When we last left Billy the Kid he had passed out on one of the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains, with Tom O’Keefe also asleep on an adjacent peak. The two had just narrowly escaped a group of 20 Apache. Although they were not all that far from each other in distance, they were quite far from each other in terms of travel, the space in between was full of very difficult to traverse terrain.
When they both awoke the next morning, they speculated on each other’s fate. Knowing that the Apache had given up the chase, The Kid made his way down the opposite side of the mountain. He continued his journey East until he arrived at Rio Pecos. The journey had taken three days, and since he had no access to a horse, The Kid had to make the journey on foot. After arriving, he rested for a few days and then met up with Jesse Evans and the gang of cowboys from the previous episode. This group was now an active part of what was referred to as the Lincoln County War, which we’ll get to in a moment. Billy was still quite worried about Tom O’Keefe, so he convinced a few of the men to accompany him while he went back to look for him.
Now Tom had woken up the same day as Billy. He, unfortunately, had not been lucky enough to get water like Billy had the previous day, so he was dealing with terrible thirst and hunger. He decided that he too would have to brave the spring in the mountain clearing, however, he would instead wait until nightfall. He did so and found the canteen that Billy had dropped the day before. He filled the canteen and made his way out of the clearing without issue. Tom found outside the clearing entrance that Billy’s horse had been killed by the Apache, so he would also need to make the journey out of the mountains on foot.
O’Keefe walked for a full day until he luckily found his horse he had sent off during the Apache attack in the previous episode. He then rode to a nearby town where he did end up meeting with the Kid. The Kid tried to convince O’Keefe to accompany him to Lincoln County, but Tom had had enough of that part of the state and declined, and the two separated.
LINCOLN COUNTY WAR
I’ve mentioned the Lincoln County War a few times. We will not get into the exact details of the war, but just an overview and the parts that pertain to Billy the Kid. The Lincoln County War was described as pretty much a cattle war. On one side was John S. Chisum (referred to as the Cattle King of New Mexico). Chisum owned herds of cattle numbering between 40-80,000 that stretched over a distance of 200 miles. The opposition was the firm of Murphy & Dolan which was backed by pretty much all of the smaller cattle owners in the state.
Murphy & Dolan and the smaller cattle owners felt that Chisum had effectively monopolised the cattle market with his giant herds of cattle. So, they fought back by allegedly stealing some of Chisum’s cattle and selling them at auctions. Billy and his group were under the employ of Murphy & Dolan as protectors of the livestock and spent a full summer fighting against the Chisum forces. Billy’s courage throughout these fights garnered him a bigger name than he had previously, which almost forced his friends, as well as his enemies, to respect him.
Following this summer working for the Murphy-Dolan faction, Billy became a bit bored with his work. It’s not clear why he made his next decision, maybe he wanted a more exciting life, but he decided to turn coat and join the Chisum forces. He met with a leader in the Chisum force, an Englishman by the name of John H. Tunstall to discuss this. The Kid offered his services to the Chisum’s and was immediately hired. Someone of his bravery and skill was in very high demand. However, he didn’t do this behind his friends’ backs. Billy rode to meet his previous allies at their camp to tell them of his betrayal face to face.
This news obviously caught the group off guard, and some of them would rather kill The Kid right then and there, until Jesse Evans stepped in saying: "Boys, we have slept, drank, feasted, starved, and fought cheek by jowl with the Kid; he has trusted himself alone amongst us, coming like a man to notify us of his intention; he didn't sneak off like a cur, and leave us to find out, when we heard the crack of his Winchester, that he was fighting against us. Let him go. Our time will come. We shall meet him again, perhaps in a fair fight." but then he muttered under his breath, “and he'll make some of you brave fellows squeak." All of the men agreed, except for one: Frank Baker. Baker would prefer to kill The Kid at this moment.
This did not make the Kid happy. He replied to Baker saying, “Yes, you damned cowardly dog! Right now, when you’re nine to one; but don’t take me to be fast asleep because I look tired. Come on, Baker, as you’re stinking for a fight; you never killed a man you didn’t shoot in the back; come and fight a man that’s looking at you.” The Kid’s expression as he spoke was described as an intimidating glare of epic proportions, with red lightning bolts flashing through his eyes. Baker...didn’t...say...a...word. So, Billy turned his horse and slowly rode away, giving a regretful glance to a single member of the group: his old friend Jesse Evans, who he would soon meet again.
