Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid
Henry McCarthy’s Early Life
Henry McCarty or McCarthy, who later in his short life was to become Billy the Kid, was born in November 1859 in New York. His mother was Catherine and his father Joseph. Henry had an older brother(1) who was named after his father.
On July 14th, 1881 in Old Fort Sumner, New Mexico, with the words “Quien es? Quien es?” on his lips (“Who is it? Who is it?”) Billy the Kid met his untimely end with one bullet in his chest from the gun of Sheriff Pat Garrett. Billy was dead before he hit the floor and never knew who killed him.
So how did it happen that a child born of Irish immigrants somewhere in the back streets of New York became the most sought-after outlaw in New Mexico, a State full of outlaws in the 1870’s and 80’s, and how did Billy the Kid become the most recognised outlaw of western folk legend? Let us see if we can untangle fact from fiction.
Henry’s Father died when he was six or seven years old and not long after this his mother moved with the two boys to Kansas. There Catherine met and lived with William Antrim who proved to be a fairly good stepfather to the boys. The family moved further south to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his mother and William were married in March 1874, with the two boys standing as witnesses to the wedding.
The family moved because Catherine had asthma and consumption and it was felt that the drier air in New Mexico would be beneficial for her health problems. Sadly, it was not the case and she died in September 1874 when Henry was just one month short of his 15th birthday.
William Antrim, Henry’s stepfather, did not give the two boys very much parental guidance and quite soon after Catherine’s death made for the gold mines near Globe, Arizona. Henry went to live with Mrs Sarah Brown who ran a boarding school in Silver City. Henry paid his way by washing dishes and waiting on tables in the evenings. Many knew him at that time to be a very nice, polite and hardworking young man. Henry was also very fond of reading and could always be found after finishing his work with his nose in a book. He was a very bright boy and had a very broad education, not something everyone had access to in those days.
Like a lot of young boys he fell under the spell of an older boy by the name of George Shaffer known locally as “Sombrero Jack” because of his headgear. George was a compulsive thief and as Henry fell further under “Sombrero Jack’s” influence he took his first steps into a life of crime. Just one year after his mother died Henry accompanied George when he stole some clothing from the local Chinese laundry. Henry hid the clothing in his room but Mrs Brown found them and informed the local sheriff. Henry at the age of 15 found himself under lock and key for the first time in his life. Henry was not one to wait around. Thinking he was in more trouble than he was, he ‘skinned out’ by climbing up the chimney and escaping.
Henry in Arizona
After his escape from the Silver City jail in September 1875 very little is known about what he did or where he went for almost two years(2). What is known is that he spent time in South Eastern Arizona where he worked on a ranch for a short time learning the skills of a cowboy. However, because of his youth, he was very soon fired from the job. Henry then spent a short while running with a gang of rustlers moving further down the road of crime. He then turned up around Camp Grant Apache Reservation where he fell in with disreputable ex-trooper John Mackie. Mackie led Henry into horse theft, stealing mainly from the troopers stationed at Camp Grant. In November 1876 he stole a horse from Sergeant Lewis Hartman and this turned out to be one horse too many. Hartmann, along with four other soldiers tracked him down and once again he ended up in prison at Camp Grant but this time he was not just incarcerated but also had shackles on his legs. However, as in Silver City, he ‘skinned out’ shackles and all.
After spending a short time around Globe where he was arrested twice for the theft of Hartmann’s horse, and twice escaping, he showed up again around Camp Grant in the early summer of 1877. He was very soon in trouble with a big bully of a man called ‘Windy’ Cahill(3) another ex-soldier who was working as a blacksmith at Camp Grant. Cahill started giving Henry a hard time from the moment they first met, pushing him around and trying to make him look small in front of the men in the local saloon. On the evening of 17th August 1877 they ran into each other once again in George Aitkin’s saloon. This time they ended up fighting and Cahill knocked Henry to the floor pinned him down and was slapping him around and pulling his hair. Henry pulled out his revolver, which was in his pocket, and shot Cahill in the stomach. Cahill died the next day and a coroner’s jury decided that the shooting “was criminal and unjustifiable” and that “Henry Antrim alias Kid is guilty thereof.”
It is very unlikely that a jury would have found Henry guilty as the law was very lax in the South West at that time and ‘self-defence’ was a good plea at a time when men carried guns and were prepared to use them. However, Henry was not about to hang around on the off chance he might be convicted. Once again he ‘skinned out’ and that ended his sojourn in Arizona.
While Henry had been in Arizona, because of his slight build and youthfulness he acquired the name “Kid”. In Arizona he was “Kid Antrim” and in fact Henry McCarty often referred to himself as “Kid Antrim”. At this stage in his short life Henry thought that he was a ‘wanted’ man in Arizona for the killing of Cahill and for theft in New Mexico and so soon after arriving back in the Silver City area he took the alias Billy Bonney. This was the name that, in later life, most people would know him by, and was the name that would echo down the years. However, at this stage he was still not ‘Billy the Kid’. That would come later in his ill-starred career.
Henry arrived back in Silver City in the autumn of 1877 and hung around the area for a short time. It was there that he first met, and joined the Jesse Evans gang, the most notorious band of rustlers and bandits in New Mexico. The Jesse Evans gang was not an organised group of bandits but rather a number of men who gave each other mutual support when needed in their nefarious deeds. Billy was mixed up with a little rustling but not much else, he was still very much ‘The Kid’ but he took in all the bad traits of the gang which was to work against him in the future. Shortly after linking up with the Evans gang Billy moved to Lincoln County and walked slap bang into the Lincoln County War. This was the event that was to define and dominate the next four years.
