Apologists of the Kid say that Morton and Baker “tried to escape,” and that the Kid followed and killed them. The truth in all probability is that the party, sullen and bloody-minded, rode on, waiting until wrath or whiskey should inflame them so as to give resolution for the act they all along intended. The Kid, youngest but most determined of the band, no doubt did the killing of Billy Morton and Frank Baker; and in all likelihood there is truth in the assertion that they were on their knees and begging for their lives when he shot them. McClosky was killed by McNab, on the principle that dead men tell no tales. This killing was on March 9, 1878. The murder of Sheriff William Brady and George Hindman by the Kid and his half-dozen companions occurred April 1, 1878, and it is another act which can have no palliation whatever.
The Kid was now assuming prominence as a gunfighter and leader, young as he was. After the big fight in Lincoln was over, and the McSween house in flames, the Kid was leader of the sortie which took him and a few of his companions to safety. The list of killings back of him was now steadily lengthening, and, indeed, one murder followed another so fast all over that country that it was hard to keep track of them all.
The killing of the Indian agency clerk, Bernstein, August 5, 1878, on a horse-stealing expedition, was the next act of the Kid and his men, who thereafter fled northeast, out through the Capitan Gap, to certain old haunts around Fort Sumner, some ninety miles north of Roswell, up the Pecos valley.
Here a little band of outlaws, led by the Kid, lived for a time as they could by stealing horses along the Bonito and around the Capitans, and running them off north and east. There were in this band at the time the Kid, Charlie Bowdre, Doc Skurlock, Wayt, Tom O’Folliard, Hendry Brown and Jack Middleton. Some or all of these were in the march with stolen horses which the Kid engineered that fall, going as far east as Atacosa, on the Canadian, before the stock was all gotten rid of Middleton, Wayt, and Hendry Brown there left the Kid’s gang, telling him that he would get killed before long; but the latter laughed at them and returned to his old grounds, alternating between Lincoln and Fort Sumner, and now and then stealing some cows from the Chisum herd.
In January, 1880, the Kid enlarged his list of victims by killing, in a very justifiable encounter, a bad man from the Panhandle by the name of Grant, who had been loafing around in his country, and who, no doubt, intended to kill the Kid for the glory of it. The Kid had, a few moments before he shot Grant, taken the precaution to set the hammer of the latter’s revolver on an “empty,” as he whirled it over in examination. They were apparently friends, but the Kid knew that Grant was drunk and bloodthirsty. He shot Grant twice through the throat, as Grant snapped his pistol in his face. Nothing was done with the Kid for this, of course.
Birds of a feather now began to appear in the neighborhood of Fort Sumner, and the Kid’s gang was increased by the addition of Tom Pickett, and later by Billy Wilson, Dave Rudabaugh, Buck Edwards, and one or two others. These men stole cattle now from ranges as far east as the Canadian, and sold them to obliging butcher-shops at the new mining camp of White Oaks, just coming into prominence; or, again, they took cattle from the lower Pecos herds and sold them north at Las Vegas; or perhaps they stole horses at the Indian reservation and distributed them along the Pecos valley. Their operations covered a country more than two hundred miles across in either direction. They had accomplices and friends in nearly every little placita of the country. Sometimes they gave a man a horse as a present. If he took it, it meant that they could depend upon him to keep silent. Partly by friendliness and partly by terrorizing, their influence was extended until they became a power in all that portion of the country; and their self-confidence had now arisen to the point that they thought none dared to molest them, while in general they behaved in the high-handed fashion of true border bandits. This was the heyday of the Kid’s career.
It was on November 27, 1880, that the Kid next added to his list of killings. The men of White Oaks, headed by deputy sheriff William Hudgens, saloon-keeper of White Oaks, formed a posse, after the fashion of the day, and started out after the Kid, who had passed all bounds in impudence of late. In this posse were Hudgens and his brother, Johnny Hudgens, Jim Watts, John Mosby, Jim Brent, J. P. Langston, Ed Bonnell, W. G. Dorsey, J. W. Bell, J. P. Eaker, Charles Kelly, and Jimmy Carlyle. They bayed up the Kid and his gang in the Greathouse ranch, forty miles from White Oaks, and laid siege, although the weather was bitterly cold and the party had not supplies or blankets for a long stay.
Hudgens demanded the surrender of the Kid, and the latter said he could not be taken alive. Hudgens then sent word for Billy Wilson to come out and have a talk. The latter refused, but said he would talk with Jimmy Carlyle, if the latter would come into the house. Carlyle, against the advice of all, took off his pistol belt and stepped into the house. He was kept there for hours. About two o’clock in the afternoon they heard the window glass crash and saw Carlyle break through the window and start to run. Several shots followed, and Carlyle fell dead, the bullets that killed him cutting dust in the faces of Hudgens’ men, as they lay across the road from the house.
This murder was a nail in the Kid’s coffin, for Carlyle was well liked at White Oaks. By this time the toils began to tighten in all directions. The United States Government had a detective, Azariah F. Wild, in Lincoln County. Pat Garrett had now just been elected sheriff, and was after the outlaws. Frank Stewart, a cattle detective, with a party of several men, was also in from the Canadian country looking for the Kid and his gang for thefts committed over to the east of Lincoln County, across the lines of Texas and the Neutral Strip. The Kid at this time wrote to Captain J. C. Lea, at Roswell, that if the officers would leave him alone for a time, until he could get his stuff together, he would pull up and leave the country, going to old Mexico, but that if he was crowded by Garrett or any one else, he surely would start in and do some more killing. This did not deter Garrett, who, with a posse made up of Chambers, Barney Mason, Frank Stewart, Juan Roibal, Lee Halls, Jim East, “Poker Tom,” “Tenderfoot Bob,” and “The Animal,” with others, all more or less game, or at least game enough to go as far as Fort Sumner, at length rounded up the Kid, and took him, Billy Wilson, Tom Pickett and Dave Rudabaugh; Garrett killing O’Folliard and Bowdre.