Billy developed a very deep friendship with Tunstall during his employment (which seems to be a common theme with The Kid). The months passed relatively uneventfully and it seemed like the Kid had lost some of his taste for blood. It was almost as if this time in The Kid’s life represented the calm before the storm.
In 1878 when the Kid was 19, a member of his previous group named William S. Morton, along with a posse of cowboys, set out to recover some horses which Tunstall had claimed. The posse approached Tunstall and his men, but Tunstall’s men deserted him, leaving him alone. Morton claimed that Tunstall then fired on the posse, which seems a bit unlikely considering it was one man against a whole posse and Tunstall wasn’t Billy The Kid. No matter how the events played out, Tunstall was shot and killed by the Morton posse. Following the attack, a member of the posse approached The Kid’s friend dying on the ground, placed his rifle to the back of his head, fired and scattered his brains all over the ground.
Before the evening fell on the same night as Tunstall’s murder, The Kid was made aware of the attack. His anger was uncontrollable and the news of Tunstall’s death changed the direction of Billy’s life forever until his death in a few short years. From this moment on, he was dead set on avenging Tunstall’s death.
After hearing the news, Billy left the herd he was protecting and rode to Lincoln and learned of a constable rounding up a posse to arrest Tunstall’s murderers. The Kid joined the posse without hesitation. About a month later, the posse found a party of 5 men who fled when they caught sight of Billy. Billy recognised Morton (the one who had led the posse that murdered Tunstall) and Baker (the man who had threatened the Kid when he changed sides), so he pursued them for 5 miles until the two men’s horses stumbled.
The two men parlayed the posse and asked to be taken prisoner. Billy tried to fight this option but was outvoted, so the men were taken prisoner, although Billy promised he would have his revenge. As it turns out, the prisoners did not live to see the inside of a jail cell.
Now, there is a bit of conjecture on how their deaths occurred. It’s said that a group inside the posse had decided to murder Morton and Baker while they were in custody and that Billy was a part of this group. However, Billy denied this, stating that he would never murder an unarmed man. (But, judging by his actions in the last episode, he would murder an unarmed Native American.) Billy gave his recollection of the event, which was supported by multiple members of the group.
While transporting the prisoners, one of the posse members attempting to murder the prisoners rode up to them and shot the guard closest to them, causing the prisoners to flee. At this moment, The Kid was riding ahead. When he heard the gunshot, he turned to see the dead guard and the prisoners fleeing. In his mind, one of the prisoners had been able to take a weapon and kill the guard and they were now trying to escape. The Kid rode to the front of the posse, took out his revolver and fired two shots. Each bullet hit its mark, killing both Morton and Baker. The bodies were left where they fell and were buried by some random sheep-herders.
Following this incident, Billy also hunted down another member of the Morton posse, known by the name Roberts, in a relatively uneventful way. Following this murder, a warrant was sent out for the Kid’s arrest because of the murders of Morton, Baker, and Roberts. This is where the Kid begins to show some signs of obsession with his quest for vengeance.
The warrant sent out for The Kid’s arrest was sent out by Sheriff William Brady. Brady was said to be a standup gentleman and a very respectable man, although he was also reportedly very prejudiced in favour of the Murphy-Dolan faction, which Billy had previously deserted and betrayed. Billy, at this point, would not let anything stand in the way of his revenge, and set a trap for Brady in the centre of the town of Lincoln. Billy and his group were perched on top of a store. As Sheriff Brady was crossing the street, they opened fire instantly killing the sheriff. This particular murder began to turn the tide against The Kid. He had murdered a lawman in cold blood for threatening to get in his way. This lost him many friends who had, up to this point, excused his actions. This was Billy The Kid’s descent into a true criminal.