Background to the Lincoln County War
In the late 1800’s Lincoln County was enormous; it was almost the size of South Carolina, thirty thousand square miles, taking up most of the south-eastern part of New Mexico. The county seat, Lincoln, was down in the south-western corner of the county. Nine miles further west was the Fort Stanton Mescalero Indian Reservation guarded by the 9th US cavalry made up of Negro troopers and white officers. Apache Indians referred to the Negro troopers as‘Buffalo Soldiers’(4). The fort’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Dudley was to play a pivotal role later in the Lincoln County War.
Lincoln County was plagued by corruption and violence. Murder was almost a daily occurrence and vice was endemic from the top down, starting in New Mexico’s Governor Samuel Axtell’s office in Santa Fe. This group of high-ranking officials ran what was to be called “The Santa Fe Ring”.
Lincoln was a small town with just one road abut a mile describing a lazy S, and was mostly populated by Hispanics with a smattering of Anglos. The main building was the ‘big store’, the only two storey building in Lincoln, owned by L.G.Murphy and Co, the Co being Jimmy Dolan. Lawrence Murphy was ex-military and virtually ran and owned Lincoln, Murphy’s being the only place to buy goods so having a monopoly of trade with the citizens and most of the military.
In March 1875 Alexander McSween, a not very honest lawyer, along with his wife Susan arrived in Lincoln and hung out his shingle. Twenty months later in November 1876 a young Englishman, John Tunstall also arrived in Lincoln having spent some time in Canada and California before arriving in New Mexico. John Tunstall, a rather self-centred and opinionated young man, came from a good family background in England with a family that could, and would finance him with his hair-brained get rich quick schemes.
Tunstall, along with the help of McSween decided, by undercutting their prices, to take on ‘The Big Store’ now run by Dolan & Co, Murphy having retired to concentrate on his fight with ‘the bottle’ which ultimately he would lose and die of alcohol poisoning. Tunstall also started to buy up good ranching land with the avowed intention of supplying beef to the Apache. As Tunstall wrote in a letter to his father back in England, “I want one half of every dollar made in Lincoln.” The big mistake that Tunstall made was that New Mexico, and Lincoln County in particular, was not genteel England. This was a place where almost all men carried guns and were prepared to use them to settle disputes rather than resorting to the law.
In 1876 John Chisum started a huge ranch in the area just South of Lincoln and was always fighting rustlers, mainly other smaller ranchers who were helping their own herds to grow at the expense of ‘Old John’s ‘Jingle-bob’(5) herd. Rustling was almost seen as a legitimate way of making a living by many a small rancher. It was into this slowly brewing cauldron of violence that a still very young Billy Bonney started the last four years of his life.
After spending time with the Jesse Evans gang and seeing more of the seamier side of life, Billy met and became great friends with Fred Waite. According to Billy, Fred and he decided to go into ranching together which probably meant rustling from Uncle John’s Jingle Bob herd like everyone else. However, in late November Billy and Fred were employed by Dick Brewer, who was John Tunstall’s foreman, to work on Tunstall’s ranch down on the Rio Feliz as Tunstall was beginning to feel the need to have some gunmen on his side of the argument.
On December 21st 1877 Jimmy Dolan got one of the sleeping partners in his business to swear out a warrant against McSween for embezzlement of $10.000. As McSween and Tunstall had been working together it was assumed, rather conveniently by Dolan, that McSween and Tunstall were in partnership, which in fact was not the case. Tunstall employed McSween but they were not, and never had been partners. However, this did not deter local Sheriff Brady, who at Dolan’s request attached(6)Tunstall’s store and all the goods in the shop.
Three months later after more bad blood between Tunstall and Dolan, a posse arrived at Tunstall ranch on February 18th 1878 to attach his cattle to help offset McSween’s debt. Although he had several ‘fighting men’ at the ranch Tunstall decided he would settle the problem with Dolan through the courts. This was a big mistake as on the way back to Lincoln the Dolan posse jumped the five men in the party and around 5.30pm Dolan’s posse, which included Jesse Evans and some of his men, murdered Tunstall, who became separated from the other four of his men. Now the Lincoln County War started in earnest and Billy Bonney found himself on the wrong side.
Were Tunstall and Billy Friends?
Much time and effort has gone in to speculation about whether Tunstall befriended Billy Bonney. It has been suggested that Tunstall took an instant liking to the young man, which very much influenced Billy actions after the murder of Tunstall. I feel that this idea was something that came up after Billy was killed and people tried to expand the myth of Billy the Kid. For a start, Billy was in Tunstall’s employment for a little under three months. Tunstall did not seek him out, as many have suggested, it was Dick Brewer who employed Billy originally. For a substantial part of those three months Tunstall was away on business so would have had very little contact with Billy. Also, Tunstall had very little empathy with the people of New Mexico in general and Lincoln in particular. The only person Tunstall spent much time with, and in any way became a friend of, was Robert Widenmann who was a German émigré who was employed by Tunstall to manage his store in Lincoln. Widenmann had an European background and old world culture that, judging by his letter home, it seemed that John Tunstall missed. However, the people who knew Billy at this time saw him as a very happy-go-lucky sort of young man; I think he and Tunstall were worlds apart. I don’t think that the English gentleman, John Tunstall would have given Billy Bonney, the cowhand, a second thought.
