Billy the Kid, New Mexico’s Most Famous Outlaw
Billy’s stays in Santa Fe
Billy the Kid first arrived in Santa Fe as a youngster with his family in the early 1870s. He returned as an adult in December 1880 in the custody of Lincoln County Sheriff-elect Pat Garrett, and spent three months in Santa Fe’s jail.
These statements represent two of the very few undisputed facts among the myriad of rumors, legends, and myths that surround this icon of the Wild West. Of course, almost every aspect of Billy’s life in this city at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, especially during his stay in the 1870s, is disputed.
No one knows for sure when Billy and his family first arrived in Santa Fe, how long they stayed, where they lived, how they supported themselves, or how Billy spent his time during that stay. He was not yet newsworthy. Not that this has stopped writers from creating various and often conflicting scenarios.
Most (but not all) modern historians seem to agree that the boy who would become known as Billy the Kid probably arrived in Santa Fe with his mother, his older (or younger) brother (or half-brother), and his mother’s gentleman friend sometime in late 1872 or early 1873, at least a few weeks before
March 1, 1873. On that date, Billy’s mother, Catherine McCarty, and her long-time companion, William Henry Harrison Antrim, married in Santa Fe’s First Presbyterian Church. Billy and his brother served as witnesses.
Billy, at that time called Henry McCarty, was likely twelve or thirteen years old. Of course, some think he was older and some think he was younger.
Billy the Kid’s history: New York, Indianapolis, Wichita
Billy had probably been born in New York City, although Missouri and Kansas are also among the possibilities. His father remains unknown, in spite of exhaustive research and speculation.
It seems fairly certain that Billy’s Irish immigrant mother left New York in the mid 1860s, taking her two sons, Henry and Joseph (called “Josie”), to Indianapolis. There she met and developed a relationship with William Antrim, a Civil War veteran thirteen years her junior. Then, in company with Antrim and her sons, she moved to Wichita where she opened a hand laundry. This venture must have been successful because she soon purchased several parcels of land, as did Antrim.
When Catherine developed tuberculosis, she and Antrim sold their holdings in Wichita and moved farther west with the children—to Denver according to Joseph Antrim in later years—seeking a better climate.
To Santa Fe, Capital of New Mexico Territory
By March 1873, the three McCartys and Antrim had moved on to overwhelmingly Hispanic Santa Fe, capital of the Territory of New Mexico.
Nothing is known about the exact time of arrival of the McCartys and Antrim in Santa Fe. Billy’s early biographers suggest the family actually spent several years in Santa Fe.
In Santa Fe, Billy developed a love for Hispanic culture, as well as a good knowledge of the Spanish language. Both would remain with him for the rest of his life, as he lived, worked, and played in southern New Mexico where Hispanic ranchers and townsfolk would come to like, respect, welcome, and often provide refuge from the law for the Kid.
In Silver City, New Mexico Territory
Shortly after the wedding ceremony, the newly constituted Antrim family left Santa Fe for Silver City, New Mexico, an Anglo mining town farther west. There Catherine Antrim probably took in borders or more laundry, William worked various jobs in the mining industry, and Billy and Josie continued their schooling.
Outlaw Billy the Kid
After Catherine died of tuberculosis in September of 1874, Billy began getting into trouble. Over the next few years, he left home, supported himself as a cowhand and small-time cattle rustler, and eventually wound up in southern New Mexico’s Lincoln County. There his activities as a hired henchman for the Tunstall-McSween-Chisum faction in the Lincoln County War brought him notoriety and two charges of murder.
Sheriff-elect Pat Garrett captured Billy in December 1880 and brought him to the Santa Fe jail to await trial on those murder charges. Many aspects of this second stay, which lasted until his departure at the end of March 1881 for trial in the southern New Mexico town of Mesilla, are well documented, especially in the newspapers of the day. Billy was now “big news.”
In April 1881, convicted of murdering Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady, and sentenced to hang, Billy made his daring escape from the Lincoln County jail, killing two deputies in the process.
Three months later, Pat Garrett again tracked down the young outlaw in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. There he shot and killed Billy on the night of July 14, 1881 (although some dispute this, of course) and within a few months had written the wonderfully titled The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, The Noted Desperado of the Southwest Whose Deeds of Daring and Blood Made his Name a Terror in New Mexico, Arizona and Northern Mexico: A Faithful and Interesting Narrative, the first of many highly fictionalized “biographies” that created today’s legend of Billy the Kid.
To Santa Fe Again
Billy’s possible third and final trip to Santa Fe constitutes one more controversy among the many surrounding his life and death. In 1906, government contractors moved the remains of soldiers from abandoned military cemeteries all over New Mexico Territory to the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. Because of previous flooding and missing grave markers in the Fort Sumner Cemetery where Billy was (probably) buried twenty-five years earlier, his remains may have made the trip along with those of the cemetery’s military men. Who knows? Santa Fe may really be Billy the Kid’s final resting place.
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Copyright 2013 Lynn Michelsohn