A few months following this murder, Billy received word that Jesse Evans and a group of men were attempting to take a team of horses that were under the watch of the Kid. Skipping breakfast, Billy set out to intercept Jesse with a group of 5 other men. The group split to go in separate directions in an attempt to make sure they did not miss Jesse’s group. Billy had gone west while sending the other half east. Unfortunately, the group heading east ran into Jesse’s group first and found that Jesse was accompanied by 8 men, so the three men were grossly outmatched. A firefight broke out.
The Kid heard the shots and rode back in the direction of the other group. The firefight subsided with one of Jesse’s men, Charley Bowdre, being held at gunpoint by Jesse’s posse. Jesse said to Charley, “Where's your partner, Charley? I expected to meet him this morning. I'm hungry and thought I'd flay and roast the Kid for breakfast."
Just then, all of the men heard the well-known battlecry of Billy the Kid coming from the west. Charley Bowdre said, “There comes your breakfast, Jesse.” They turned to see the Kid’s horse, but no sign of Billy, except for a leg over the top of the saddle and a revolver protruding from beneath the horse's neck. This caught the men off guard, and The Kid yelled to Charley to mount his horse, at the same time as knocking a member of Jesse’s posse to the ground.
However, no shots were fired. Billy just straightened up in his saddle next to Charley and made direct eye contact with Jesse. The men stared at each other for a moment, seemingly careless in their attitudes, both sitting with their revolvers fully-cocked and resting on their thighs. The Kid, of course, wore his signature creepy ass smile.
Finally, Jesse broke the silence by speaking, and I’m going to paraphrase this conversation a little bit. Jesse at first said, “Well, Billy, this is a hell of a way to introduce yourself to a private picnic party. What do you want anyhow?"
"How are you, Jess?" answered the Kid. "It's a long time since we met. Come over to my house and have breakfast with me; I've been wanting to have a talk with you for a long time, but I'm powerful hungry."
"I, too, have been wanting to see you, but not exactly in this shape," responded Jess. I understood you are hunting the men who killed Tunstall, and I wanted to say to you that neither I nor any of my men were there. You know if I was I would not deny it to you nor any other man."
"I know you wasn't there, Jess.," replied the Kid. "If you had been, you’d have been shot dead without words."
"Well, then," asked Jess, "what do you jump us up in this style for?”
"O, you can ask Charley here," said the Kid, "he'll tell you all about it. You won't go to breakfast with me then? Well, I'm gone then. One word, Jesse, before I go. There's apparently a party from Seven Rivers lurking about here; they’re apparently looking to steal a bunch of horses which I have been in charge of. The horses are right over the hills there, at Bruer's old ranch. If you meet that crowd, please say to them that they are welcome to the horses, but I shall also be there waiting to receive them. Come, put up your pistol, Jesse, and rest your hand."
Both men lowered their pistols (to the relief of everyone present). Billy told Jesse that he would now take his leave, but to not fire a shot, or he would return. He and his men left, backs completely exposed to Jesse’s crew. After a few moments of silence, Jesse said, “Goddamn, he’s a cool one” and he and his men took their leave as well.
Now, at this point in the story, we will need to skip a bit of information purely for the sake of time. But just know that between this meeting with Jesse and the next meeting, through a series of crazy events, The Kid ended up killing a man named Bob Beckwith. However, this was not in cold blood, it was during a battle of the Lincoln County War. (If you’d like to know more about that, definitely check out Pat Garrett’s book on Billy the Kid online.)
RECONCILIATION WITH JESSE
Around a year following the last interaction with Jesse, when the kid was 20 he met Jesse Evans again for the final time. But, this ended quite differently to what you might think. Jesse and The Kid were both in Lincoln on business. They had a meeting in the evening following their business in the street. Jesse initially told The Kid, “Billy, I ought to kill you for killing Bob Beckwith.” And Billy instantly replied with, “You can’t start shooting fast enough for me, Jesse. I have a hundred causes to kill you.” However, the other men present acted as peacekeepers during the situation, and the threats actually began to die down. Soon, the parties had completely reconciled and decided to drown their old animosities in whiskey.
