What is known of Billy the Kid is mostly what was documented by Paul Garrett. Although some people believe that they were friends, this is not established and so it cannot be assumed to be true but it has made many people believe what he wrote about him. Although some aspects are true most of what is written is fiction that has turned him into a legend. This has been done by writers who are more interested in making profits from the sale of their books than in telling the truth about who he was (Cline 20).
They are not entirely to blame since some of the people who told about him may have been under the same impression and so gave a flawed story. Most of the time, he is portrayed as a young man who from a very young age experienced a lot of hardships which turned him into an outlaw. Although he committed crimes, they are depicted in such a way that he seems like a victim who was left with no option other than the one he took. He is seen as a defender of the poor and oppressed and as trying to restore a sense of order in his society but this may not be so when his actions are viewed from a different point of view.
He was involved in many gangs that were involved in shootings and rustling and hence were at odds with the law at all times. However, it is generally accepted that he had a very likeable personality that made him get friends wherever he went. This made it very hard for anyone to get a correct description of his behavior since they were biased due to their relationship with him. On the other hand, those who were pursuing him exaggerated his criminal exploits to spoil any chance he had of obtaining pardon for his misdeeds by the law.
This worked in their favor and although he tried many times to clear his name of some of the crimes that he did not commit but were attributed to him, he was never able to do so. Billy the kid was born Henry McCarty on November 20, 1859 in Manhattan although he would later be known as William H. Bonney or Henry Antrim (Cline 11). His mother was Catherine McCarty and his father is assumed to be Edward McCarty. He had an older brother who according to Cline was five years his elder by the name Joseph McCarty. It is not clear whether they shared a father since Edwards name appears on the birth records of Henry but not on Josephs.
Edward was married and hence was never married to their mother and so were illegitimate children. As was common in those times, Henry was bound out to a farmer by the name of William A. Antrim who met his mother at Santa Fe. He was twelve years younger than her but since he wanted someone to take care of him and his house while she was dying of tuberculosis and wanted someone to take care of her children once she was dead it seemed beneficial to them to get married. They got married on 1st March, 1873 and then moved to Silver City where the climate was a bit warmer.
She lived for one and a half years and she was buried there upon her death. Her husband had been unable to get a stable job and would do odd jobs hence after her death he was unable to take care of the two boys (www. geocities. com). Upon his mother’s death, Henry was taken in by Mrs. Brown who ran a boarding house and many assumed she was his mother. He did not get along with his step-father since he was unruly while Antrim was a peaceful man. He had been used to a life without a father and for him to all of a sudden be answerable to someone for his mischievous deeds irked him no less.
Antrim’s memories of him was of a mischievous little thief but others had differing opinions like his teacher Miss Mary Richards who did not see any difference between him and the other boys in her class. His classmates also saw him as just a mischievous boy. Antrim once gave him a pocketknife as a present and he used it to behead the neighbor’s kitten. He was first apprehended by Sheriff Whitehill in 1875 for stealing butter from a rancher and selling it to merchants around town. He was slapped on his backside by the sheriff and released.
He was later given stolen goods by George Shaefer to hide for him but he was discovered by Mrs. Brown and reported to the sheriff. He was sentenced to a short time in jail by the Justice of Peace Isaac Givens but he escaped. His means of escape are not clear since it is surrounded by different rumors. It is not clear whether he ran to his step-father for help after the escape or someone sent him there but it is assumed that he met with him but he did not want anything to do with him. Since he had no one to take care of him he became a ranch hand and a gambler (http://www.
aboutbillythekid. com). He met with John R. Mackie who was a horse thief and he introduced him to the business. At this point people started calling him Kid Antrim and along the way this changed to Billy the Kid. He gave up horse stealing since it was too risky. He shot and killed a man for the first time when he killed Frank Cahill who was a bully and always picked on him due to his small stature. He was arrested but once again managed to escape He ran to New Mexico where he joined ‘The Boys’ who were rustlers led by Jesse Evans. He now adopted the name William H. Bonney.
It is not clear how he came to be in Tunstall’s employ since The Boys stole from him. One version claims that he was arrested and Tunstall noticed him while another version claims that he worked at the ranch owned by Frank and George Coe and Ab Saunders. The four of them were employed by Tunstall as cattle guards. It is clear however, is that he was on Tunstall’s side in the Lincoln County War against the Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan side. Tunstall was murdered by Dolan’s men and his love of horses mocked even in his death. Sheriff William J. Brady was implicated in the murder.
