Billy The Kid Biography

Who was Billy the Kid? What motivated him to become the most feared outlaw in the west?

The young man who history would record as Billy the Kid was born in New York City around 1860. No one can be certain of his real name. His mother was known as either Catherine McCarty or Katherine McCarty Bonney. His father went by the name of William Bonney or Patrick Henry McCarty. In any event, the child's father died around 1865. His widow took young William, who's first name was actually Henry, and his brother to Indiana, where she married a man named William Antrim in 1873. From Indiana the family moved to Silver City, New Mexico. The boy's new stepfather was a restless prospector and this kept him away from home most of the time.

Catherine died when Billy was 14. From then on the youngster had to fend for himself. He began his working life in a hotel, where he did odd jobs to pay for his board and lodging. At the age of fifteen events conspired against the young man to change his life forever. He agreed to hide a bundle of clothes as part of a prank on a Chinese laundryman. When his part in the episode was uncovered the overzealous Silver City peace officer decided to let Billy spend a few days in jail, just to teach him a lesson. Billy, however, couldn't stand the confinement. After two days he escaped by jimmying himself up the chimney. The fifteen year old, who could so easily have become a model law abiding citizen, was now a fugitive on the run.

He fled to south eastern Arizona, where he settled into life as a saddle tramp. He earned his keep as a ranch hand and sheep herder. In 1877 he became a civilian teamster at Camp Grant Army Post. The large, bulky blacksmith - a man named Frank Cahill - enjoyed making fun of the scrawny youngster. One day in August, the two got into an argument. Cahill jumped on the teenager and was soon getting the better of him. Billy pulled out his gun. With the squeezing of his trigger finger he became a murderer. He was locked up in the Camp Guardhouse.

Again he was terrified by confinement. After a few nights he broke out of jail for the second time. From Arizona he fled back to New Mexico where he got a job working at the ranch house of a man named Heiskell Jones. From here he got a job as a cattle guard for local tycoon John Tunstill. This association would get Billy drawn into the Lincoln County War,a bitter dispute between the cattle owners and a powerful group of local merchants over Government beef contracts. When Billy's employer was shot in the head by his rivals, the teenager appeared to step up a few gears in his quest for bloodshed. He became single minded in his desire to avenge Tunstill's death. After the initial embarrassment of being jailed by the local Sheriff, who was in the pocket of the opposition, Billy joined a group of former Tunstill employees who called themselves the Regulators. They set out to hunt down their bosses' killers. They soon caught two men, who were promised their lives to be returned to town for a trial. Billy and another Regulator, however, reneged on this deal and killed both prisoners, along with a member of the posse who tried to stop them.

The next encounter was a gun battle in the streets of Lincoln. It ended with the deaths of Sheriff Brady and the wounding of Billy in the thigh. The climax of the "˜War' came days later with Billy and his cohorts fortified in an Adobe house in the middle of Lincoln. The opposing forces, under a new sheriff, positioned themselves in surrounding buildings. A standoff ensued for five days. On July 19, 1878 the house was set fire to. Billy now took control of the situation. He declared he would shoot any man who tried to surrender. Then, in the dark of night, he led a daring escape for the smouldering ruins of the house.

Billy escaped and gathered a small band of misfits around him. They began a life of rustling and petty crime. Meanwhile Billy had an impressive number of murder warrants against his name. When the new Governor of Lincoln County, Lew Wallace, offered a general amnesty, Billy agreed to give evidence against others involved in the Lincoln County War in return for a pardon. On March 17, 1879 he surrendered. He was confined to the vicinity of Lincoln. After a few weeks, however, he broke parole and rejoined his former fugitive associates.

A new sheriff in Lincoln County was determined to get Billy. His name was Pat Garrett. Garrett laid one trap after another for Billy, but the Kid was always one step ahead. On July 13, 1881, however, his luck ran out. On that date Garrett called on the Ranch of one Pete Maxwell to check on reports that Billy was in the area. Garrett arrived at Maxwell's cabin after midnight and sat on the edge of Maxwell's bed. Just then a stranger entered the room and asked Maxwell who had arrived. Maxwell's reply was directed towards Garrett. He said, "That's him." Garrett drew and fired his revolver in an instant and Billy the Kid fell to the floor. He was dead at the age of 21.

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