Welcome to the Old West of Billy the Kid!

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Billy the Kid is arguably one of the most controversial figures in Old West history. Even leading historians can’t agree on what his real name was or when and where he was actually born. In some historical circles, there is even some controversy surrounding the circumstances of his death.

This page represents an ongoing investigation into the controversial enigma that was Billy the Kid. I invite you, the reader, to share your thoughts about this page as well as offer any contributions you may have on the history of one of the Old West’s most controversial figures — Billy the Kid.

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Books on Billy the Kid:

The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History
by Frederick Nolan
      The legend of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico and its most romantic figure, Billy the Kid, holds a special place in the history of the American West. Fueled by greed, propelled by religious and racial prejudice, inflamed by liquor and firearms, the war was a struggle to the death for the economic domination of a region where both sides saw enormous opportunity for acquiring wealth. In the end, neither side won and both suffered tremendous losses, human and financial.
      John Tunstall, the McSweens, Jimmy Dolan, Billy the Kid, the Hispanic townspeople of Lincoln, the outsiders who tried to understand what was happening and restore law and order to the strife-torn territory–all speak out, and Frederick Nolan weaves their stories and opinions together with his own insightful commentary to produce a seamless, immensely readable account enlivened with eighty-three photographs and three maps.
      Selected by True West magazine as one of its Fifty Greatest Western Books of the 20th Century, acknowledged to be the fullest and most carefully researched study of perhaps the most famous feud in the history of the American West, Frederick Nolan’s masterwork, The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History, the result of fifty years of research, is now presented in a new edition which includes an addendum with corrections and additions, together with a new foreword by the author.
712 pages, Sunstone Press, 2009.

The West of Billy the Kid
by Frederick Nolan
Nolan’s book is a comprehensive study of the Kid, his companions and his enemies, as well as the struggles, corruption and violence in New Mexico Territory before, after and during the Lincoln County War. Equally impressive is the collection of more than 210 photographs and maps, many published for the first time.
368 pages, University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life
by Robert M. Utley
      Whatever his name or alias at the moment—Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, Kid Antrim, Billy Bonney—people always called him the Kid. Not until his final month did anyone call him Billy the Kid. Newspapers pictured him as a king of outlaws; and his highly publicized capture, trial, escape, and end fixed his image in the public mind for all time. He was only twenty-one years old when a bullet from Sheriff Pat Garett’s six-shooter killed him on July 14, 1881. Within a year Billy the Kid became the subject of five dime-novel “biographies” as well as Garett’s ghost-written account, and that was just the beginning.
      Robert M. Utley does what countless books, movies, television shows, musical compositions, and paintings have failed to do: he successfully strips off the veneer of legendry to expose the reality of Billy the Kid. Using previously untapped sources, he presents an engrossing story—the most complete and accurate ever—of a youthful hoodlum and sometime killer who found his calling in New Mexico’s bloody power struggle known as the Lincoln County War. In unmasking the legend Utley also tells us much about our heritage of frontier vigilantism and violence.
328 pages, Bison Books; Reprint edition, 1991.

To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West
by Mark Lee Gardner
The saga of Billy the Kid and his nemesis, Pat Garrett, has been the subject of numerous fanciful books and several very bad movies. So it is both useful and interesting to read this well-researched and, one hopes, relatively accurate account of the Lincoln County War and the two most famous participants in it. The center of the account is Garrett’s pursuit and execution of the Kid after he escaped from the Lincoln County courthouse jail. Fortunately, Gardner precedes that account with an engrossing examination of the lives of both men and the political and economic milieu of nineteenth-century New Mexico. He effectively uses primary sources, although those sources are often contradictory and reflect the views of competing Lincoln County factions. The portrait of the Kid, surprisingly, conforms to his popular image as a ruthless killer who could also be charming. Garrett is seen as ambitious, laconic, and coldly efficient. This is a fine effort to de-mystify a legendary episode in the history of the American West. — Jay Freeman
336 pages, William Morrow; 1 edition, 2010.

Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave
by W. C. Jameson
Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave traces the life of this famous desperado through his role in the Lincoln County War, the alleged killing by Sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy’s escape, and his life for the next sixty-nine years. In 1948, an old man named William Henry Roberts was confronted with evidence that he was Billy the Kid. At first he denied his identity, but reluctantly admitted who he was. Based on taped interviews with Roberts, new evidence discovered in the 1990s, and sophisticated photo comparison technology by the FBI, the conclusion that Roberts was Billy the Kid gains support.
184 pages, Taylor Trade Publishing; Reprint edition, 2008.

Billy the Kid:The Lost Interviews
by W. C. Jameson
The long-lost interviews with William Henry Roberts, alias Henry Antrim, Henry McCarty, Billy Bonney, and Billy the Kid, have been found and for the first time in history are presented here in their entirety. In 1949 investigator William V. Morrison, along with folklorist and writer Dr. C.L. Sonnichsen, determined that Roberts, then eighty-nine years old, was, in truth, the outlaw Billy the Kid, the famous badman many believed to have been shot and killed by sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, on July 14, 1881. W.C. Jameson, a leading authority on Bill the Kid, provides two introductory chapters detailing the circumstances which led to the identification of Roberts as Billy the Kid as well as the events leading up top the discovery of the lost interviews tapes.
152 pages, Garlic Press Publishing, 2012.

A Fitting Death for Billy the Kid
by Ramon F. Adams
The author set out to write not so much a biography as a commentary on a myth, sifting legend and tall tale and outright lie to arrive at the truth about the seemingly immortal Billy the Kid.
310 pages, University of Oklahoma Press; New edition edition, 1982.

History of the Lincoln County War
by Maurice G. Fulton
This book is a great description of the events surrounding the Lincoln County War, which is an absolutely fascinating case study of lawlessness in the American West. Although the author’s bias is clear–and probably warranted–the entire series of events is well documented and the writing very accessible. To his credit, the author refuses to fall into the trap of making Billy the Kid–who was just a minor figure–the star of the show. Billy remains a background figure almost throughout and the real players in the drama are made memorable. This book does rely very heavily on excerpts from the self-serving letter writing campaign going on during the events.
433 pages, University of Arizona Press; Reprint edition, 1980.

In the Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War
by Kathleen P. Chamberlain
The events of July 19, 1878, marked the beginning of what became known as the Lincoln County War and catapulted Susan McSween and a young cowboy named Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid, into the history books. The so-called war, a fight for control of the mercantile economy of southeastern New Mexico, is one of the most documented conflicts in the history of the American West, but it is an event that up to now has been interpreted through the eyes of men. As a woman in a man’s story, Susan McSween has been all but ignored. This is the first book to place her in a larger context. Clearly, the Lincoln County War was not her finest hour, just her best known. For decades afterward, she ran a successful cattle ranch. She watched New Mexico modernize and become a state. And she lived to tell the tales of the anarchistic territorial period many times.
312 pages, University of New Mexico Press; First Edition edition, 2013.

The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid
by Pat F. Garrett
Garrett, the Sheriff of Lincoln County and Billy’s ultimate arbiter of justice, provides an incredible, firsthand account of the small-town kid who became a killer in The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. Written just eight months after killing Billy in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, during a happenstance meeting in the home of Pete Maxwell, this fascinating, sensational book takes us play-by-play through Billy’s life. From his earliest days in New York and eventual move west to his adventures in Mexico and repeated arrests and escapes, this original account tells all.
138 pages, Skyhorse Publishing, 2011.


History Sites:

Billy the Kid: Outlaw Legend: An information packed site and also one with lots of photos. All of this material has been very nicely organized for convenience in navigating. Also, if you have a website on Billy or any of the other bad guys of the Old West, you can join the BadHombres Web Ring through this site. I did.

General History of Hico, Texas: “The original town of Hico (pronunced, “High- Koe”) was founded in 1856 on Honey Creek, a most picturesque and historical stream that flows into the Bosque River. Hico was named by J.R. Alford, after his old home town of Hico, Kentucky.”