However, when leaving the saloon, a member of their group by the name of Campbell accosted a lawyer on the street saying he wanted to “see him dance”. The lawyer responded angrily, which caused Campbell to shoot him dead in the street. Thus the two newly rebudded friends The Kid and Jesse were witnesses to one killing in which they took absolutely no part. After this night, Billy and Jesse parted ways to never meet again.
MURDER OF CARLYLE
Now, the final moment of Billy The Kid’s descent into infamy came with the murder of a younger man by the name of Jimmy Carlyle. In 1880, when the Kid was about 20 years old, a posse, which included a relatively young James Carlyle, was put together to investigate a rumor that the Kid and his gang were holed up in a nearby home.
The posse approached the home and sent word to those inside that if a member would come out and talk, they would be allowed to return inside if they denied the offer presented to them by the posse in exchange for a surrender. The group inside refused, but said that they instead wanted to speak with Carlyle. The group offered the same promise to Carlyle, in that he would be able to leave the home completely unharmed.
At first, the posse denied this vehemently. However, Carlyle eventually stood up and said that he wanted to go and would go speak to the Kid’s group inside the home. He disarmed himself and walked into the house. Hours passed and the posse outside heard no noise coming from inside the home. There is not much information about what occurred inside the house, but it’s reported that once Carlyle made it inside, he was instantly taken prisoner. The Kid had decided that he would be their guarantee for making an escape late in the evening. To pass the time, The Kid and his group forced Carlyle to down an enormous amount of whiskey while the other people in the home drank themselves.
During the drinking, a member of Billy’s crew accidentally fired a shot from his gun, which terrified the young and drunk Carlyle, causing him to jump through a nearby closed window. He pulled himself from the ground and rushed towards his friends. But three shots rang out from the window all hitting the young boy in the back, killing him. It was claimed by members of Billy’s group that all three shots were fired by The Kid himself, although he did later deny this.
Nonetheless, this murder was seen as particularly grotesque by the people of Lincoln and surrounding areas. Up to this point, The Kid’s reputation had been one of an antihero. But Carlyle was a very respected young blacksmith in the town, and he was actually beloved by a great deal of people. Hearing that The Kid had gunned him down from behind while he was unarmed was too much for Billy’s reputation to withstand, and he lost all the remaining respect of the people, which was then replaced with solely fear.
MURDER OF JOE GRANT
Following the brutal takedown of Carlyle, Billy’s name continued to grow. He had grown from being the young man who protected the innocent, into a terrifyingly deadly criminal and gunslinger. This bit of information found its way to the actually very talented gunslinger Joe Grant. He arrived in town with the only goal of besting The Kid, in turn becoming a “Holy Terror” as he liked to say. From the moment he arrived in town, he made sure to get close to Billy and his companions.
One evening, The Kid suggested that his group should head to the saloon for a drink. There they found Joe Grant. But this night, Joe was abnormally drunk, viciously so. When the group entered the saloon, Grant grabbed a pistol from one of The Kid’s companion’s holsters and replaced it with his own. This got The Kid’s attention, who said, “That’s a beauty, Joe,” referring to the pistol. He took the pistol from Grant’s hand and spun the chambers, then handed it back to Grant.
Grant said, “Partner, I’ll kill any man quicker than you, just for a whiskey.”
“What do you want to kill anybody for?” Billy asked, and then told Grant to put up his pistol so they could all drink. Joe had travelled behind the bar of the saloon, and was knocking glasses off the wall during their conversation. Billy decided to join in smashing glasses on the bar while keeping his eyes locked on Grant. He then threatened to kill a member of The Kid’s group, but Billy interjected saying “You’ve got the wrong pig by the ear, Joe.”
Joe then lifted the pistol straight between Billy’s eyes and pulled the trigger.
But nothing happened. Just a click. You see, ever since Joe Grant had made his presence known in the town, The Kid knew about him, his goal of taking Billy out, everything. He had just been humouring Grant. When Billy had taken the pistol and spun the chamber, he made sure it landed on a chamber so that the pistol’s next firing would fail. The pistol’s failure had obviously surprised Grant. Within a second Billy had removed his revolver and fired a shot straight through Joe’s brains, and he collapsed behind the counter.
