The Tale of Billy the Kid

Much what the world knows about Billy the Kid has been based on Pat Garrett’s The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. If you perform a background check on Billy the Kid, you will find some contradictions to the information presented in the Garrett book. For instance, his birthday is most likely not Nov 23, 1859.

Born William Henry McCarthy sometime between 1859 and 1861, his mother was Catherine McCarthy but the identity of his father is still a mystery. The Kid had a brother named Joseph but it’s unclear if he was older or younger. While they were in Indiana in 1868, Catherine got romantically involved with William Antrim and they moved to Wichita, Kansas, two years later. In 1871, Catherine contracts consumption so they had to move to a more suitable place. Passing through Denver, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, the family finally settled down in Silver City, New Mexico in 1873. A year later, Catherine succumbed to the disease and William Antrim left his step-sons in the care of foster families.

After the death of his mother, the Kid was free to do as he wished. Poor and lonely, he took the crooked road. In 1875, he got to know Sombrero Jack who’s a small-time crook. While hiding Jack’s stolen laundry in his boarding house, Billy the Kid was arrested and locked up for the first time. Agile as a cat, the slender youth made his escape through the fireplace. After being turned away by his step-father, the Kid befriended John Mackie, another crook. Together, they stole saddles and horses. After another arrest, the Kid made another escape and hooked up with Mackie at Camp Grant again. Due to his small stature, he was known as “Kid” around the area. For the same reason, he was abused by a blacksmith known as Frank “Windy” Cahill. One day, the Kid fought back and killed Cahill.

Now a true outlaw, the Kid ventured to Dona Ana County where he joined “The Boys,” a gang of rustlers and killers, led by Jesse Evans. To escape the law, the Boys rode to Lincoln County where they teamed up with James Dolan, a ruthless business man. In 1877, the Kid left the Boys and worked for John Tunstall, Dolan’s arch rival. Here, the Kid adopted the name William H. Bonney and he enjoyed himself tremendously, romancing the girls, dancing his nights away. On February 18, 1878, Tunstall was killed by a posse group assembled by Dolan. The group included Billy Morton, Frank Baker, Sheriff William Brady, Deputy George Hindman, and Robert Beckwith. Out of love and respect for Tunstall, the Kid swore vengeance against them.

On March 1, 1878, the Kid joined “The Regulators,” a group put together to hunt down the men who killed Tunstall. Just five days later, Morton and Baker were caught. On March 9, they were executed together with William McCloskey, a Regulator who was exposed as a spy and traitor. On April 1, Sheriff Brady and Hindman were ambushed and killed. In a five-day shootout known as the Lincoln County War from July 15 to 19, the Kid fulfilled his vow when Beckwith was killed.

On November 2, 1880, Pat Garrett became the sheriff of Lincoln County and his number one objective was to capture Billy the Kid. After a few misses, Garrett succeeded. The Kid was arrested on December 23 and put on trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady on April 8, 1881. The court found him guilty and ordered his hanging on May 13. About two weeks before he was to be hanged, the Kid killed two guards and escaped. On July 14, 1881, Garrett tracked the Kid down in Pete Maxwell’s house in Fort Sumner and shot him in the heart, killing him on the spot. At the time of his death, Billy the Kid was just a teenager.

Additional Information on Billy the Kid:

About Billy the Kid: Perhaps the most comprehensive site about Billy the Kid with very detailed biography and lots of other information.

Billy the Kid Unmasked: An interactive project by the Discovery Channel.

Billy the Kid Museum: Information on his museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Billy the Kid: A 1937 interview with Edith Crawford detailing the November 1877 encounter with Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid – William H. Bonney – Henry McCarthy: A biography of the Kid.

The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid: The etext version of Pat Garrett’s book.

History of the Lincoln County War: A book by Maurice G. Fulton on the historic five-day war at Lincoln County.

American Folk Heroes: Biography and information on Billy the Kid.

New Mexico Office of the State Historian: Another account of Billy the Kid’s legend.

Billy the Kid Rides Again: Written by Jay Miller, the book explores the many controversies surrounding the Kid.

Drifting out of the Territory: Discusses the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Billy the Kid – Outlaw: A British take on Billy the Kid.

History Buff: Short biography of Billy the Kid.

Young Guns: Information about the most popular movie based on the legend of Billy the Kid.