Having put this argument forward I feel that I must go on to say that I think contact with John Tunstall did give Billy a glimpse into another world outside of the life of crime that he had pursued until this brief episode in his life. Contact with Tunstall obviously had quite an impact on Billy judging by his reaction to his murder. It was reported that when Billy went to see the body of Tunstall he said, “I’ll get some of them before I die”. Had his connection with Tunstall been longer who knows whether Billy might have made more of his life and gone on to become a respectable rancher and good citizen. If that had been case we would probably never have heard of Billy the Kid. History is a funny thing!
Aftermath of The Killing of John Tunstall
The death of John Tunstall had quite a profound effect in Lincoln County. Dolan and his cohort, as well as the rest of the Santa Fe ring were feeling quite smug. However, on the other side of the coin most of the local people mourned the death and the loss of someone they had seen as a deliverer from Dolan and ‘The Ring’. Now the Lincoln County War started in earnest.
Shortly after the death of Tunstall the local Justice of the Peace, John B. Wilson, issued Dick Brewer with warrants for the arrest of the killers. Brewer was made a special constable with Billy Bonney as his deputy and they found many willing volunteers to ride with them. They styled themselves ‘The Regulators’ but this would lead to a strange anomaly, as there were now two official posses looking for the killers. ‘The Regulators’ and local Sheriff William Brady with his deputies were now looking for the same men.
The Regulators struck first and on the 6th March captured Billy Morton and Frank Baker two of the posse that murdered Tunstall. On the 9th March both men were shot ‘while trying to escape’ along with Bill McCloskey who tried to protect them. After the bodies were discovered it was found that both Morton and Baker had been shot eleven times, one bullet for each of the Regulators in the posse. This was straightforward assassination whichever way you look at it. McCloskey had only been shot once.
While the Regulators were wreaking revenge New Mexico Governor Samuel B Axtell, top man in the Santa Fe Ring, was visiting Lincoln. Axtell made a formal proclamation stating that John B Wilson was relieved of the office of Justice of the Peace and only Sheriff Brady held authority in Lincoln. This proclamation meant that the ‘Regulators’ were outside of the law and could now be hunted down for the killing of Morton, Baker and McCloskey.
On the 31st March Billy Bonney, along with six other men, hid behind the Tunstall store and ambushed and killed Sheriff Brady and his deputy Georges Hindmann right in the centre of Lincoln in broad daylight. On April 4th Dick Brewer lead the ‘Regulators’ to Blazer’s Mill on the Mescalero Apache Reservation where they killed ‘Buckshot’ Roberts who had also been involved in the murder of Tunstall. In this fight Dick Brewer was killed and two ‘Regulators were wounded. ‘Doc’ Scurlock became the de facto leader of what was left of the now outlawed ‘Regulators’. Billy Bonney was still at this time only one of the boys and not a leader in any sense of the word.
The next murder perpetrated by the outlawed ‘Regulators’ was on 15th May when they captured and shot Manuel Segovia, know as ‘Indian’, who had also been a member of the posse that murdered Tunstall. This now meant that six men had met their deaths at the hands of the so-called ‘Regulators’. Billy was keeping his promise to “get some of them before I die”. How many of these men died by Billy’s gun has never been established as he was just one amongst many who did the shooting. I’m sure that some of his bullets hit the mark but maybe the men were dead already, shot by one or other of the posse members. We will never know for sure. However, the one thing we do know is that young Billy Bonney, along with all the other ‘Regulators’ was most definitely on the wrong side of what passed for law in New Mexico at that time.
The Big Fight in Lincoln
While all this killing had been going on Alexander McSween had been keeping a low profile living rough in the hills outside Lincoln and being protected by Billy and friends. McSween never carried a gun and was more than happy to let other people do the fighting for him; in fact he was paying them to do just that. However, in early July he was tired of being on the run and decided to go back to Lincoln and face down Sheriff Peppin who had been appointed to the job after the killing of Sheriff Brady. McSween also thought he could fight Dolan through the courts. All the time McSween had been hiding out his wife Sue had stayed at their home in Lincoln.
On July 14th McSween arrived back at this house and was accompanied by around forty fighting men. On the 15th Dolan turned up with about thirty-five men so a battle was inevitable. After a bit of talking to each other the shooting started in earnest on the 16th and went on for three days, resulting in just one fatality(7) on the Dolan/Peppin side. On the 19th Sheriff Peppin went to Fort Stanton and asked Col. Dudley for help and, as Peppin was the appointed civilian law officer and insisted that civilian lives were at risk from all the lead flying about, Dudley felt he had to intervene. Dudley made no effort to cover his contempt for the McSween or the Peppin faction having had run-ins with both of them in the past. He insisted at the subsequent military hearing that all he was doing was protecting the civilian population from harm.
Col. Dudley arrived in Lincoln at around 2:00pm leading a force made up of cavalry and infantry and also brought along a Gatling gun and a Howitzer. He placed his men between the two factions and as neither side wanted to kill any solider by mistake and bring down the wrath of the army on their heads the firing subsided for a time. In the lull that followed, and while the men in McSween’s house were distracted, two of the Dolan/Peppin faction set fire to the back of the house. The fire burned steadily and Billy, who was by now looked on as the leader, decided that the only option was to break out and take their chances in the dark that night.
At 5:00pm Susan McSween left the house and sometime later, against the advice of Billy, McSween decided to try to surrender to Sheriff Peppin. He walked out onto the back veranda carrying his family bible and shouted, “I am McSween, I shall surrender”. Four men approached him from the dark and shouted they had a warrant for his arrest whereupon McSween shouted, “I will never surrender”, all four men started shooting at him and he was killed instantly.
