The American history is made up of significant events, organizations,
and individuals who have made either negative or positive contribution
towards the establishment of the country. Billy the Kid is one of
notorious characters whose actions has remained and will remain as part
of the American history. Billy began his life on the wrong footing
because he was born in 1861 and spent his early childhood during the
American Civil War that occurred from 1861 to 1865 and he died in 1881
(Marchelle 1). Billy had other names, including William H. Bonney and
Henry Antrim. His name features in the American history following the
active participation in the Lincoln County War as a gunman and a series
of killings that he did as a leader of outlawed groups. The present
study addresses the life of Billy the Kid with a focus on significant
events that took place during his lifetime. Billy the Kid is one the
homegrown American radicals who demonstrated their opposition to
ideologies by the use of violence.
Statement of the problem
William H. Bonney, who was nicknamed as Billy the Kid is one of the
American radical who name appears in the American history as a serial
killer. Billy gained fame after participating in major incidents of
bloodshed, especially in Lincoln County. However, many facts about his
life (including his place of birth, date of birth, and his parents) are
still perceived to mythical and they are not known with exactitude.
Moreover, the series of events and the bloodshed incidents that he took
part are understudied. The present study explores Billy’s life with a
focus on the major events that took place during his life and mostly
those that he was directly involved.
The researcher will be guided by four questions in addressing the main
purpose of the study, including what are the major experiences of Billy
during his early life? How did Billy get involved in the Lincoln County
War? What factors led to the issue of amnesty during the leadership of
Wallace as the governor of Lincoln County? How did Billy manage to
escape from jail after the hanging sentence? How did Billy the Kid die?
The structure of the paper is divided into seven parts. The first
section addresses Billy’s early life and describes the major factors
(including the lack of good parenting and poverty) that motivated him to
engage in crime.
The second part focuses on the reasons that gave rise to the Lincoln
County War and how Billy got involved in the war. This occurred after
the murder of Billy’s employer, Tunstall.
The third part addresses the issue of amnesty by the new governor of
Lincoln County named Lew Wallace. The amnesty was selective and it only
favored people who took part in the Lincoln County War, but they were
not under indictment. This discriminated Billy the Kid because he was
under indictment at the time.
The fourth section describes the incident of bloodshed that occurred at
Fort Summer, resulted in the death and injury of several people.
The fifth part addresses the killing of guard and Billy’s escape from
prison while the sixth part focuses on the death of Billy the Kid.
The paper concludes that Billy’s experiences turned him into a radical
who passed his ideologies through violence.
Early life of William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid)
The exact date of his birth is not known, but it is estimated to be
between 1860 and 1861 (Marchelle 1). His place of birth is also not
clearly known, but is though that Billy was either born in Indiana or
New York. His original parents are thought to Patrick McCarty as the
father and Catherine McCarty as his mother. Billy had a poor family
background where his stepfather, William Antrim worked as a bartender
and a gambler who had little or no time for the family. His mother,
Catherine McCarty died of tuberculosis in 1874 leaving Billy in the care
of neighbors. Soon after the dead of Catherine, Mr. Antrim, the
stepfather relieved himself off parental responsibilities and left the
kid at a tender age. It is reported that the Billy first arrested after
thieving a bundle of clothing from the nearby Chinese laundry and was
put in jail, but escaped through the chimney and went to Arizona
(Marchelle 1). The poor family background and lack of parental guidance
at his tender age were the major contributing factors in Billy’s
frequent conflict with the legal systems.
Billy was nicknamed the kid from two of his characteristics, including
the tender age and his diminutive body size. Although his engagement in
crime activities was attributed to the lack of parental guidance
(Marchelle 1), Billy’s poor financial backgrounds and association with
rough characters played a major role in hardening him to an outstanding
serial killer. He gained the gunman and horseman skills while working as
a cowboy in Arizona. Billy’s behavior was unpredictable and it is
reported that he could be charming at some times and outraged at other
times (Ondaatje 1). This made it difficult to predict his next course of
action or contain his criminality.
Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War
The active participation of Billy in the Lincoln County War made him a
significant character in the American history. The war began in 1878 and
ended in 1879 leaving many people dead and a lot of property destroyed
(Weiser 1). Billy moved from Indiana to Lincoln County in 1877 where he
was employed in a cheese factory before he was hired by John Tunstall as
a cattle guard in the same year. The commonly known as the Lincoln
County War began as a conflict of interest between the business people,
James Dolan and Lawrence Murphy, who were the only players in the
banking mercantile and cattle ranch sectors in Lincoln County before
Tunstall started a similar business in the same county. The conflict
between these businessmen resulted from two major factors. First,
Tunstall was an Englishman, while Lawrence and James were Irish
immigrants, which raised the issue of ethnicity (Weiser 1). Secondly,
the entry of entry of Tunstall in the two sectors (mercantile and cattle
ranching) was perceived by the established businessmen (Lawrence and
James) as a way of breaking their monopoly, which would reduce their
Gunfight was the immediate solution of eliminating the risk of business
competition from Tunstall, but Tunstall was ready for it. The Murphy and
James decided to use the court order to seize Tunstall’s horses as a
compensation for an alleged debt (Weiser 1). Conflict between these
business people resulted in bloodshed in 1878 when the established
businessmen (Murphy and James) who were the owners of The House
investment engaged Tunstall in a gunfight and killed him. Billy and
other foremen employed by Tunstall were directly affected by the killing
and formed a group known as the Lincoln County Regulators to arrest and
punish the members of the House for killing their employers (Marchelle
1). These Regulators were given the warrant to arrest the House’s
agents who killed Tunstall, including Frank Baker and Bill Marton, but
they killed instead of arresting them. This increased tension in the
county and agitated a series of other killings.
Several other people, especially those who supported the House were
killed (including Sheriff Brady, who was the legislature of the Lincoln
County at the time, Tunstall was killed and George Hindman his deputy),
and this lead to the climax of the war (Weiser 1). The gunfight that
occurred at Blazer’s Mill in 1878 was the climax of the Lincoln County
War. The firefight involved the Regulators (including Billy the Kid) and
Buckshot Roberts the bull hunter who was thought to have been involved
in the killing of Tunstall. The gunfight left several Regulators wounded
(including Billy the Kid), while their leader (Dick Brewer) and the
Buckshot Roberts died from injuries. The bloodshed at Blazer’s Mills
discouraged the majority of residents of Lincoln Counter who supported
regulators because the two sides demonstrated that they would continue
shedding blood. Apart from killing people who were suspected to have
taken part in the killing of Tunstall, the Regulators killed their own
members who were believed to betray the group.
The shooting of the U.S. cavalrymen by Regulators marked the beginning
of the end of the Lincoln County War because the group gained a new
enemy with trained troops. The Regulators became weak after the killing
of Frank McNab (the leader of the Regulators who was appointed after
Dick Brewer’s death) (Weiser 1). The government troops set the
McSween’s house on fire in July 1878 as shot him, but other members
the Lincoln County Regulators managed to escape (Marchelle 1). This was
the most significant attach that weakened the Regulators and terminated
a series of their attack as a united group of radicals and each of them
(including Billy the Kid) were considered as the wanted individuals. In
addition, the involvement of the government troops in the skirmishes
taking place in the Lincoln County terminated the war.
Initially, the Lincoln County Regulator was a legal group that was
formed to counter the corrupt Sheriff Brady, but they were later
outlawed followed the increase in their blood shed activities. What the
judicial system and residents of the Lincoln County failed to know was
that the Regulator’s group was formed to revenge the murder of
Tunstall, the Billy’s employer. Although Billy the Kid gained fame in
the group, he never played the leadership roles. Billy functioned as a
loyal and an active member of the Regulator (Marchelle 1). The majority
of the members of Regulators were original members of another outlawed
gang of radicals known as the Iron Clad. The gunfight that occurred in
the Blazer’s Mills and the Lincoln County War were the major range
wars that the Regulators took part in killing many people in the
gunfight. The aspect of radicalization or extremism among the members of
the Regulators is revealed by the fact that they did not give up their
mission in spite of the fact that most of them were injured and others
The issue of amnesty after the Lincoln County War
Lew Wallace was appointed the governor of the New Mexico in autumn 1878
and he immediately issued an amnesty to the county residents who took
part in the Lincoln County War that ended in the same year of his
appointment (Alans 1). The main objective of the amnesty was to restore
peace in the county that had experienced a series of killings. The
amnesty covered the perpetrators of war who were not under indictment,
which means that Billy the Kid who had fled to Texas was exempted from
that official pardon. Billy wrote to Wallace the governor requesting to
be considered in the amnesty in exchange for testimony in front of the
jury. Although the governor had the deal with Billy, stating that he
would stay in jail until the end of testimony, the court failed to
consider the agreement and retained Billy in jail after the testimony.
However, Billy made a successful escape with the help of his friends.
This was a sign that Billy would remain a wanted man for the rest of his
After escaping from the government, Billy earned a living by gambling
and rustling. Billy continued with defensive action and killed a man
named Joe Grant when he heard him claim that he would kill Billy the Kid
whenever he met him (Alans 1). The government troops continued searching
for Billy until 1880 when they raided his gang in a friend’s house
located in the White Oaks Officer (Down Memorial Page 1). One member of
the government troop named James Carlyle was shot while the troops
accidentally shot the owner of the house, James Greathouse. The
accidental shooting discouraged the government troops, which gave Billy
and his gang an opportunity to escape the trap. The law enforcers chased
after the gang and managed to take hostage one of the gang members, but
the rest managed to escape. The gunfire at Greathouse’s house and the
subsequent follow up of the Billy’s gang pressured Billy the Kid to
write to the government to show his innocence, but this was not enough
to convince the government to stop pursuing him and his gang members.
