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The Story of Billy the Kid

The Story of Billy the Kid
February 25
10:56 2015

By John Christian Hopkins

“I’ll sing you a true song of Billy the Kid

I’ll tell of some desperate deeds that he did …”

–       Marty Robbins


Billy POSTERThere are a lot of myths surrounding Old West gunfighter Billy the Kid, such as that he killed 21 men – one for every year of his life – and that he was killed in Fort Sumner, N.M., on July 14, 1881.

The latter is one “myth” that Arizona State University Professor Emeritus Robert J. Stahl wants to bury forever.

Stahl has filed a petition in a New Mexico district court seeking to have an official death certificate issued on behalf of The Kid. An official death certificate would finally put to rest the persistent rumor that Billy the Kid was not killed in Fort Sumner by Sheriff Pat Garrett, Stahl argued.

Billy’s whole life is shrouded in myth. You might think the legendary outlaw was born on a cattle ranch, or to some ne’er-do-well hiding out in the Hole-in-the-Wall country. You’d be wrong. He was born Henry McCarty in New York City, between 1859 and 1861

Henry the Kid just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The Kid’s father seems not to have been in the picture. In 1873 his mother, Catherine, married a man named Antrim. Young Henry began calling himself Billy Antrim. His mother died in 1874, soon after the family moved west and The Kid was pretty much left on his own.

Trying to survive, Billy was arrested in 1875 for stealing cheese; and, later that same year, for stealing clothes from a Chinese laundry. He escaped jail by shimmying up a chimney. Henry McCarty and Billy Antrim rode off into the sunset, and William H. Bonney, a/k/a The Kid, was born.

The Kid worked as a cowboy in southeastern Arizona, where the slender youth met an older man who allegedly introduced him to horse thievery. Billy killed his first man in 1877, a bully named Cahill that liked to slap around the boy. Billy was 5’8’’ and of small build.

Though some witnesses said the shooting was self-defense, it was officially called a homicide and The Kid hurriedly left Arizona. By the end of the year he was working a ranch owned by John Tunstall.

The so-called Santa Fe Ring controlled graft in New Mexico Territory, and their surrogates in Lincoln County were the Murphy-Dolan House. They controlled the only bank in the area and the largest store.

Tunstall decided to open his own store and operate his own bank. He was shot to death by “lawmen” under control of Murphy and Dolan.

The Lincoln County War had begun.

Billy the KidThe bloody shootouts and wild escapades of The Kid became national news, especially after a group of “Regulators” – including Billy – brazenly shot down Sheriff Brady on the streets of Lincoln. Though there were half a dozen shooters, only The Kid was ever charged in this ambush.

The bloodletting in New Mexico was a growing concern for President Rutherford B. Hayes and he eventually removed the territorial governor, replacing him with Lew Wallace – who was writing his novel, Ben-Hur.

Wallace met secretly with The Kid and offered him a pardon in return for his testimony. After submitting to “arrest,” a ruse to keep him safe until the trial, the district attorney refused to honor the pardon – and Wallace ignored pleas from The Kid

This blood-soaked road led to Fort Sumner, where Garrett tracked down the young outlaw and put an end to Billy the Kid.

Or did he?

Rumors soon began that Pat Garrett staged Billy’s “death” and The Kid slipped away to live a quiet life under an assumed name. Why would Garrett do this? Depending on whom you believe Garrett and Billy were either mere acquaintances or bosom buddies.

Some claimed that Billy the Kid fled to Mexico, where he was killed, or he settled down with a wife and adopted Navajo son to become a rancher.

Since then various men have come forward and claimed to really be Billy the Kid.

In 1938, after John Miller, of Prescott, had died, his family claimed that he had been The Kid. DNA samples were taken from Miller’s exhumed body and compared to blood samples alleged to have been from Billy. The results were never released.

Perhaps the most famous claimant was Brushy Bill Roberts, of Hico, Tex. Most historians refute Roberts’ claim, but there was some evidence …

Five people who knew Billy the Kid swore to affidavits that Roberts was Billy Bonney; and Roberts’ body carried every scar known to have been on The Kid! In a facial imaging comparison in 1950, the 90-year-old Roberts’ face was considered to be a 93-percent match to a known photo of Billy the Kid.

Professor Stahl insisted that an official death certificate would quell the fanciful rumors surrounding Billy the Kid’s fate and “undermine supporters of Brushy Bill and other imposters.”

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