Not long after that the men inside decided the time had come to try to make their escape. They left in two groups, firing as they left, to be met in turn by a hail of deadly gunfire. In the ensuing melée one of Pippins’ men and four Regulators died and two were badly wounded. In all the chaos Billy and eight other men made their escape.
Events After The Big Shoot Out in Lincoln
After their escape from the burning house what was left of the ‘Regulators’ was in total disarray, leaderless, hunted and on foot. The first priority was to get mounts; a man on foot in the West was as good as useless. The easiest way to be re-mounted was to steal from anybody, friend or foe, which Billy and friends achieved with practised ease. Billy and his devoted sidekick, Tom 0’Folliard(8) next showed up in Fort Sumner in North East New Mexico about one hundred miles or so from Lincoln.
Old Fort Sumner was owned by Pete Maxwell and had been turned into a small town with a population of around one hundred, mostly Hispanics. It was about sixty-five miles from Santa Fe and the law paid little attention to the goings on at Fort Sumner. Billy and Tom took to rustling again and Billy also worked as a dealer of monte(9) in the local saloons. Billy did not drink alcohol or smoke, which marked him out from most of the other riff-raff in the area and also gave him an edge in the card games.
In late September 1878 Billy and Tom turned up in Tascosa in the Texas Panhandle and sold a lot of stolen horses to Texans who did not ask too many awkward questions about previous ownership. While in Tascosa Billy was befriended by Henry Hoyt who went on to become quite an eminent doctor. Hoyt left a fascinating written account(10) of Billy at that time in his life.
In late October Billy and Tom drifted back to the Lincoln area with some strange idea of ‘setting things right’. Kid Antrim was becoming dissatisfied with being on the run and wanted to “square himself with the law”. However, there was one small problem in the shape of Sue McSween and a one-armed Texas Lawyer named Houston Chapman. Sue McSween was determined to hold Col. Dudley responsible for the death of her husband and the burning down of her home. Chapman was a very quarrelsome and excitable person who was universally disliked. Chapman and Sue McSween were stirring up trouble for everyone involved in the Lincoln County War.
Things had got so bad in New Mexico that President Rutherford B. Hayes, in October 1878, sent a new governor Lew Wallace(11) to sort things out and restore law and order, something that was easier said than done. Wallace issued a proclamation giving a ‘General Pardon’ to everyone involved with the Lincoln County War but with one very important exception. The pardon excluded anyone who had been indicted by a grand jury, and Billy had two indictments against his name, a Territorial one for the killing of Sheriff Brady and a Federal one for the shooting of ‘Buckshot’ Roberts. As he had not shot either of them he was justifiably upset!
Billy was now on the run from both the law and the Dolan gang and he was none too happy with the situation. In early February he sent out some peace feelers to Dolan and Jesse Evans. Was it going to be war or could they come to some kind of closure? The message came back that they could all meet in Lincoln and talk things over. They did so later February and had the most amazing meeting. Tom O’Falliard, Yginio Salazar and Joe Bowers backed Billy while Jimmy Dolan had Jesse Evans, Billy Mathews and a new comer, Billy Campbell on his side. Campbell hailed from Texas and was noted, even in that violent company, as a very nasty and unpredictable character.
The two sides avoided a gun battle by the skin of their teeth before they got down to talking then they came up with a list of ‘do’s and dont’s’ that is almost beyond belief: no one should kill anyone from the other side; no one should testify in court against anyone else without first withdrawing from the agreement; anyone violating this agreement would be executed. This was all put in writing and everyone signed it. Then there was a great deal of handshaking and black slapping all round. This endorses one old western maxim: never pick a fight against another gunman unless you are absolutely sure you can win!
After this amazing agreement was completed they set off on a long night of drinking and carousing. At around 10.30pm while going from one drinking establishment to the next they ran into Houston Chapman. Billy Campbell pulled out his revolver and placing it on Chapman’s chest demanded that he dance for them. Chapman declined the offer by saying he would not dance for any drunken gang. Chapman then asked if he was talking to Mr. Dolan, who upon hearing his name and being very drunk pulled out his revolver and fired into the ground. At the sound of the gunshot Billy Campbell twitched his trigger finger and shot Chapman point blank in the chest. Chapman was heard to say, “my God, I am killed” as he fell to the floor. The gun was so close to Chapman that it set his clothes on fire and so his body was very badly burnt. Life was held in such small regard in Lincoln that after the killing the whole gang went and had a slap-up dinner leaving the burning body lying in the street. Shortly after this Billy, who was the only sober one amongst them, bid a hasty farewell and set off with his three friends back to Fort Sumner.
Billy’s Deal with Lew Wallace
The main problem facing Governor Wallace in Lincoln County was that the local populace were so afraid of the bad men that no one would testify in open court for fear of reprisals. Although plenty of men were rounded up and held at Fort Stanton it was impossible to get a conviction. On March the 13th Billy wrote a letter to Wallace saying that he would be willing to give evidence that could lead to a conviction of the killers of Huston Chapman so long as the indictments against him were dropped(12).
Wallace and Billy met on 15th March late at night in the small home of Squire Wilson the local Justice of the Peace in Lincoln. It must have been quite a meeting. Governor Lew Wallace, middle aged, Civil War hero, author, politician, musician, sportsman, budding literary star and the most powerful man in New Mexico meeting with a teenage killer and being prepared to strike a deal with him.
The deal was very straightforward: Billy would testify before a grand jury and implicate both Campbell and Dolan in the killing of Chapman. Wallace agreed that if Billy would do this he would give Billy the pardon he wanted. Wallace also agreed that he would arrange a fake arrest so Billy could be taken into protective custody. Billy and Tom O’Falliard were arrested on March 21st by Sherriff Kimball the new Lincoln County Sheriff, who, by the way, was a friend of both Billy and Tom!