Bloodshed at Fort Summer
The later appointment of Pat Garret, a bull hunter as a Sheriff of the
Lincoln County in 1880 presented another challenge for Billy. Garret
started pursuing Billy the Kid soon after his election and one of the
serious shootout occurred in Ft. Summer where the several law enforcers
were killed and others injured by Billy’s gang (Siringo 98-99). The
Fort Summer ambush was conducted at night, but it was unsuccessful
because Billy and his gunmen managed to escape to an abandoned house
where they slept to wait for the day. Garret and the government troop
surrounded the house until the sunset and weighed for the gunmen
outside. This was another bloodshed site where a cattle rustler was
accidentally killed by the government troop and a horse killed by Billy
the Kid. At this point Billy the Kid had no alternative other than
surrendering to Garret and allows the judicial system to take its
Killing of prison guards in Lincoln
Soon after his arrest, Billy was taken to Santa Fe, where he stayed for
a while and pleaded with the governor of Lincoln County to offer him
clemency through a series of letters, but Wallace refused (Siringo
108-109). Billy’s case was heard in Mesilla in 1881 where he was
charged with the murder of Brandy the Sherriff and found guilty of the
crime. Billy was given a death sentence by hanging, but he was
transported to Lincoln to wait for the hanging date (May 13, 1881) where
he was put under the guard. Although the law enforcers though that they
had succeeded, Billy’s arrest and sentencing was another episode of
bloodshed. He killed the guards by gunshot and escaped from the jail.
This was a loss to the government troops and a cause for alarm in county
because nobody knew who Billy would kill next.
The final episode of bloodshed in Fort Summer
Billy the Kid was a serious problem for the government from the time of
the Lincoln County War because he killed many law enforcers and people
who were suspected to have taken part in the killing of Tunstall. His
ability to escape from the police traps and the jail proved that
shooting him was a better option compared to arrest. With this notion in
mind Sheriff Garrett pursued Billy to Fort Summer in Maxwell Ranch where
he was suspected to be hiding after escaping from the jail (Poe 27). Pat
Garrett did not give Billy a moment to speak or even attempt to arrest
him, but shot him at the first glance and the boy died without saying a
word. This was considered to be a justifiable killing, implying that
Garrett could not be charged with murder. It was estimated that Billy
the Kid had killed about 17 people, most of them being the law enforcers
who were pursuing him and several of them were the people who arranged
and committed the murder of Billy’s employer, Tunstall (Television
Network 1). Billy engaged in a worthless battle that put his life and
the life of other members of his gang in the risk of death. The killing
of Billy the Kid marked the end of a series of episodes of bloodshed in
the Lincoln County as well as the radicalization of young men who joined
the outlaw gang named as the Lincoln County Regulators.
Billy the Kid is one the homegrown American radicals who demonstrated
their opposition to ideologies by the use of violence. His experiences
during early life might have contributed to his extremism and
criminality. Some of the bad experiences include the lack good parental
care, the poor background, and associating with bad friends at an early
stage of growth and development. These experiences might have given him
a perception that violence is the best option to drive his ideologies in
the society. For an example, Billy’s active participation in the
Lincoln County War and the gunfight that took place at the Blazer’s
Mill, in addition to several other incidents of bloodshed demonstrates
how he perceived violence as the first resolution. The episodes of
bloodshed resulted in the murder of the law enforcers and all those who
were suspected to have taken part in the killing of Tunstall. To this
end, Billy’s name is engraved in the American history, but with a bad
picture that shows him as a serial killer.
Alans, K. Billy the Kid: Lew Wallace and amnesty. History of the
American West. 2012. Web. 10 February 2014.
Marchelle, B. The Lincoln County War. The Arizona Historical. 28 July.
2013. Web. 10 February 2014.
Marchelle, B. Eulogy. The Arizona Historical. 28 July. 2013. Web. 10
Marchelle, B. Billy the Kid: Early life. The Arizona Historical. 28
July. 2013. Web. 10 February 2014.
Officer Down Memorial Page. Deputy Sheriff: James Carlysle. Officer Down
Memorial Page Incorporation. 31 May. 2012. Web. 10 February 2014.
Ondaatje. M. Billy the Kid: Biography. New York, NY: Television Network,
LLC, 2013. Web.
Poe, J. The death of Billy the Kid. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 2006.
Siringo, A. Billy the Kid. Oakland: University of California, 1920.
Television Network. Billy the Kid is shot to death. Television Network.
14 July. 2014. Web. 10 February 2014.
Weiser, K. New Mexico Legends: New Mexico’s Lincoln County War.
Legends of America. 2012. Web. 10 February 2014.
Name PAGE * MERGEFORMAT 3
The American history is made up of significant events, organizations,