Larry Buchanan’s Links Page: A page of links to Billy the Kid history and other Old West sites.

Second Leader of the House: Not much information here, but the page does contain some good vintage photos of Bob Olinger, James Dolan and his wife.

Travel Sites:

Billy the Kid’s Graves: This domain name advertises itself as being “Your online guide to offbeat attractions,” but it is off by one year on the Kid’s death year, which was supposedly 1881. Still, an interesting site with some useful information that is well worth the click.

American West Travelogue: A travel site on the West and a good one at that. Site includes a search engine and a drop-down categorized list of links. Or, you can browse the list of links of places to go in the West. Includes Alaska.

Weather.com for Fort Sumner, NM: Before visiting one of Billy’s favorite New Mexico haunts, get the weather report from the internet’s leading meteorological site.

Miscellaneous Sites:

Billy the Kid and Me: Musician and music writer Larry Buchanan reminisces about his Billy the Kid related encounters and experiences with various entertainers, poets and fellow muscians, including the set from Young Guns. A truly entertaining site.

The ReadWest Foundation, Incorporated “The ReadWest Foundation, Incorporated, a 501 c 3 organization, recognizes the strong, unique roots that Western literature has in America, and strives to not only preserve it, but to enhance it’s presence as the most colorful, adventurous, dramatic, and character rich genre the literary world has to offer. Though we realize that the genre exists in many art forms, we begin with honoring it’s literature.

Outlaw’s bid for a pardon is DOA: “These days, nobody wants to talk about pardons for outlaws, even when they’ve entered genial American folklore. And at least Billy the Kid never made anything like the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, as Rich did upon fleeing our country amid charges of the biggest tax evasion in U.S. history.”

All of the confirmed and documented kills of Billy the Kid:

Frank Cahill in Bonita, a civilian settlement near Camp Grant, Arizona on August 17, 1877.

The following account of this shooting appeared in the Arizona Weekly Star six days after the event:

Frank P. Cahill was shot by Henry Antrim alias Kid at Camp Grant on the 17th, and died on the 18th. The following are the dying words of the deceased:

I, Frank P. Cahill, being convinced that I am about to die, do make the following as my final statement: My name is Frank P. Cahill. I was born in the county and town of Galway, Ireland. Yesterday, Aug. 17th, 1877, I had some trouble with Henry Antrem, otherwise known as Kid, during which he shot me. I had called him a pimp, and he called me a son of a bitch, we then took hold of each other: I did not hit him, I think: saw him go for his pistol, and tried to get hold of it, but could not and he shot me in the belly. I have a sister named Margaret Flannigan living at East Cambridge, Mass., and another named Kate Conden, living in San Francisco.

Sheriff William Brady in Lincoln, New Mexico, Monday, April 1, 1878.

On this date Sheriff Brady and his deputy George Hindman were shot down and killed by members of the Regulators, of which Billy the Kid was a member of. This was a pivotal event in the escalation of the Lincoln County War. The shooting took place just as Brady and a group of his deputies, four men in all, walked past an adobe wall behind which the Kid and his Regulators lay in ambush.

Juan Peppin, who was about eleven years old at the time of the incident and whose father, George Peppin, was one of the deputies walking with Brady on that day, recalled the following account of the incident in 1930 in a deposition to Maurice Garland Fulton:

[That morning] I was doing some work on a fence my father, George Peppin, was building on our place, just outside the town of Lincoln at the west. My father had gone to the Murphy store. About 9 o’clock I heared shooting in the town, but did not give it much thought until someone came by the house with the news that Sheriff Brady had been killed. As my father was one of his deputies, I thought it more than likely that he had been with the Sheriff. So I left my work and went into town. Seeing a large number of people in the vicinity of the Tunstall store, I went there. I saw Major Brady lying on his back in the street dead, all covered with blood, and one of his deputies, George Hindman, lying mortally wounded a few yards further along the street. My father was alive but had had a narrow escape.