The trial took place on the 14th April with Billy and Tom giving evidence that led to the indictment by the grand jury of both Campbell and Dolan for the murder of Houston Chapman. The District Attorney William L. Rynerson who acted for the prosecution had agreed with Wallace that both Billy and Tom would not have to face trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady. However, Rynerson was also involved with the Santa Fe Ring and was also very much a Dolan man and wanted to get Billy for the killing of Sheriff Brady. The upshot of all these machinations was that Billy never got the pardon Wallace had promised him. Billy and Tom were to stand trial in Mesilla, Dona Ana County where Billy would not have any friends. Billy and Tom would not have stood a chance of a fair trial in Mesilla and as Sheriff Kimball’s protective custody was very light indeed once again Billy ‘skinned out’ making for Las Vegas and then onto Fort Sumner.
It can be argued that Wallace could have over-ruled Rynerson as Billy had kept his part of the deal. However, Wallace did not have a very high opinion of anyone who had been involved in the Lincoln County War and was particularly unimpressed with Billy Antrim having met him. In fact all Wallace wanted was to get the job over with as quickly as possible and get back to what he termed ‘civilised people’. In this case I think that Billy was ‘sold down the river’ by Wallace.
Billy the Rustler
Fort Sumner in 1879 was, for someone like Billy, a very congenial place to spend time. Around forty or fifty hard cases and gunmen were drawn to Fort Sumner because of the rich pickings in the Pacos Valley and Texas Panhandle ranches. There was a total lack of law enforcement so it was easy to rustle cattle and then dispose them to ready markets, where they were sold on to feed the reservation Apaches. With many saloons in the area Billy also spent time dealing the card game, Monte, to supplement his earnings. The weekly Bailes, or Mexican dances, were another area in which Billy excelled. He was regarded as one of the best dancers around and many young Mexican girls made eyes at him from behind their fans.
It was common knowledge that Billy had fathered twins, who died in infancy, and he also had a child who outlived him. He linked up again with Charley Bowdre and the two had a small ranch just a few miles outside Fort Sumner. The ever-present Tom O’Falliard was also around to boost Billy’s growing ego. He met and played occasional games of card with Pat Garrett who tended the bar at one of the local saloons. All in all life was pretty good for young Billy in Fort Sumner.
In December 1879 Jim and Pitzer Chisum, brothers of the now elderly John Chisum re-introduced the ‘Jingle Bob’ herd into the Pacos Valley. They very soon became targets for the rustlers and Billy, who was well known to the Chisum brothers, very soon became one of the prime suspects. However, Billy was never a gang leader as such. The kind of men around at that time did not take too kindly to taking orders from anyone. When it suited them and the time was right they would band together to make a raid on one ranch or another and then split up and go their separate ways until the next time. It seems that Billy got more deeply involved with his life of crime; he was also suspected of robbing the US mail and passing counterfeit money, both of which were Federal offences. Now he was wanted for both County and State crimes, Billy’s fame was growing for all the wrong reasons.
In early January 1880 Jim Chisum along with three cowboys brought a small herd of cattle to sell in Fort Sumner. Although Billy was involved in rustling from the Chisum brothers he had the brass neck to invite Jim and the three hands for a drink at Hargrove’s saloon. I think this shows the ambivalence shown to rustling and rustlers at this time in New Mexico’s history. However, whether Jim and the boys needed a drink or whether you did not refuse a drink from Billy, who by all accounts had a very quick temper, can be left open to speculation. When they reached Hargrove’s they ran into a hard case Texan called Joe Grant and it was rumoured that Grant had killed a few men. Grant knew Billy so came over to talk and noticed that one of the cowboys had an ivory-handled six-shooter. He admired the gun and taking it from the cowboy’s holster shot three rounds to ‘test’ it and pronounced it a fine gun. Whereupon he put the gun into his own holster and gave the cowboy his gun. The cowboy made no comment: you did not pick a fight with the likes of Joe Grant. After a while Billy asked to see the gun and spun the chamber making sure that when next fired the hammer would fall on an empty shell, he then returned the revolver to Grant. Shorty afterwards Billy and Grant had a few hard words and Billy turned to walk out of the saloon. Grant, who by this time was very drunk, pulled the gun and tried to fire. When Billy heard the click of the hammer on the empty shell he whirled round and fired three shots at Grant. All three bullets hit Grant in the face and he was killed instantly. This is only the second authenticated report of Billy killing someone, the first being ‘Windy’ Cahill back in Arizona. He may have shot and killed other men as well during the Lincoln County War but he was always with other people who were shooting so it is not possible to attribute any other deaths to him. However, more were to follow.
Billy was by this time earning himself quite a bad reputation, which was enhanced when W. S. Koogler, joint owner of the Las Vegas Gazette wrote a long article complaining about the gangs of outlaws terrorising the stockmen of the Pacos Valley and the Texas Panhandle. Koogler said, “The army of outlaws is under the leadership of Billy the Kid.” Other papers joined in the fray and very quickly the name ‘Billy the Kid’ was on everyone’s lips. This was the first time the name of ‘Billy the Kid’ appeared in print, and the name sounded so good it stuck. His exploits hit the national headlines when in December 1880 the New York Sun, taking the Gazette as it source, proclaimed the amazing story of the young outlaw king, ‘Billy the Kid’ to an incredulous nation.
