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Characters of the Wild West: Billy the Kid

This is the second article in a new series we are calling “Characters of the Wild West”. Our goal for this series is to highlight the lives of outlaws in history that you may or may not know so well. This second feature is one that you probably know pretty well, the one and only, Billy the Kid.

Best known for being the youngest outlaw of his time and narrowly escaping every situation he got himself into by the skin of his teeth, Henry McCarty or William H. Bonney depending on who you talk to, was born on September 17 or November 23, 1859, and was a true outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West. No matter which way you look at it, Billy the Kid was the real deal. Billy was born on the East Side of New York City and as a child, he migrated with his parents to Kansas. Shortly after the move, his father died leaving his mother and her two boys alone, so they packed up and headed to Colorado, where she remarried. He became handy with a Winchester rifle and a Colt revolver, and in August 1877 he killed his first man during a dispute in an Arizona saloon. That same year, he adopted the alias โ€œWilliam H. Bonneyโ€ and became known as โ€œBilly the Kidโ€ or simply โ€œThe Kid.โ€

By his early teens, the family had moved again to New Mexico and by then, Billy had fallen into a career of thievery and lawlessness, wandering throughout the Southwest and northern Mexico, often with gangs. In December 1880 he was captured by a local sheriff and stood trial for murder in April 1881; he was found guilty and was sentenced to hang. He escaped jail on April 30 but killed two deputies in the process. He remained at large until he was tracked down and ambushed by Garrett, who supposedly shot him dead on the evening of July 14 at the ranch home of Pete Maxwell. Billy the Kidโ€™s grave is in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Photo courtesy Kagin’s Inc. via TNS

By the time he was shot and killed at age 21, he had killed at least 8 people that historians know of but was rumored to have killed around 27. Billy the Kid’s story is interesting and will change often depending on who you talk to. Although a true legend, there is very little truth around him and his story. There is a lot of skepticism around his death, whereabouts, and photos of him because no one has any real answers. The legend of Billy the Kid will forever stay in America’s hearts as one of the youngest outlaw cowboys of his time.

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