It’s February the 18th, 1878 and William H. Bonney also to be known as ‘’Billy the Kid’’ is out riding drag 300 yards behind his boss, John Tunstall somewhere in Lincoln County.
Billy hears two shots and John Tunstall, who is also his friend and his mentor, falls from his horse. Cut down by a gang of men known as “The Boys”. Billy races up to his fallen friend. Stricken with grief and anger Billy says, “Before this is done, I’m gonna get some of them.” As a young boy, Billy lived in Silver City, New Mexico with his mother and stepfather. Living in New Mexico, Billy immersed himself into the local culture. He learned to speak Spanish fluently and could even pass as a Mexican and was well-liked by the Hispanic community.
Billy and his brother played with the other children in the town and were remembered fondly. Because he was small and somewhat girlish looking he was frequently a target of bullying. His friends later recalled that he was not loud, but easy going, loyal and courteous and very very brave.
In 1874 Billy’s mother Catherine lost her battle with tuberculosis and died. His stepfather William Antrim effectively abandoned the two boys and moved to Arizona. Billy was just 14 and entered a boarding house. He made friends with a small time crook called Sombrero Jack. Billy’s life was to change dramatically when Sombrero Jack robbed a Chinese laundry.
He asked Billy to hold onto the swag and store it in the boarding house. It was discovered by Mrs Brown, the owner, who reported it to the sheriff. Sombrero Jack skipped town but Billy was captured, and imprisoned. But only for two days. While in prison he convinced the sheriff to let him out in order to stretch his legs.
The main door to the prison was locked all the time so the sheriff thought there was no risk. However, as soon as his back was turned Billy squeezed into the fireplace and up the chimney and escaped across the roof of the prison. You could say that this was the start of Billy’s fame as his story made it to the papers with the “Silver city Herald” publishing the story of the robbery. Now on the run and desperate he travelled by stagecoach to his stepfather’s home in Arizona.
Billy told him of the robbery and Antrim threw him out, but not before Billy could steal some clothes and guns. The two men never saw each other again. In Camp Grant there was a blacksmith called Frank “Windy” Cahill. Windy would frequently bully The Kid. On August the 18th, 1877 the Kid was in Atkin’s Cantina when Windy Cahill decided to humiliate him. It was to be the last time. In the struggle, Billy managed to work one arm free and grabbed his 45. A shot rang out, and the giant blacksmith slumped, never to rise. Billy worked himself free, sprang out the door of the Cantina and jumped on a horse, riding into the distance. With the Blacksmith’s death hanging over him,
Billy headed back to New Mexico and joined up with the most infamous band of rustlers who were known as “The Boys”. Their leader was Jesse Evans and his sidekick was John Kinney, king of the rustlers.
“The Boys” began working for the “The House”. “The House” was a hugely influential business, selling goods, land and cattle. One of the heads of “The House” was James Dolan. He was an Irish immigrant and was a hard businessman that was feared and wouldn’t let anything get in his way, including the law and the local sheriff Brady who was on the payroll of the House.A wealthy young Englishman, John Tunstall arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico and decided he could outwit the locals by setting up his own monopoly with his own store and cattle.
Tunstall’s business impacted the profitability of “The House” and put him directly in the path of James Dolan and the two became bitter enemies. Dolan got Billy and “the Boys” to steal horses from Tunstall. They were caught and Billy was imprisoned. Tunstall visited Billy in jail and they hit it off. Tunstall offered Billy a job working for him and the Kid accepted. He was only 6 years older than Billy, but Billy respected the man and saw him as a mentor.
For the first time since his mother’s death, The Kid felt himself at home. he was welcomed in and became firm friends with Tunstall and his employees, one of which would later remember about Billy, “He was the center of interest everywhere he went, and though heavily armed, he seemed as gentlemanly as college-bred youth. He quickly became acquainted with everyone, and because of his humorous and pleasing personality grew to be a community favorite.”The Tunstall group were out riding with Billy guarding the rear about 300 yards behind. When a flock of turkeys got the attention of two of the men riding with Tunstall, they headed off with their rifles to bag dinner. It was at that moment a posse of men, Billy’s old gang “The Boys” appeared and shot Tunstall. Billy was left, grieving over his friend but swearing revenge.
Knowing sheriff Brady was on the side of the House, Billy went to the Justice of the Peace, a man called Wilson, who issued arrest warrants for the assassins. Wilson assigned a Constable Martinez to help with the arrest. He deputized Billy and Billy’s friend Dick Brewer to help him fulfill the warrant. For the first time Billy the Kid had the law on his side.Or so he thought. The three men rode into town and went straight to Dolan’s store to arrest the assassins. Sheriff Brady was waiting for them and arrested the constable, Billy and Dick.
The constable was released after a few hours but Billy and Dick were kept in prison and missed the funeral of John Tunstall. When the men were finally released they went back to the Justice of the Peace. He was frustrated at the sheriff obstructing the law in this way and so he deputized Dick Brewer to fulfill the warrant. Brewer formed up his posse from friends of Tunstall and that of course included Billy. They called themselves — “The Regulators”.