Certainly parts of the story were true as there were probably around 40 to 50 rustlers working out of Fort Sumner preying on Texas and New Mexico stockmen. However, they never did act as one band under any one leader, certainly not ‘Billy the Kid’. Within weeks ‘Billy the Kid’ was the main story in many newspapers all over the country and he became the most wanted man in New Mexico.
When this happened Billy tried writing to Lew Wallace to remind him of the deal he had made back in Lincoln but Wallace was too busy with his novel Ben-Hur. Also, Billy had gone so much further down the road of crime that Wallace could not now give him any help. Indeed he went further and offered a reward of $500 for his arrest.
I think it’s fair to say that young Henry Antrim had moved down the road of criminality and he did have a small share of notoriety at this time. The rest of the myth was purely a newspaper creation. However, he was now the most wanted man in New Mexico. His fate was now sealed.
The Arrest and Escape of Billy the Kid
On November 2nd 1880 Pat Garrett was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County and from that time onwards the names of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett would be forever intertwined. Patrick Floyd Garrett was 6ft 3ins tall which made him stand out in a crowd, in fact the Hispanics called him “Juan Largo” or “Long John”. Born in Alabama in 1850 he was 30 years old when elected Sheriff in 1880. Garrett was known as a courageous and honest person, a good shot and not someone you wanted to tangle with. One of his first jobs was ‘to bring the Kid in’. He appointed Charles Robert Olinger, known as Bob, as his deputy. Bob Olinger had been a Dolan man during the Lincoln County War so was no friend of ‘Billy the Kid’.
Garrett got news that Billy and friends were holed up in Fort Sumner. During a shoot out on December 21st Garrett shot and killed Tom O’Folliard but Billy and four other men escaped. On the 23rd Garrett with Olinger and a small posse found Billy and the other men in a small sheepherder’s hut in a place with the delightful name of Stinking Spring. During the dead of night they quietly surrounded the hut and waited in the freezing cold for the break of day. Billy had said that he would never be taken alive again so when a man wearing a sombrero, a hat that Billy often wore, came out of the hut in the early morning light, the posse opened up with their Winchesters hitting the target with several shots. As it turned out it was not Billy but Charley Bowdre who was killed. After a further stand off for most of the day Billy and the other men finally surrendered to Garrett.
By this time Billy was extremely full of himself. He was now the ‘Billy the Kid’ of history. He was taken to Santa Fe to be held in prison where he was feted by the local populace and interviewed by countless newspapermen. In late March Garrett and Olinger escorted him to Messilla in Dona Ana County to stand trial before Judge Bristol. The trial was a forgone conclusion and he was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Sheriff Brady. On April 16th Judge Bristol gave the order, “The prisoner will be turned over to the Sheriff of Lincoln and be confined until May 13th and on that day between the hours of nine and three, the said William Bonney, alias Kid, alias William Antrim be hanged by the neck until his body is dead”. Billy wrote once more to Wallace but he again declined Billy’s request for clemency.
Under heavy guard Billy was taken back to Lincoln, arriving on the 21st April 1881. Billy was to be held in the Lincoln County Court House, which, in fact, was the old Murphy/Dolan store building. Billy was lodged on the second floor and guarded by deputies Bob Olinger and James Bell. Bob Olinger took great delight in taunting Billy and reminding him that he was to hang in just a few weeks. On the other hand Bell, who was older, was more sympathetic and kind to him. The deputies also had five other prisoners to guard who were held in another part of the building.
Garrett had to visit White Oaks to collect taxes, which was one of the main jobs of a Sheriff, but gave his deputies strict orders to be very careful while guarding ‘The Kid’. Garrett did not want Billy ‘skinning out’ yet again. When Garrett left for his tax collecting duties Olinger started taunting Billy even more. He very ostentatiously loaded a double-barrelled shotgun and remarked to Billy, “The man who gets one of these loads will feel it”.
At around 6.00pm on April 28th Olinger took the other prisoners to the Wortley Hotel for dinner and left Bell to guard Billy. This was when Billy the Kid made his move. Whether it was planned or a spur of the moment job we will never know. However, what we do know is he asked Bell to take him to the lavatory, which was outside at the back of the building. After that it becomes almost impossible to know what actually happened. The first thing to understand is that Billy was handcuffed and had shackles on his legs. There are three main theories: 1 someone had hidden a gun in the lavatory for him: 2 as he was coming back up the stairs he managed to grab Bell’s six-gun from its holster; 3 he got one hand out of the handcuffs so was able to hit Bell over the head with the loose handcuff and then grab his gun. Billy was not a very big man and had very slender wrists and it was known, because he had demonstrated it on more than one occasion, he could get his hand out of the handcuffs quite easily. What we do know is that somehow he managed to get Bell’s six gun from him and yelled at Bell to stay where he was. Bell was probably scared out of his wits so instead of stopping he started to run down the steps. Billy fired two shots, one hit the wall and the other caught Bell in his side(13). Bell managed to get through the back door but fell dead into the arms of Godfrey Gauss.
Godfrey Guass was an elderly German who had known Billy from the old Tunstall days and was on friendly terms with him. Gauss laid Bell on the floor then started to go to the front of the building. While this was happening Billy went back upstairs and, picking up Olinger’s shotgun moved to one of the front windows. Olinger heard the shots and came out of the hotel into the road telling his prisoners to stay where they were. He then started back over the road to the Court House, and was just opening the front gate when Guass yelled, “Bob, the Kid has killed Bell”. Bob Olinger looked up to the window and said “Yes, and he has killed me too”. Billy then pulled both triggers and Olinger took the blast from the shotgun full in the head and chest. Bob Olinger would not taunt Billy the Kid anymore(14).