From hearing him tell about it, I am able to give what happened just before I came on the scene. A fellow by the name of Henry, Brown I believe was his last name, had created a disturbance at the east end of the town and Sheriff Brady had set out to arrest him, accompanied by George Hindman, Billy Mathews and my father. They were walking down the street abreast, my father being nearest the side of the street on which the Tunstall store was. Sheriff Brady came next, then George Hindman, and finally Billy Mathews. These four had just passed the gateway to the corral, when five or six of the McSween men fired at them from behind the adobe wall of the corral. These men slipped into town during the night and placed themselves in the corral. They had drilled port holes in the east wall of the corral, so they could level their rifles through them. Brady and Hindman fell, as I have said, but Billy Mathews and my father ran for their lives and got protection behind a house on the opposite side of the street. It is generally believed that Billy the Kid took a shot at Billy Mathews but did not come closer to him than to splinter the door facing where he stood. My father saw Billy the Kid go ut and try to take Brady’s rifle, but a shot from Billy Mathews put a stop to his attempt. Green Wilson was working in his garden, and a stray bullet strck him in the rear.

Bob Bell and Bob Olinger in Lincoln, New Mexico on April 28, 1881.

Bob Bell and Bob Olinger were deputies for Sheriff Pat Garrett. On April 27th Garrett had left Lincoln on business away from town, leaving his two deputies in charge of the Kid who was in the Lincoln County courthouse awaiting his hanging for various murders, including that of Sheriff Brady, which was scheduled for May 13th. By means of which remain a mystery to this day, Billy obtained a revolver with which he killed deputy Bell. He then immediately seized Bob Olinger’s shotgun and used it to kill the deputy, thus making way for his notorious escape. The following is an eyewitness account by Gottfried Gauss, who was a building caretaker in Lincoln:

I was crossing the yard behind the courthouse when I heard a shot fired, then a tussle upstairs in the courthouse, I saw the other deputy sheriff, Olinger, coming out of the hotel opposite, with the four or five other county prisoners, where they had taken their dinner. I called to him to come quick. He did so, leaving his prisoners in front of the hotel. When he had come close up to me, and while standing not more than a yard apart, I told him that I was just after laying Bell dead on the ground in the yard behind. Before he could reply, he was struck by a well-directed shot fired from a window above us, and fell dead at my feet. I ran for my life to reach my room and safety, when Bill the Kid called to me: “Don’t run, I wouldn’t hurt you–I am alone, and master not only of the courthouse, but also of the town, for I will allow nobody to come near us.” “You go,” he said, “and saddle one of Judge[Ira} Leonard’s horses, and I will clear out as soon as I can have the shackles loosened from my legs.” With a little prospecting pick I had thrown to him through the window he was working for at least an hour, and could not accomplish more than to free one leg. He came to the conclusion to await a better chance, tie one shackle to his waistbelt, and start out. Meanwhile I had saddled a small skittish pony belonging to Billy Burt [the County Clerk], as there was no other horse available, and had also, by Billy’s command, tied a pair of red blankets behind the saddle…

When Billy went down stairs at last, on passing the body of Bell he said, “I’m sorry I had to kill him but couldn’t help it.” On passing the body of Olinger he gave him a tip with his boot, saying “You are not going to round me up again.” … And so Billy the Kid started out that evening, after he had shaken hands with everybody around and after having had a little difficulty in mounting on account of the shackle on his leg, he went on his way rejoicing.

Did Billy the Kid Die As An Old Man in Hico, Texas?

For well over a century the history of the authentic life and death of Billy the Kid has been based largely on the account of one man — Patrick Floyd Garrett. But in 1950 a salty old character in Hico, Texas emerged who shook the very fondations of what current day historians know and believe. His name was William Henry Roberts, and he carried some mighty good credentials to back up who he claimed to be — Billy the Kid.

Click on The Legend of Brushy Bill Roberts to read his story.

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