On July 14, 1881, Western outlaw Billy the Kid died. On July 14, 1881, he went to his friend Pete Maxwell’s home in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in search of a slice of beef for a late-night snack.
As the story goes, Billy – only 21, but already a murderer who escaped from prison and killed two guards in the process – made the mistake of entering a dark room, where the sheriff from Lincoln County Pat Garrett was interviewing Maxwell. Garrett and Billy were armed, but Garrett fired first, killing Billy.
It is at least the most accepted version of events. But over the years, some of the obscure details surrounding the death of Billy – whose real name was probably Henry McCarty, although he later assumed the pseudonym William Bonney – have proven to be fertile ground for alternative theories.
Some have claimed that Garrett shot the wrong man and that Billy escaped. To further complicate matters, at least two men emerged decades later, which some believed be Lunch box.
The men who claimed to be Billy the Kid after his death
As Dale L. Walker details in his book Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West, a prospective Billy was John Miller, a farmer and horse trainer who lived in a small village in New Mexico near the Arizona border and died in 1937. (His few possessions would include a pistol with 21 notches on the handful, the same as the number of murders that some accounts attribute to Billy. The other, a resident of Hico, in Texas, named Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts, managed to obtain a meeting with the governor of New Mexico in 1950, in which he unsuccessfully asked for a pardon for The Murders of Billy died soon after.
The persistent belief that Billy the Kid survived and hid somewhere shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, says Jim Motavalli, author of The real dirt on American outlaws, which examines the legends and the reality of various famous desperados of the American West. After all, similar stories emerged after the deaths of others who captured the imagination of the public, from Elvis Presley to Adolf Hitler.
“Things like that usually start as bar stories,” says Motavalli. “You want someone to buy you a drink, so you say,” I’m Billy the Kid. “”
To add to the confusion, the real facts about Billy the Kid have not been easy to find. The details of his early days are sketchy, and much of what was written about him just before and after his death was what Motavalli calls “scurrilous literature” – accounts of sensationalized newspapers and books of quickie produced by publishing houses. “They didn’t do a lot of actual research when they did these biographies,” says Motavalli.
Pat Garrett’s story about the death of Billy the Kid
The biography of 1882 The authentic life of Billy the Kid, noted Desperado of the Southwest, whose acts of daring and blood made his name a terror in New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico, which was written by his assassin Garrett, contains what appears to be the most credible account of the fatal confrontation, according to Motavalli. Instead of depicting an epic shootout from a dime novel, Garrett makes his shooting of the outlaw an incredibly lucky break.
That night, wrote Garrett, he and two MPs, John W. Poe and Thomas McKinney, went to the ranch where Maxwell lived. A short distance from the property, Poe spotted an acquaintance camping, and the lawyers walked down and stopped for coffee with him before walking to an orchard on foot. Then they heard voices in Spanish – a language Billy the Kid spoke as well as English and Gaelic from his parents’ country of origin, Ireland.
The three men hid, as a man in a wide-brimmed hat, dark jacket, shirt and pants passed them. Although they didn’t realize it, the man was Billy the Kid, who was heading home with the intention of carving a piece of beef.
Leaving the two MPs on the porch, Garrett slipped into the dark house and quickly found the room where Maxwell was lying. Garrett began questioning him and Garrett admitted that the outlaw was there, although he did not know where he was at the moment. At that time, a figure appeared at the door, carrying a gun and a butcher’s knife, and asked in Spanish who was there.
“Who is it, Pete?” Whispered Garrett to Maxwell.
“It’s him,” replied Maxwell.
Billy the Kid realized that someone other than Maxwell was there in the dark and raised his pistol one foot from Garrett’s chest. “Who is it?” he asked, in Spanish.
Garrett quickly pulled out his revolver and fired two shots. The first hit hit Kid in the chest. “He never spoke,” recalls Garrett. “A fight or two, a strangling little noise as he gasped, and The Kid was with his many victims.”
When Garrett and the MPs examined Billy the Kid’s weapon, they discovered that he had five cartridges and a shell in the room, with the hammer on it. If he hadn’t hesitated, Garrett could have been the one lying dead on the ground.
“It was the first time in his life in jeopardy that he had lost his presence of mind or failed to shoot first,” wrote Garrett.
The next day, according to Garrett, a coroner’s jury conducted an investigation, determined that the dead man was Billy the Kid, and determined that the murder of Garrett had been a justified homicide. The body of the outlaw was buried the same day. Garrett noted that the corpse had entered the tomb entirely intact, in order to discredit the opportunists who presented skulls, fingers and other parts of the body which, according to them, belonged to Billy the Kid. “A medical gentleman persuaded gullible idiots that he had all the bones tied to the wires,” Garrett wrote absently.
Billy the Kid’s grave markers are lost
Unfortunately, the body is not available for exhumation and DNA comparison with the mother of Billy the Kid Catherine Antrim, who is buried in Silver City, Nevada. This is because the headstones of the old military cemetery at Fort Sumner were washed away by a flood in September 1904, according to the book by Richard Melzer Buried treasures: famous and unusual graves in the history of New Mexico. A few decades later, three of the surviving Billy the Kid carriers were asked to locate the place where their friend had been buried, but they chose three different graves.
As a result, “it is impossible to say which of the bodies in the cemetery are his,” says Motavalli.
Arizona State University retired history professor Robert J. Stahl attempted unsuccessfully in 2015 to convince New Mexico officials to issue a late death certificate for the outlaw, but his request was dismissed by the State Supreme Court. He also drew up a detailed list of witnesses who saw the body of the outlaw after his death and before his burial. Instead of hiding the body, “Garrett’s intention was to let people see who he had shot and let those who wished to pay a final tribute to this much-loved young man,” said Stahl.
This fact indicates the probability that Billy the Kid was actually killed that night at Fort Sumner, as described by Garrett.
But this is not likely to dispel rumors. As Motavalli explains, “people are always ready to believe alternative theories.”