Billy The Kid – Teenage Outlaw of the Southwest

Pat Garrett

Pat Garrett

Trailed by the resolute Garrett, Billy the Kid, Billy Wilson, Rudabaugh, Tom O’Folliard, Charlie Bowdre, and Tom Pickett rode wearily into Fort Sumner, New Mexico on December 19, 1880, and were confronted by Garrett’s posse which had been hiding in an old post-hospital building. Pat Garrett, Lon chambers, and several others leaped from cover as Garrett ordered the outlaws to halt.

However, several of the posse members didn’t wait for the outlaws to respond to Garrett’s demand, instead, opening fire on Pickett and O’Folliard, who were riding in front. Though Pickett survived to escape, O’Folliard lie dead in the dusty street. Rudabaugh’s horse caught a bullet and collapsed. Rudabaugh managed to jump onto Wilson’s horse and he and the other outlaws escaped, holing up in an abandoned cabin near Stinking Springs, New Mexico.

Soon, the determined Garrett’s posse tracked the outlaws down and surrounded the hideout. Inside of the house were Billy, Charlie Bowdre, Dave Rudabaugh, Tom Pickett and Billy Wilson. When Bowdre passed before an open window, he was shot in the chest. The siege continued until the next day when Rudabaugh finally waved a white flag and the bandits surrendered. Billy the Kid and his gang of “Rustlers” were captured on December 23, 1880. Billy was first taken to a jail in Las Vegas, New Mexico, then to Santa Fe and eventually to Mesilla.

Deliberation in his April trial took exactly one day and Billy was convicted of murdering Sheriff William Brady and sentenced to hang by Judge Warren Bristol. His execution was scheduled for May 13th and he was sent to Lincoln to await this date. He was under guard by James Bell and Robert Olinger on the top floor of the building formerly known as the “House” before and during the Lincoln County War. On April 28th Billy somehow escaped and killed both of his guards while Garrett was out of town. It is not known how Billy was able to do this, but, it is widely believed that a friend or Regulator sympathizer left a pistol in the privy that one of the guards escorted Billy to daily. After shooting Deputy Bell with the pistol, Billy stole Olinger’s 10-gauge double-barrel shotgun and waited for Olinger by the window in the room he was being held in.

Lincoln, New Mexico, 1800s

Lincoln, New Mexico, the 1800s

Olinger obliged by running immediately from the hotel upon hearing the shots. When he was directly under the window of the courthouse, he heard his prisoner say, “Hello, Bob.” Olinger then looked up and saw the Kid gun in hand. It was the last thing he ever saw as Billy blasted him with his own shotgun killing him instantly.

This would be, however, Billy’s last escape. When Pat Garrett was questioning Billy’s friend, Peter Maxwell on July 14, 1881, in Maxwell’s darkened bedroom in Old Fort Sumner, Billy unexpectedly entered the room. The Kid didn’t recognize Garrett in the poor lighting conditions and asked “¿Quien es? ¿Quien es?” (Spanish for “Who is it? Who is it?), to which Garrett responded with two shots from his revolver, the first striking Billy’s heart.

Henry McCarty, the infamous “Billy the Kid”, was buried in a plot in-between his dead friends Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre the next day at Fort Sumner’s cemetery.

In his short life, Billy the Kid was reputed to have killed 21 men, one for each year of his life. However, many historians calculate the figure closer to nine (four on his own and five with the help of others).  Over 100 years later, in 2010 New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson considered honoring the 1879 promise of pardon for the Kid, made by then-Governor Lew Wallace.  Richardson backed off of the idea though citing “historical ambiguity” surrounding Wallace’s pardon.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November 2019.

Billy the Kid Wanted Poster

Billy the Kid Wanted Poster

Billy The Kid

‘Twas on the same night when poor Billy died,

He said to his friends, “I am not satisfied;

There are twenty-one men I have put bullets through,

And Sheriff Pat Garrett will make twenty-two.”


Now this is how Billy the Kid met his fate:

The bright moon was shining, the hour was late,

Shot down by Pat Garrett, who once was his friend,

The young outlaw’s life had come to an end.


There’s many a man with a face fine and fair,

Who starts out in life with a chance to be square,

But just like poor Billy, he wanders astray,

And loses his life in the very same way.


Billy the Kid Grave, Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Billy the Kid Grave

Also See:

Billy the Kid – Fatal Shot in the Dark by Pat Garrett

The Real Billy (Author Terri Meeker)

Fort Sumner – Pride of the Pecos

Lincoln, NM – Wild Wild West Frozen in Time

New Mexico’s Lincoln County War

Pat Garrett – An Unlucky Lawman

Pat Garrett and the Man Hunt


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