The Death of Billy the Kid
After leaving Lincoln for the last time Billy slowly made his way back to Old Fort Sumner arriving on the 9th May where some welcomed him back out of genuine friendship, and others out of fear. The numerous newspaper articles fuelled his reputation. “He is” as one article stated, “ a flagrant violator of every law”. Another wrote “he has been a murderer from infancy” and added for good measure “he has filled more graves than he has lived years.” So started the story that Billy the Kid killed 21 men not counting Mexicans and Indians. Good old newspapers again not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. If you don’t know the facts just make ‘em up!
On April 30th Governor Wallace signed Billy’s death warrant and it stated that after the hanging the Sheriff made “due return of the acts hereunder” i.e. the hanging. However on the 24th May Garrett had to write to Wallace saying “I herby certify that the warrant was not served owing to the fact that the named prisoner escaped before the day set for serving the warrant. Signed, Pat F. Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County.
Many friends of Billy encouraged him to leave New Mexico but Billy just took up his old life style once again. I think the problem was that he was beginning to believe the stories in the newspapers and got the idea that he could do just what he liked. It’s the old story of beginning to believe your own publicity, which is never a wise path to tread, and I believe he became over confident.
Pat Garrett was now in a quandary. All reports said that Billy was in, or around the Fort Sumner area. Garrett found this hard to believe, as he said to a friend, “it seems incredible that he should linger in the Territory”. Knowing Billy as he did he was pretty sure in his own mind that The Kid would have high tailed to somewhere safer because he, Garrett, had a high regard for Billy’s intelligence. Still, he felt his duty was to try and recapture him if at all possible so to this end he deputised John W. Poe who had a reputation as a fearless Texas Panhandle lawman. One of the main reasons for bringing Poe along was that he was virtually unknown in New Mexico so could pose as another cowboy just looking for work without arousing suspicion. The third lawman to accompany Garrett and Poe was Thomas K. (Tip) McKinney.
Poe went into Fort Sumner and posed as a cowhand on his way back to Texas but picked up very little information. In spite of this Garrett, along with Poe and McKinney, in the late evening of July 14th 1881, rode into Fort Sumner despite their misgivings about finding Billy. Garrett decided he would go to Pete Maxwell who owned Fort Sumner to see if he could get any information about Billy’s whereabouts. He entered Maxwell’s bedroom just after midnight and was questioning Maxwell about where Billy might be. Unbeknown to Garrett, or Maxwell, Billy was in the Old Fort staying with friends and wanted something to eat. He had taken off his hat, vest and boots and was on his way down to Maxwell’s back porch where there was the carcass of a butchered yearling hanging. He was going to get himself a steak so had a butchers knife in one hand and his ever present revolver in the other. On his way down to the porch he ran into Poe and asked urgently “Quien es?” (Who is it?) Poe, not knowing it was Billy the Kid, tried to reassure him and said he would not harm him. Billy backed into Maxwell’s bedroom asking, “Pete, Quien es? Quien es?” At that point, Garrett recognised the voice and pulled out his revolver and shot twice at Billy the Kid. The first bullet hit Billy in the chest just below the heart and killed him instantly. The second bullet hit the wall and ricocheted across the room into Maxwell’s bed head. Garrett ran onto the porch just ahead of Maxwell who tumbled out of the door after him, and was almost shot by Poe. Garrett knocked Poe’s gun hand down and then said to Poe and McKinney, “that was the Kid and I think I got him”. Poe answered, “Pat, the Kid would not come into this place, you have shot the wrong man”. Garrett replied, “I am sure it was him, I know his voice too well to be mistaken”.
Garrett and his deputies were reluctant to go back into the room in case Billy was not dead so Maxwell went to his mother’s room and came back with a candle and placed it on the windowsill. When the three lawmen looked into the room they saw a body lying on his back with a six-shooter in his right hand and a butcher’s knife in the other. Billy the Kid who was 21 years and 8 months old was dead.
Garrett came in for a lot of criticism for not trying to take Billy alive. However, Billy had said all along that he would never be taken alive again. I think that had I been in Garrett’s shoes I would have shot first and asked questions later. Quite a few of the local ‘lads’ wanted to lynch Garrett and his deputies that night. However the three men kept the crowd at bay with their guns at the ready.
The next day, just after sunup, the local Justice of the Peace asked a man named Milnor Rudulph to form a coroner’s jury, and as he was a literate man, to take notes of the proceedings. The inquest was held in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom where the body still lay. The jury found that “William Bonney had died from a bullet wound in the region of the heart, inflicted by the gun of Sheriff Pat Garrett”. Rudulph also wrote, “that the act of said Garrett was justifiable homicide and we are of the opinion that the gratitude of the whole community is owed to said Garrett for his deed, and that he deserves to be rewarded”. Now The Kid was dead people could, at last, speak their minds.
On July 15th ‘neatly and properly dressed’ Billy the Kid was laid to rest in the old military cemetery at Fort Sumner alongside his two former companions Tom O’Folliard and Charley Bowdre. The headstone simply reads ‘Pals’.
So ended the life of Billy the Kid. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time but I think few would advance the theory that he deserved to have a long and happy life. Like many of the gunmen he became far more famous in death than he had ever been in life. From this point on the legend of Billy the Kid just grew and grew and grew. In fact it’s still growing!
Did he kill 21 men? Well, no. We can say for certain that he killed four men and was probably involved with the killing of several other men, though not on his own. The one thing we can say for sure is that he did not kill Sheriff Brady. Now, that is rather ironic as it was Brady’s murder that started the train of events that finally led to Billy’s death. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction.
