New Mexico has had many well-known legends throughout its history. Billy the Kid was arguably one of most famous legends that New Mexico has ever had. Also known as William H. Bonney, Billy the Kid became a prominent and feared outlaw due to his violent nature. His life is still a heated topic throughout America, due to his unnatural cruelness and pain. His disturbing acts of cruelty caused many tragedies captured many lives, including his own, making his life one to remember. The accepted date of the Kid’s death was November 23, 1859. He was born in New York City, and his childhood was as normal as any other child’s.
He attended grammar school and played in the streets with all the other boys, including his brother Joseph. Though his father died when he was young, his mother remarried to a man named William Antrim. They eventually moved down to Silver City, New Mexico. The Kid began to show daring, yet loving characteristics at age twelve. He was especially admired by teachers and peers from his class. But because of his figure and characteristics, he was a target for bullying. He was rather small for his age, and had a lack in courage. His passion lied with music, singing and dancing.
After his mother’s health failed and was bedridden, her husband took off and left the family when they needed him the most. Catherine Antrim died on September 16th, 1874. After her death, the children bounced from one foster home to another. According to Abraham, fate turned the kid’s lives completely upside down, and it would never be the same again. The Kid’s life went downhill from there. His first problem was befriending a young man named George Schaefer. Schaefer was an incredibly bad influence due to his habits of drinking, gambling, and committing crimes.
After some time in foster homes, he looked and dressed poor. Sombrero Jack had stolen some clothes from a Chinese launderer. Since the Kid needed the clothes badly, he gave them to him, only if he was open to the possibility of getting caught. Unfortunately, he was caught with the stolen goods, and the sheriff was called. They locked him up for a couple days, just to scare the young boy, but he escaped back to his foster family, the Truesdells. He then found out that his stepfather, Bill Antrim, had gone to Clifton, Arizona, so the Truesdells sent him on a train to Clifton.
The Kid explained what had happened to him to his stepfather. Antrim responded with “If that’s the kind of boy you are, get out! ” Having no home or no one to turn to, the Kid wandered the deserts doing odd jobs at different ranches. He soon met a horse thief names John Mackie. Mackie taught the Kid the trick of the trade and the two soon created a partnership. After many close calls, an arrest, another escape from prison, the Kid made a good call and decided to give up the horse thieving career. He soon returned to ranch jobs. Frank “Windy” Cahill became one of the Kid’s most threatening bullies in Camp Grant.
Cahill, a husky blacksmith, took pleasure in tormenting the young, skinny boy. Cahill started abusing the Kid until he was fed up. The experience happened many times and was humiliating. The Kid had finally had enough. After Cahill threw him to the ground at Atkins Catina, the Kid grabbed Cahill’s . 45 and shot him in the stomach. He bolted from the scene as Cahill slumped to the side. After the Cahill killing, the Kid remained one step ahead of the law and left Arizona. He became an expert in the art of escaping retribution. His first stop was Mesilla after a quick stop in Georgetown.
Mesilla was a town that was known for crime, which became a perfect fit for the Kid. Though Jesse Evans was the leader of the gang, John Kinney, was considered the “king” of Mesilla. He, Jesse, and others terrorized the southern part of the Territory by robbing, rustling, and even murdering. By the time Kid rode up into town, these men were hardened criminals and were added to the list of bad influences on him. John Kinney was filed for five different charges in just one county. Evans, one of the men, had ten charges filed against him in that same county. McDaniels had seven charges.
It didn’t take long for the Kid to become an ally of the group. An article, “Grant County Items,” is the only written document that connects the Kid with the Mesilla gang. One of the most remembered parts of the Kid’s life is the Lincoln War. This war was a violent struggle between merchants and cattle ranchers. As stated earlier, the Kid was involved in a gang led by Jesse Evans. Tension was rising between the county’s dominating force, the L. G Murphy and Dolan Co. , and their new competition, John Tunstall. The harsh feud between John Tunstall, and James Dolan was the most infamous and caused the most bloodshed in New Mexico.
The Kid was fighting on Dolan’s side at the time. After the boys stole Tunstall’s livestock, they were arrested. Tunstall saw that the boy wasn’t like the others. He was intelligent and he could be a useful employee for Tunstall. He realized that and offered the Kid a chance to work for him instead. The Kid accepted. With hope of a better future, the Kid changed his name to William H. Bonney. He instantly felt comfortable with the new crowd. The feud escalated into a bloody battle. The war really began when Tunstall was brutally murdered by Sheriff Brady’s posse.
