Billy the Kid
Not many figures in history are known as both heroes and outlaws, and still, even fewer go into legend. However, Billy the kid stuck both hatred and love in the hearts of America during his life and death. He was immortalized by the public, but feared by the law. Though his life was made up of a wonderer and a drifter, facts were put together to have the American public educated on the boy who became a legend. Even though educators sometimes like to look the other way at some of America?s unpleasant points in history, the truth should be told about the days of the wild west and Billy the kid, because it was a time that Americans endured. It would be like omitting the fact that America embraced slavery. So many mysteries and few facts surrounded his life, that most people, including the man who wrote the first biography on him Ash Upson, used imagination and fiction to describe his life, rather than facts. Really, the only thing people ever knew about the kid was that he lived and he died by the gun. However, there was a boy before there was a legend, there were facts before there were fictions, and his life story must be told so that perhaps in death, justice will prevail.
Catherine McCarty, the mother of the kid, was seventeen when she emigrated from Ireland to New York during the great potato famine. On April 10, 1846, she stepped off of the Devonshire onto United States shores. She had two sons, Joseph and William. Joseph was born between 1854-1863, and William was born sometime in 1859-1862. (http://www.zianet.com/snm/kidsmom.htm. Gordon Fikes, April 22nd, 2002) It was thought for some time that his birth was on November 23, 1859, but November 23 was Ash Upson?s birthday. Furthermore, the year 1859 is thought to be a fabrication according to make it seem more right to have killed a man of twenty-one, rather than a child of nineteen. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A247691 The kid behind the Alias, April 22nd 2002) The year being a fabrication is also backed up by the testimony of a Lincoln County resident named Lilly Casey saying that the kid was about sixteen in 1877. (www.aboutbillythekid.com/early_life.htm April 25th, 2002 )
Another confusion surrounding Billy the kid was his name. His name at birth was William Henry McCarty of Katherine and either Patrick(Michael) McCarty or as some people believe William McCarty Bonney because of the alias William H. Bonney that he sometimes used. However, the alias conflicts with census records. Another belief is that his reason for signing his name as William H. Bonney was a result of the trouble in Arizona; that it was just another alias. One other theory is that his mother was married to a man with the last name of Bonney, and then remarried to McCarty. (Nolan,Fred The west of Billy the Kid University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1998) The belief is backed up by many newspapers calling Joseph his half-brother. Eventually, his mother met another man named William Antrim; William Henry McCarty started going by Henry to avoid confusion with the adult William. Other names include William Antrim and Kid Atrim. So whether his last name was Bonney or McCarty, scholars are generally agreed on his first and middle name being William Henry. The name Billy the Kid wasn?t documented until the last year of his life by a Las Vegas newspaper (www.aboutbillythekid.com/earlylife.htm, April 25th, 2002)
Once the little family of three left New York, they traveled to Marion County, Indiana. Indiana was when the family met William Antrim. Then the family and Antrim moved to Wichita, Kansas. According to reports from his teacher, Ms.Richards, Billy, or as he was known then, Henry, was a great student. He never turned in assignments in late and was very helpful in the classroom. Eventually, William and Katherine married in a Presbyterian church with the boys as witnesses in New Mexico. Life was going well as far as making a living with a local laundry service and some investments until Katherine was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Even though the family seemed settled, after the diagnosis was made, they all packed up to move to Silver City, New Mexico. The move was necessary because the treatment for the disease was called for a drier climate. William Antrim was away most of the time in the hills hunting for silver, which left the family mostly to themselves. Billy and his family struggled in the new city. His mother took in boarders and sold pastries to help pay the bills. Her husband gambled and hunted the hills for silver mostly. As he was known to his classmates, Henry was still considered a good student. He was very artistic and had skills in singing and dancing. In his early life, he was remembered as being very small for his age and having a girlish face.(http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A247691 , The Kid Behind the Alias, April 21st, 2002) He was known for participating with his mother in dances every week. Billy(Henry) was still a pretty descent kid even by today?s standards.
His life changed once his mother passed away in September 16, 1874. Katherine knew that without guidance, her boys would most likely get into trouble, and on her deathbed she asked Clara Truesdale to take care of her two boys. (www.zianet.com/snm/kidsmom.com Gordon Fikes, April 22nd, 2002)Once Katherine was dead, her husband who already had problems with young Henry, skipped town to live in Arizona after pawning both boys off. The two boys went back and forth to different foster families and were split up. Without any parents to tell him what to do, Billy hung around the saloons and committed his first real crime to get some money. He stole butter and sold it a merchant, but was promptly reprimanded by the law by a tongue lashing. Trying to earn his own way, he washed tables and it was then he met Sombrero Jack. Billy was now around thirteen or fourteen and characterized as a very impressionable youth. Sombrero Jack was responsible for Billy getting arrested for his first crime that he didn?t commit. Jack took some clothes from a Chinese laundry, and left Billy holding the loot. (http://www.badhombres.com/outlaws/billy-the-kid.htm April 15th, 2002) Thus, his life of crime started to begin.
