apache, a fight to exist.

After the war Billy was unable to move freely or safely and continued to pursue gambling and cattle rustling for his means of making a living.  In his travels he heard that Lew Wallace had been appointed as Governor.  He wrote to the Governor seeking a deal that would see all charges dropped against him if he gave evidence against Dolan and his men.  Billy was under the impression that the Governor had agreed and he did surrender and did testify in court.

The Santa Fe Ring still had power and influence over the courts and this resulted in James Dolan and other members of that side were acquitted.

No doubt Billy the Kid felt betrayed after the court proceedings and finding that the Governor’s pardon would have no effect without the consent of William Rynerson, the public prosecutor at the time.  It seems that Wallace didn’t exactly bring pressure to bear to have Billy freed and was dealing with bigger fish at the time.  Billy must have known he had no chance to win now and once more, he escaped.

Following the escape, Billy returned to making his way by cattle rustling.  Around this time there were some cattle rustlers and other outlaws operating in the district that were probably, in reality, much worse the him.  But it was Billy that had become famous and was a focus of newspaper attention.  Around this time he went from being “The Kid’ to “Billy the Kid” and his legend became such that he was credited with every head of cattle stolen, even if he was several days travel away at the time.

1878 – October 20 – Lawrence Murphy died on this day.  Although he didn’t live to see the full effect of the Lincoln County War or what happened to Billy, prior to his death from caner his criminal connections and activities were a large part of creating the circumstances that led to those events.

1880 – In a saloon in Fort Sumner, Billy had a run in with Joe Grant.  Joe was a renowned drunk.  The legend has it that Billy knew trouble was coming and faked out Joe Grant by asking to check out his gun.  While doing so, he removed one bullet and set the cylinders so that the next time it was used, the hammer would fall on an empty cylinder.

Apparently, Grant later pulled his gun and fired on Billy but his weapon did not fire because of Billy’s clever actions.  Billy responded and of course, his gun worked and Joe Grant was dead.  It seems nothing really happened about this death at the time.

1880 – November 7 – Sheriff George Kimbell had been elected to the position of Sheriff for Lincoln County in New Mexico but resigned on this day before the end of his term.  Many towns had trouble keeping a Sheriff for the full term in these wild times.  To replace him, the County appointed Pat Garret to the position after he had earned a reputation as a man skilled with a gun and he had promised to restore law and order to the town.

1880 – November – Billy found himself in a very serious situation near White Oaks when a posse caught up with him at a station house.  They surrounded the house and Deputy Sheriff James Carlyle was killed during the standoff.  Billy was credited with the killing but it seems that what really happened was that the posse killed their own man.

Billy spent two years on the run after the Lincoln County War and appears to have remained in the vicinity of Fort Sumner all through that time.

1880 – December 19 – Billy the Kid was running with a gang in the Lincoln County area.  Many sources refer to the gang and “Billy’s Gang” but this it is quite doubtful that Billy was the undisputed leader as shown in popular movies.  In any event, one member of the gang was Tom O’Folliard.  On this day he was involved in a shoot out near Fort Sumner and Sheriff Pat Garrett is credited with firing the fatal shot.

1880 – December 23 – The hunt for Billy the Kid continued and on this day, the posse assisting Pat Garrett killed Charlie Bowdre, another member of the gang.  Again, several sources credit Pat Garret with the telling shot but this does not seem to be the case.  They also captured Billy the Kid and several others on this day after finding them at Stinking Springs, New Mexico.  They were transported to Mesilla in New Mexico for trial.

1881 – April 28 – Billy the Kid was convicted however, on this day he killed two of his guards (Bob Olinger and J. W. Bell) during his escape.

1881 – July 14 – Pat Garrett visited Fort Sumner in his quest to track down Billy the Kid again.  A very prominent citizen at that time was Mr Lucien Maxwell, a wealthy land owner and developer.  Garrett learned that Billy might be found at the house of his son, Pete Maxwell.  It appears that Billy entered Pete Maxwell’s bedroom sometime during the night and was shot by Pat Garrett.

Several versions of the events have been published that suggest Billy was unarmed, trying to surrender or calling out to ask “Who is it?”  A shot from Pat Garret killed him outright, entering his body just above his heart.

There have even been suggestions that Pat Garret used Pet Maxwell’s sister as a hostage to lure Billy to his doom.  The truth of these things will never be known with certainty now and there are no witnesses left to question.  I suggest it should be remembered though, that it has always been a kind of sport to question the actions of the lawman when confronting the outlaw.  I would suggest also that Pat Garret would have been amply justified to take no chance in his attempt to apprehend a known murderer who had recently dispatched the tow guardsmen.

This incident turned Pat Garrett’s reputation into star status, a genuine Old West Stories hero.  This did not last though and rumours about the manner of Billy the Kid’s death later affected his reputation.  At the next county election, his reputation had already soured in local circles and he lost that election.  To rub salt into his wounds, he was never paid the $500 reward for the capture because he was killed.


1908 – February 15  – Lew Wallace died this day in Crawfordville, Indiana, his birth place and home town.  A marble statue was commissioned and sculpture Andrew O’Connor created a commemoration of Wallace in his military uniform that is on display at the National Statutory Hall.

1930 – November 25 – Billy’s younger brother, Joseph McCarty-Antrim died on this day His body was given to the Colorado Medical School for research.  Not a lot is known about his life between 1883 through to his death in Denver County, Colorado.



5 Responses to Billy The Kid

  1. Rob J. says:

    Very nice timeline! Enjoyed it much. One thing to add – on the tombstone of the Kid’s mother, Catherine, not only does her name begin with a ‘K’ instead of a ‘C’, the first ‘e’ is omitted too…”Kathrine”, not ‘Katherine’ (or ‘Catherine’).

  2. Bob Grogan says:

    I gotta hand it to you,VERY GOOD job on this. All I here from other notable historion’s is (I THINK this was the way it happened) Thinking lead’s to one’s uncertainity! Thank You for the splendid story!

  3. William Rynerson was the DA who indicted and prosecuted Billy(his oldest friends called him Henry), but has his own claim to fame. He murdered the Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. General John Slough had been appointed to the Supreme Court to clean up the territory. He started by firing judges, police officers and clerks who were involved in corruption. Slough openly accused Rynerson of corruption. Rynerson ran into him in a hotel in Santa Fe and shot him, as Slough fell dying he reached for his Derringer, but never had a chance to fire. Judge Bristol the judge who sentenced Henry to die was also under investigation. Judge Bristol issued the fraudulent writ, authorizing the seizure of all of John Tunstall’s assets. We know now that Sheriff Brady’s Posse was ordered to murder Tunstall in the process of seizing/stealing his assets. Very few people doubt that Judge Bristol was an active conspirator in the murder and theft.

    • wildwest says:

      Brian, thank you for your comment on my Billy the Kid page. I have added your blog to my places of interest to keep track of. There are several interesting comments in you blog on Billy that I will be spending some time on because they cover matters I was not aware. Following that I may be adding some more info to my page. If I do, I will reference you and put in your blog link which I add here and encourage Billy fans to have a read Blog Link

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