Brewer then created a group called the “Regulators”, a vigilante group of Tunstall’s ranch hands that lived for revenge. The Kid was a crucial recruit for the group due to his loyalty and fighting capabilities. The group tried to follow the law by serving warrants toward Dolan and his boys. When the justice system failed to meet the needs of the Regulators, they took matters into their own hands. The Kid proved to be an excellent fighter, but this caused the deaths of Sheriff Brady and his deputy. He was therefore wanted for murder. This, of course didn’t stop the Kid.
After the Kid was shot in the arm due to another fallen gunman, the Kid and other members of the Regulators, including Alex McSween, were trapped and surrounded at McSween’s house in Lincoln by Dolan’s gunmen. After a five day siege, the house was set on fire by the Regulators. McSween was struck by despair, while the other men panicked. By this time, the Regulators needed a new leader. And the Kid stepped up and took control. He devised a plan. The Regulators and he would break through the back door and make a run to Tunstall’s store through a gate on the east side of the yard.
They would also draw the line of fire to them. McSween and his men would run to the rear wall through the back gate and hide by the dark river. At nine o’clock, they made their move. As the Regulators made their way to the store, they were intercepted by gunfire. In desperate times, the Kid made a quick decision to meet the others by the river. As the groups reunited, McSween and the others ran for their lives toward the back gate. As they reached the gate, they too, were bombarded with bullets. Guns blazed all around, and men fell lifelessly to the ground.
As the smoke cleared, the war was over. After the war, the Regulators separated and the Kid became an outlaw. The Kid survived by rustling cattle and gambling since he was unable to settle down in one county. When the news of Governor Axtell being replaced by Lew Wallace reached the Kid, he interpreted it as a chance to surrender and wipe the slate the clean. He would testify against Dolan if the murder charges would be dropped in return. Since the “Santa Fe Ring” still had influence over the court, Dolan and the others were acquitted.
A dangerous threat, prosecutor attorney William Rynerson, wanted to put the Kid on trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady. Rynerson was part of the “Santa Fe Ring”, so he had the power of persuasion. Knowing he didn’t stand a chance in court against the powerful attorney, the Kid escaped immediately. Living as an outlaw once again, the Kid began to rustle to survive. Though other criminals were more dangerous and committed more serious offenses, the Kid was singled out by the newspapers and other media, and the name “Billy the Kid” was established. After the war, the Kid spent his time around Fort Sumner.
He killed a man named Joe Grant, but he wasn’t charged for it because it was considered self-defense. The Kid could feel the tension between Grant and himself when they first met. Before the shooting, the Kid could feel trouble. He asked Grant to admire his gun nonchalantly. He spun the cylinder, so the hammer would land on the empty chamber first. This move would save his life. Grant attempted to shoot the boy, but the gun refused, so when it was the Kid’s turn, he immediately killed Grant. Unfortunately, the Kid tangled himself into an intense crime.
A gang, White Oaks, surrounded the Kid at the station house. During the standoff, the posse accidently killed their own deputy. The crime was obviously blamed on the innocent one. This news instantly shattered any sympathy the people had for him. Wallace soon ordered the arrest of the young boy. Pat Garret, the new sheriff, took the Kid into custody. He was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. He was imprisoned in a room in the Lincoln courthouse with two guards, James Bell, and Bob Olinger, watching over him. At this time, the Kid made his most daring escape ever.
The Kid managed to slip out of the cuffs and smash Bell with the heavy shackles on the head. He then grabbed the guard’s pistol and shot Bell as he tried to escape. Olinger happened to be eating dinner across the street. Billy the Kid shot him also when Olinger heard the shots and tried to stop the escaped prisoner. The Kid then rode out of Lincoln a free man. He rode all the way to the only place he could call home, Fort Sumner. Pat Garret had a plan to terminate the rebellious fugitive. Since the sheriff was an employee of Pete Maxwell, he hid in his house and waited for the Kid.
After the Kid entered the house, he called for Maxwell and was suspicious about the men standing outside the house. He saw Garret’s silhouette. As the Kid spoke, Garret recognized his voice and immediately shot the Kid. He was killed within minutes. The Kid died on July 14th, 1881. He was buried the day after his death in a borrowed white t-shirt. The townspeople managed to gather $206 dollars for a tombstone that was later smashed into pieces and stolen. Billy the Kid lived only twenty- one years, seven months, and twenty- one days.
There will also be controversy towards the Kid’s life and what truly happened to him. No one can know for sure. All we know is that this young man caused many deaths in New Mexico. Though he wasn’t responsible of all the crimes he committed, he still executed his share of atrocities. The Kid is well known throughout the entire USA, and brings a good share of tourists to Fort Sumner. People ponder about the life he led and the lives he took. Though Billy the Kid lived a short life, he left a lasting legend in his place that consists of countless crimes and a life full of pain and suffering.
Courtney from Study Moose
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