OLD WEST LEGENDS
Billy The Kid - Teenage Outlaw of the
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Henry McCarty, aka, William Henry
Billy the Kid, was born on November 23, 1859,
most likely in New York City. His parents’ names are not known for
certain but his mother was thought to be Katherine and his father perhaps
Patrick. History then traces Billy to Indiana in the late 1860s and
in 1870. His father died around the end of the
Civil War and at
about the same time, Billy's mother contracted Tuberculosis and was told
to move to a drier climate. On March 1, 1873, Catherine McCarty
married a man named William Antrim, who moved the family to Silver City,
New Mexico .
stepfather worked as a bartender and carpenter but soon got the
prospecting bug and virtually ignored his wife and stepsons. Faced
with an indigent husband, McCarty's
mother took in boarders in order to provide for her sons. Despite
the better climate, Billy's
mother continued to worsen and on September 16, 1874, she died of her
After her death,
Antrim placed Billy
and his younger brother Joseph in separate foster homes and left
Silver City for
At the age of 14, the
smooth-cheeked, blue-eyed McCarty
was forced to find work in a hotel, washing dishes and waiting tables
at the restaurant. The boy was reported to be very friendly.
Billy the Kid. Note: The only photo taken of Billy shows him
as left-handed. However, it was a tintype, which creates
a mirror image. He was actually right-handed. This
image available for photographic prints and downloads
American History Documents on CD & DVD
The manager was
impressed by the young boy, boasting that he was the only kid who ever
worked for him that didn't steal anything. His school teachers thought
that the young orphan was "no more of a problem than any other boy,
always quite willing to help with chores around the schoolhouse".
However, on September
McCarty was arrested for hiding a bundle of stolen clothes for a
man playing a prank on a Chinese laundryman. Two days after Billy was thrown in jail, the scrawny teen escaped by worming his
way up the jailhouse chimney. From that point onward McCarty
would be a fugitive.
He eventually found
work as an itinerant ranch hand and sheepherder in southeastern
In 1877 he became a civilian teamster at Camp Grant Army Post with the
duty of hauling logs from a timber camp to a sawmill. The civilian
blacksmith at the camp, Frank "Windy" Cahill, took pleasure in
bullying young Billy. On August 17 Cahill attacked McCarty
after a verbal exchange and threw him to the ground.
Billy retaliated by drawing his gun and shooting Cahill, who died
the next day. Once again McCarty
was in custody, this time in the Camp's guardhouse awaiting the
arrival of the local marshal. Before the marshal could arrive,
Again on the run, Billy next turned up in the house of Heiskell Jones in Pecos
McCarty's horse which forced him to walk many miles to the nearest
settlement, which was Mrs. Jones' house. She nursed the young man, who
was near death, back to health. The Jones' family developed a strong
Billy and gave him one of their horses.
outlaw and unable to find honest work, the Kid met
up with another bandit named
Jesse Evans, who was the leader of a gang
of rustlers called "The Boys.” The Kid
didn't have anywhere else to go and since it was suicide to be alone
in the hostile and lawless territory, the
reluctantly joined the gang.
He later became embroiled
in the infamous
County War in which his newest friend and employer,
John Tunstall, was
killed on February 18, 1878. Billy the Kid was deeply affected by the murder, claiming that
one of the only men that treated him like he was "free-born and white."
At Tunstall's funeral
Billy swore: "I'll get every son-of-a-bitch who helped kill John if
it's the last thing I do."
Billy would enact revenge by
gunning-down the deputy who killed his friend, as well as another deputy
and the County Sheriff, William Brady. Now an even more wanted man than
went into hiding but soon started to steal livestock from white ranchers
on the Mescalero reservation.
In the fall of 1878, retired Union General Lew
Wallace became the new territorial governor of
In order to restore peace to Lincoln County, Wallace proclaimed an amnesty
for any man involved in the
County War that was not already under indictment.
Billy was, of course, under several indictments (some of which
unrelated to the
County War) but Wallace was intrigued by rumors that McCarty was
willing to surrender himself and testify against other combatants if
amnesty could be extended to him. In March of 1879 Wallace and Billy met to discuss the possibility of a deal. True to form, McCarty
greeted the governor with a revolver in one hand and a Winchester rifle in
the other. After several days to think the issue over, Billy agreed to testify in return for an amnesty.
Part of the agreement was for
submit to a show arrest and a short stay in jail until the conclusion of
his courtroom testimony. Even though his testimony helped to indict one of
the powerful House faction leaders, John Dolan, the district attorney
defied Wallace's order to set Billy free after testifying. However, Billy was a skilled escape artist and slipped out of his handcuffs and
For the next year he hung around
on the Pecos River and developed a fateful friendship with a local
who was later elected sheriff of Lincoln County. As sheriff,
was charged with arresting his friend
who by now was almost exclusively known as "Billy the Kid".
At about the same
had formed a gang, referred to as the "Rustlers"
Billy the Kid's Gang who he survived by stealing and rustling as
he did before.
The core members
of the gang were
Governor Lew Wallace
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