After getting into trouble with the laundry stealing, Billy fled to his stepfather, but was refused by his stepfather who was disgusted at Billy for the theft. In Arizona, left alone to fend for himself, he met a man named John Mackie who was involved in stealing cattle near Fort Sumner. Shortly thereafter, the two were caught. He escaped, but then he returned back to Fort Sumner where he encountered a bully named Frank Cahill. He was the first person to call him ?the kid?. Frank, nicknamed Windy, was his first kill. For a long time, Windy constantly tormented Billy. He slapped him around and tormented the boy without cause. One day, Frank tackled the kid and repeatedly started slapping his face. Billy reached for his pistol and it went off. The death was in self defense, but that didn?t matter in the eyes of the law. (http://www.angelfire.com/nm/boybanditking/pageImportantDates.html Lucas Speer, April 16th, 2002)
Now, wanted for murder, he left Fort Sumner to go to New Mexico. It was in New Mexico that he joined up with Jesse Evans and ?the boys?. It was now sometime after 1877 and he was wanted for murder as well as crimes he had committed with the gang such as steeling cattle. All of these crimes were nothing compared to his involvement in the Lincoln County wars. Ironically, through all of the next four years of his life, he was only confirmed at killing three more people instead of twenty-one, and the case was more or less self defense.
In Lincoln County, where the kid and the gang were heading, a feud was brewing up between two competing cattle owners. Dolan and Murphey were responsible for the monopoly in Lincoln County, and John Tunstall was an Englishman looking to get rich and create his own monopoly. The gang and Billy were starting to drift apart, and after he was thrown in jail for theft, John Tunstall hired him. For a while, he seemed as if he was going to live a life by the law. He started to go by the name William H. Bonney, and became popular with ladies and thought by many as an all around good guy to spend time with. He spoke Spanish fluently and could dance with the best of them. However, the good times didn?t last too long. (www.aboutbillythekid.com, April 25th, 2002)
Billy was a ranch hand for Tunstall and swore revenge after Tunstall was killed in February 18, 1878. He and Fred Waite were deputized by the justice of the peace and were suppose to arrest the killers of Tunstall. However, the sheriff wouldn?t permit the arrest of the murderers since he was apart of Dolan and Murphey side of the feud. The kid and Fred were placed in jail for a couple of days and ended up missing the funeral of John Tunstall. It was rumored that Tunstall was like a father figure to Billy. Experts disagree with the rumor since Tunstall was only twenty-five when he was killed and was more after power than being a father figure. Billy then became involved with a group called the regulators who were suppose to catch the killers of Tunstall. Considering the governor was not paying attention to the events going on, and the sherfif was bias, all bets were off, and they had an anything goes war. The group of regulators on March 11, 1878 decided to kill the two men th!
ey had captured who were responsible for the death of Tunstall before they were returned to Lincoln County. The group lied to everyone saying the men tried to escape. It is not known whether or not Billy knew of the plans of the rest of the group. Then the Dolan & Murphey side started to counter attack. They pinned the regulators in Alex Mcsween?s home for five days. The kid was able to escape in the end, but most of the members on his side were dead. The house was burned down and Billy was now an outlaw.