I am of the opinion that the real hero was Pat Garrett who took on the task of going after Billy the Kid knowing that Billy had stated he would never again be taken alive. Garrett spent the rest of his life as “The man who shot Billy the Kid”. Garrett was himself shot to death on the 29th February 1908. He was 59 at the time.
(2) There is some speculation that Henry spent time in Old Mexico and so became fluent in the Spanish that stood him in such good stead with the Hispanic community in New Mexico later in his career. This fact has never been substantiated so I think should be discounted unless further evidence comes to light.
(4) Most Indians used the term ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ when referring to negro troops because black men usually have tight black curly hair which looked, to the Indians, like the hair on the head of buffalos. This was not in any sense meant to be derogatory but rather a compliment, as Indians endowed buffalos with great strength and cunning.
(6) An attachment was when goods were taken to cover the cost of the order made by a judge in case the person against whom the judgment was made, in this case McSween, did not have enough money to cover the judgment. The goods could be held until the judgment, or verdict was completed. However, in this case it was just plain stealing on the part of the Dolan faction.
(7) One question that can be justifiably asked is: as there were approximately eighty gunmen shooting at each other in relatively close proximity how come there was only one killing in three days of fighting? We can only draw two conclusions; one, that they were all very good at keeping their heads down: two, they were not very good shots. I think it was the latter: the myth that has grown up is that everyone in the old Wild West was deadly accurate with guns, however I think this was far from the truth. There were some very deadly gunfighters, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp and John Wesley Hardin to name just a few, but most men were not in that league. Most gunfights took place at very close range but when it came to long-range shootouts it was a very different matter. I also think that if you were being shot at there would be a tendency to keep your head down.
(8) Tom O’Folliard was to become Billy’s best friend, in fact Tom almost worshipped Billy. He came from Texas and was one year older than Billy who taught him to shoot with both handguns and rifles. Wherever Billy went Tom was always along and would do anything asked of him even down to holding his horse while Billy spent time visiting his lady friends or to backing him in a gunfight. Tom’s family background was French but when he met an Irish girl who wanted to marry an Irishman he changed the spelling of his name from the French Folliard to O’Folliard. It didn’t work however as the girl was not impressed, but he liked the new spelling so much he kept the name O’Folliard for the rest of his short life. Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner killed him on December 19th.
(10) Hoyt left us this description of Billy when he was just one month short of his twentieth birthday. “A handsome youth with a smooth face, wavy brown hair, and athletic and symmetrical figure and clear blue eyes that could look you through and through. Unless angry he always seemed to have a pleasant expression with a ready smile. His head was well shaped, his features regular, his nose aquiline, his most noticeable characteristic a slight projection of his two upper front teeth. He also spoke Spanish like a native and although only a beardless boy, was nevertheless a natural leader of men”.
As this description was written many years after Billy was shot I feel that Hoyt was looking back through ‘rose tinted spectacles’. He also tells us that Billy introduced him to a gentleman over dinner one night named Mr. Howard who turned out, according to Billy, to be Jessie James. I find this quite a remarkable statement, why would such a well-known outlaw reveal his real identity to a young no mark cowboy in a wide-open town like Tascosa. I feel that Mr Hoyt was stretching credulity to breaking point!
I was present when Mr Chapman was murdered and I know who did it. If it was arranged so that I could appear at court, I could give the desired information, but I have indictments against me for things that happened in the late Lincoln County War, and am afraid to give myself up because my enemies would kill me. If it is in your power to annul the indictments I hope you will do so, so as to give me a chance to explain. I have no wish to fight anymore, indeed I have not raised an arm since your proclamation. As to my character I refer you to any of the citizens, for the majority of them are my friends and have been helping me all they could. I am called Kid Antrim, but Antrim was my stepfather’s name.
Indeed a lot people would have been happy to testify about Billy’s character, but then again a lot wouldn’t, he was not universally liked by any means. However, I think this is a most remarkable letter. Billy obviously thought that his participation in the Lincoln County War was of no account at all. Murder was such a commonplace event in New Mexico at this stage that the slate could be wiped clean quite easily. He was also ready to ignore the agreement made with Jesse Evans and company on that fateful night in Lincoln. So much for honour between thieves.
(13) We will probably never get to the bottom of how Billy got hold of a gun, and to some extent I don’t think it’s terribly important. However, looking at the probabilities I don’t think it was likely that he had a gun planted in the lavatory. If so, why did Billy wait until he was going upstairs to yell at Bell? Why not just come out of the lavatory and stick the gun in Bell’s face so as to eliminate the chance of him running in the first place. If he had got close enough to reach Bells gun and take it from his holster he would probably had to have been BEHIND Bell to do that. In that case Bell would have had to run past Billy down the stairs to get away so I think this one can be discounted. It was known that Billy could get his hand out of the handcuffs so the weight of evidence is that Billy hit poor old Bell very hard on the head and then grabbed his gun. Whichever way it happened the fact remains that Billy somehow got Bell’s gun and shot him with it, and that’s all we really need to know.
“It was more than an hour after the killing of Olinger and Bell before he left. He has at his command eight revolvers and six guns (rifles). He stood on the upper porch in front of the building and talked with the people who were in Wortley’s, but would not let anyone towards him. He told the people that he did not want to kill Bell but, as he ran, he had to. He said he grabbed Bell’s revolver and told him to hold up his hands and surrender; that Bell decided to run and he had to kill him. He declared he was “standing pat” against the world; and, while he did not want to kill anybody, if anybody interfered with his attempt to escape he would kill them.”