The Regulators then embarked upon a campaign of severe retribution against the men responsible for the death of John Tunstall. They took no prisoners, they knew that the law would not prosecute anyone they brought to justice and so they took it upon themselves to serve justice swiftly and directly. They even hid behind a wall, ambushed and killed sheriff Brady and his deputy.
Lincoln County War
The Regulators did not escape without casualties with Billy being wounded in the side and the loss of his friend, Dick Brewer. with lawlessness in Lincoln County and the situation becoming more notorious, Washington got involved. The government appointed a new governor, Lew Wallace, who revoked the legal status of the Regulators and they effectively became outlaws and Billy was indicted for the death of sheriff Brady.
The Lincoln County war came to a climax when Billy and the Regulators were holed up in a house in Lincoln next to Tunstall’s store.The house belonged to Tunstall’s lawyer. James Dolan and his men surrounded the house and a siege began. But this time, Dolan enlisted the support of the military from Fort Stanton. Billy stepped forward as a leader and put together a plan.
At 9pm they dashed out of separate exits and made a run for it. Billy and some of the Regulators made their daring escape into the darkness. From now on it would be Billy who would shoulder the blame for the Lincoln County war. He was a wanted man.The Kid and his Regulators managed to steal some horses and escape. They rode to Fort Sumner. Fort Sumner was an old army fort that was no longer occupied by the army but was now populated by Mexicans.It was an ideal spot for the Regulators to hide out. Billy was at home with the Mexicans and the men partied and danced with the local girls. Some of the Regulators were tired of life on the run and left the group.
The time of the Regulators was over. The new governor had offered amnesty to the combatants of the Lincoln County war. However as Billy had been identified as the killer of the sheriff he was excluded from the amnesty. He didn’t qualify for the pardon and so the only choice he had to live a somewhat peaceful life, was to make amends with his former enemies.
Billy rode back into Lincoln County to parley with James Dolan and The House. The meeting was tense, but they agreed a truce. After the truce was signed, the men celebrated by drinking. Billy held back from drinking but accompanied Dolan and his men as they headed out onto the street. While on the street they encountered Huston Chapman.Chapman was an attorney who was going after “The House”. Billy knew a fight was brewing and tried to get away but was stopped by Dolan’s men. Chapman was shot and killed. At the first opportunity, Billy made his excuses and rode out of town.
The governor was outraged at the shooting of Chapman. Bill arranged a meeting with the governor and promised to submit himself for arrest and testify in court against Dolan and his men. Wallace said,“In return for you’re doing this I will let you go scot-free with a pardon in your pocket for all your misdeeds.” They had a deal. Billy had his day in court and lived up to his end of the bargain. His enemies were furious. After the trial was over, governor Wallace shunned Billy and headed back to Santa Fe to finish writing his book, “Ben Hur”.
Betrayed, Billy had no pardon and his enemies were out to get him. Caught between the law and the lawless, he walked out of jail and went back to the life he knew best. He set up a gang and became an outlaw. Pat Garrett, an exceptionally tall thin man,an ex buffalo hunter and cowboy, was elected as sheriff of Lincoln County.
He was determined to bring Bill to justice. Garrett tracked Billy to a place called Stinking Springs. They surrounded the house where the gang were holed up and they surrendered. Billy was convicted and imprisoned in Lincoln while a scaffold was built. The Kid had escaped from many prisons and this one couldn’t hold him either. While Garrett was out of town,
Billy managed to escape, shooting two deputies in the process. Amazingly he didn’t leave town straight away. He danced in the street celebrating and even chatted to the locals. Many people still liked Billy and had sympathy for him. One townsman thought he should stop Billy` and went to get his gun but his wife stopped him and probably saved his life. So Billy had his uninterrupted celebration of freedom before ordering a horse be brought to him and riding out of town.
The next day Garrett returned to the mayhem that Billy had left behind. He must have been furious but he coldly calculated what he had to do next. He knew Billy would go to ground and be impossible to track, so he did nothing. Just waited.
Billy in Fort Sumner
Until Billy felt comfortable and surfaced once more. Billy had many lovers but he was very close to Paulita Maxwell, sister of Pete Maxwell who lived in Fort Sumner. Pat Garrett started to receive information that Billy was in Fort Sumner and Garrett headed there to get his man. On July the 14th, 1881 Garrett and his deputy made their way into Fort Sumner and went to Pete Maxwell’s house. Garrett knew Maxwell. They had worked together before and were friends. Garrett woke Pete Maxwell and they talked with Garrett sat on the bed. Pete admitted that Billy was in town and exactly at that moment, Billy appeared in the doorway. The room was dark but Maxwell said, “That’s him…” Two shots were fired and at the age of 21 Billy the Kid fell. Years later his deputies would claim due to the dark room that Garrett had killed the wrong man.
Brushy Bill Roberts
In 1948 an old timer called “Brushy” Bill Roberts began correspondence with a lawyer. He said he was Billy the Kid and requested the lawyers help to get the pardon that he was still owed. He could demonstrate how to get out of handcuffs, had 26 bullet and knife marks on his body. Even more interestingly several contemporaries of Billy the Kid signed affidavits confirming that Brushy Bill really was in fact the most famous gunslinger of the old west, Billy the Kid. His mission to gain a pardon was unsuccessful and treated as a joke. About 4 weeks after the application was thrown out Brushy Bill passed away never receiving his pardon.