During his time away from Lincoln County, Billy had learned that a new group called the Rustlers was in the area causing trouble. The gang was more ruthless and cold blooded than any before. A new governor was elected named Wallace and offered pardons to people, except people wanted for murder, to try and bring the peace. The two sides, both Dolan & Murphey and Tunstall?s avendgers, agreed to a treaty where both sides wouldn?t shed blood. So then, they left and went to the local bar and drank. During the time of the two sides drinking, Mrs.Mcsween was walking with her lawyer in the town looking for justice to the killing of her husband. The group consisting mostly of Dolan and Murphey?s men killed the lawyer, and then left the scene of the crime to get further intoxicated. They burned the body and later asked for someone to plant a gun on the man. Billy and his friends volunteered just to leave the company of Murphey and Dolan?s men. Billy and his friend Tom O?Folliard left the town instead. Once the governor heard of the crime, he became furious and wanted justice. He found out that the kid was a witness. So the two met up and it they agreed that if the kid would testify, the governor would grant him a pardon, but Billy would have to get arrested just for show. After some time in jail with no word of pardon and testifying against his enemies, he was left to fend for his own as a wanted man. The governor had conveniently left the state to finish his book Ben Hur. So Billy left Lincoln County with no pardon, and a million enemies. (http://www.badhombres.com/outlaws/billy-the-kid.htm, Bad Hombres, April 15th, 2002)
He killed a man named Joe Grant during the time while he was stealing cattle from John Chism with some of the old regulators, but it was considerd just another saloon brawl. He tried to get his name cleared one more time by getting a hold of a lawyer who has previously stated he could help. They were suppose to meet in White Oaks but were late by about 6 weeks and were ambushed by a posse led by a man named Carlyle. Eventually, they were stuck in the Greathouse. They took a hostage to guarantee safety; who was killed by the very posse he was a part of. The mob of people left full of confusion, and Billy was left to escape. (www.aboutbillythekid.com/wanted.htm ,April 25th, 2002)
Pat Garrett, the newly appointed sheriff was after Billy and pursued him about a year. He caught the kid, and proceeded to take him to jail. They traveled to stand trial for the deaths of Sheriff Brady and Buckshot Roberts. He was acquitted for the murder of Roberts but found guilty of murder in the first degree on Brady. Once in jail in Lincoln, the kid was all alone with no one else able to help him. He escaped from the jail by shooting a guard with the guard?s pistol. He stayed within the area instead of leaving the territory, unlike the advise of his friends. His new plan was to go to Fort Sumner to try and earn some money. Some belief that he actually was drawn towards Fort Sumner because of Paulita Maxwell who was pregnant with his child or because of his close Mexican friend Deluvina Maxwell.(www.angelfire.com/mi2/billythekid/paulita.html Love of Billy the Kid, April 22nd, 2002) Whatever the case, Billy would never leave Fort Sumner. One night, Garrett was waiting for Billy in his room, and sensing someone unfamiliar in the room, he asked ?Quien es? which meant ?who is it? in Spanish. Billy never spoke another word. Garret shot and killed William H. McCarty on July 14th 1881 claiming he was armed. He was buried at the Maxwell house by his Mexican friends who held his funeral. (www.ibiscom.com/billythekid.htm ,The Death of Billy the Kid, April 19th, 2002) Garret was charged with murder, but it was later marked as a justifiable homicide.
Something that people today don?t really comprehend is that Billy the kid lived in a far different and more violent time. Every man in the west had a gun for protection and survival. Whorehouses were regularity in most of the towns springing up in the Midwest. People were flocking in by the hundreds to try and find silver or gold. It was every man for himself. In the west, during the time of Billy the kid, the age of the cowboys emerged. Figures like Jesse James and Doc Holliday were real outlaws fighting their way through life and law. When a man is left with nothing but desperation and his wits, he will do what he must. Such was the case of Billy the kid?s life of crime. He had no one and no home in the world to call his own. If he hadn?t been quick with a gun, he would have perished. The late nineteenth century was a wild time, and a perfect breeding ground for a legend. Billy became a legend, but at a high price. People love him for being what they were afraid to be and li!
ving the life they only imagined. The people wrote dime store novels about his adventures, but never took the time to really get to know who he was; his family, his childhood, or even who he was before he became an outlaw. Unfortunately, the time for really getting the truth passed with his dying breath. However, a new movement has come along to rectify the lies told from the past. True lovers of history have been uncovering the truths of his life and the mysteries. So in death, he was able to receive the peace, respect and acceptance that in life he never achieved. Really, something that is most important of all is that historians have uncovered that Billy was more than a legend who lived and died by the gun, he was a man.
http://www.angelfire.com/mi2/billythekid/paulita.html. Love of Billy the Kid, April 22nd, 2002
http://www.angelfire.com/nm/boybanditking/. Lucas Speer, April 16th, 2002
http://www.badhombres.com/outlaws/billy-the-kid.htm. Bad Hombres, April 15th, 2002
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A247691. The kid behind the alias, April 21st, 2002
http://www.crimelibrary.com/americana/kid/2.htm. Sound of the Guns, April 20th, 2002
http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/oct/papr/billykid.html. Bob Katz, April 12th, 2002
http://www.historybuff.com/library/refkid.html. Steve Goldman, April 12th, 2002
http://www.ibiscom.com/billythekid.htm.”The Death Of Billy The Kid, 1881,” Eyewitness – history through the eyes of those who lived it, www.ibiscom.com (2001). April 19th, 2002
http://www.linecamp.com/museums/americanwest/western_names/billy_the_kid/billy_the_kid.html. American West, April 21st, 2002
http://www.mysteries-megasite.com/main/bigsearch/billy-1.html. Links, April 19th, 2002
http://www.pbs.org/weekendexplorer/newmexico/ruidoso/ruidoso_lincoln.htm. April 22nd, 2002
http://www.rockincherokee.com/History.htm. April 21st, 2002
http://www.southernnewmexico.com/snm/billymystery.html. Don McALavy, April 22nd, 2002
http://www.theoldwestwebride.com/txt4/gs10.html. April 22nd, 2002
http://www.zianet.com/snm/kidsmom.htm. Gordon Fikes, April 22nd, 2002