The Kid took the shell from his pistol and said, “Unfortunate fool; I’ve been there too often to let a fellow of your calibre overhaul my baggage.”
PAT GARRETT, TRIAL, ESCAPE, AND DEATH
It was around this time that Pat Garrett was made sheriff and put in charge of bringing The Kid to justice. Pat Garrett was a very impressive lawman, and he includes a ton of detail on the capture of Billy the Kid in his book, so I will, unfortunately, need to leave that up to you, the listener, to read. If only for the sake of time. Because the Kid was captured MULTIPLE times and escaped. Every. Single. Time. But we will discuss when Billy was captured, actually went to trial, and was actually sentenced.
As you can imagine, a trial for Billy the Kid may not have fallen in his favour. As I said earlier, the public opinion of the Kid had shifted with his murder of Jimmy Carlyle. He was no longer the folk hero desperado he had once been. At this point, he was no better than a common murderer, and the public felt the same. So, reportedly, Billy was sentenced to hang until, “you are dead, dead, dead.” To this Billy responded with, “And YOU can go to hell, hell, hell.”
Following the sentencing, Billy was placed in a holding cell to await the hanging. He was held under the care of two guards, Deputy Marshal Olinger and Sheriff Deputy Bell, who the Kid was actually said to have taken a liking to.
One day while Bell was walking The Kid through the jail back to his cell from a courtyard, The Kid walked a little too far around and was able to make his way around a corner up a staircase quicker than Bell. He was then able to force open the armory door (which apparently was known to be able to be forced open with a hard shove), picked up a revolver, and returned to the corner of the staircase. When Bell turned the corner he fired, causing Bell to run back to the courtyard, where he died. The Kid then grabbed a shotgun and made his way to the guardroom and stood near the east window, which was open to the yard. The other guard, Olinger, heard the shot and started walking back through the yard. Another prison guard yelled to Olinger that Billy had killed Bell, but at the exact same time, Olinger heard The Kid’s voice above say, “Hello, Old boy.” Olinger responded to the other guard saying, “Yes, and he’s killed me, too” as he was completely destroyed by the shotgun blast from Billy. Billy was then able to make a quick escape from the jail, performing his final prison break.
Following his escape, The Kid made his way to Peter Maxwell’s estate to hide out. Maxwell had been a previous employer of Billy’s. Unfortunately for him, and as unlikely as it may seem, Pat Garrett decided to visit Maxwell at his home. Pat Garrett along with a few other lawmen made their way to Maxwell’s estate under the cover of night. They wanted their arrival to be hidden to everyone on the land, on the off chance they found the Kid hiding there.
They slowly made their way to Maxwell’s home. When they reached the door, Pat entered the house and found his way to Maxwell’s bed. He sat down next to him and asked about Billy’s whereabouts. Peter denied knowing the Kid’s whereabouts. As he said this, a man burst through the bedroom door and asked Maxwell who was in the room with him. It was Billy, holding his revolver in one hand and a knife in the other. Billy could not see Pat sitting next to Maxwell, and he started making his way towards the head of the bed. He got within a few inches of Pat Garrett before Maxwell said to Pat, “That’s him!” The Kid bounced back across the room and raised his revolver and asked "Quien es? Quien es?" (Who is it? Who is it?) Pat Garrett did the same and dove to one side. Pat shot twice at Billy. The second shot missed, but the first shot hit the Kid just above the heart, causing Billy to fall to the floor. Pat states that Billy never spoke, but struggled and made little strangling sounds as he gasped for breath until he finally joined the reportedly 21 men whose lives he had claimed since he was a teenager.
According to Pat Garrett, the Kids’ body was neatly and properly dressed and buried in the military cemetery at Fort Sumner, July 15, 1881. Reportedly, his exact age, on the day of his death, was 21 years, 7 months, and 21 days.
That ends the life of Billy the Kid. In such a short amount of time, Billy grew from being a kid who was a champion of the helpless and defenseless, to a cold-blooded murderer. He gained a reputation as a feared gunslinger but ended up being killed by gunshot in the dark, in his socks and confused. His life ended in pure tragedy, and that, I think, is what’s truly unfortunate.