Tunstall’s ranchmen formed a group that came to be known as the Regulators who tried to bring his murderers to book. Initially they used the law by serving the suspects with warrants of arrest but their efforts were thwarted by the sheriff and those allied to the Dolan faction. They decided to take matters into their own hands and shoot the culprits Bill Morton, Frank Baker and William McCloskey a member of their group who was suspected of being a traitor. The arrival of Governor Samuel Beach Axtel who was hostile to the group turned them from lawmen to outlaws (www. aboutbillythekid. com).
McCarty and Fred Waite who were both deputies in the Regulators group were arrested when trying to serve the sheriff with a warrant of arrest. The sheriff and his deputy George W. Hindman were later ambushed and shot dead. Henry was shot on the thigh as he tried to retrieve the gun the Brady had confiscated from him. At this point the Regulators lost standing with the public since they were seen as no different from the bloodthirsty Dolan faction. Warrants for their arrests were sent out. The Regulators believed that Buckshot Roberts was involved in Tunstall’s murder and they sought him out and shot him in the chest.
He shot and killed Dick Brewer who was their leader and wounded four others all this while he had an injury. He was admired for his actions. Frank McNab replaced Brewer but did not live for long since a group led by George W. Peppin engaged him, Frank Coe and Ab Saunders in a shootout in which he died, Saunders was injured while frank was captured although he manage to escape. Tom O’Folliard joined the group at this time and was to become one of McCarty’s closest friends. Sheriff John Copeland who had been sympathetic to them was replaced by the governor with George Peppin.
The Regulators and Tunstall’s partner Alexander A. McSween hid out in his house but they were found and surrounded. After five days of waiting for their surrender, the house was set on fire and when trying to escape McSween and three others were shot dead and this ended the Lincoln County War (Tatum 200). Lew Wallace became the new governor and he extended amnesty to McCarty on the basis that he surrender and testify against other combatants in the war. McCarty agreed but Wallace was unable to honor his promise since it depended on others who were not wiling to set him free.
McCarty and O’Folliard escaped after the trial and he survived for the next two years by rustling and gambling. The second man for him to kill was Joe Grant who boasted to him that he would kill him although he did this without knowing who he was addressing his comments to. He and his gang were pursued by James Carlysle and his group but Carlysle was accidentally shot dead by his group members and his death blamed on McCarty (http://www. geocities. com). Pat Garrett was elected the new sheriff and he was able to arrest McCarty and booked him in.
Garrett was also able to kill O’Folliard and Bowdre who wee close companions of McCarty. Henry was found guilty of all offences brought against him and was sentenced to hang. He made his last escape from prison by shooting and killing the sheriff’s deputies James Bell and Robert Ollinger. It was rumored that he was in Fort Summer and he went in search of him. He traced him to Pete Maxwell’s house where he lay in ambush and caught him unawares and shot him through the heart. Billy the Kid died on July 14, 1881 and was buried the next day next to his friends and on the tombstone the word ‘PALS’ was engraved (Utley 290).
Although many stories are told of Billy the Kid and it is almost impossible to know which one is true, there are some facts that are found in all the texts and may therefore be assumed to be true. He committed many crimes but some that are assumed to have been committed by him were not. It is also assumed by many that he killed twenty-one people but as it has been established he was only directly related to the killings of four people. His life story is given in a different way by different people depending on their relationship to him. Despite all this he is among Americas most celebrated outlaws and legend. Works cited 1.
Brothers, Marcelle. Biography, 2002, Retrieved on 1st December 2008 From http://www. aboutbillythekid. com/Biography. htm 2. Cline, Donald. Alias Billy the Kid: The Man Behind the Legend, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press, 148 pgs 1986 3. Hill, Andrew. Billy the Kid. 2000, Retrieved on 30th November 2008 From http://www. geocities. com/Athens/Styx/9560/index. htm 4. Tatum, Stephen. Inventing Billy the Kid: Visions of the Outlaw in America, 1881-1981, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 242 pgs, 1985 5. Utley, Robert Marshal. Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life. 6 Salem Road, London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 302 pgs, 2000
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