Billy the Kid: A Wedding in Santa Fe

On Saturday March 1, 1873, an event took place whose records would confirm Billy the Kid’s youthful stay in Santa Fe, his mother’s wedding.

Billy the Kid in Santa Fe, Book One, Young Billy book cover
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On that day, Billy’s mother, Catherine McCarty, and her long-time companion, William Antrim, married in Santa Fe’s Presbyterian Church. Both the church register and the official Marriage Book of the Territory document the marriage, with young Billy and his brother, Josie, listed as witnesses.

After at least five years together, Catherine and William finally—somehow—decided to become husband and wife. What pushed them to this decision? When had an initial relationship of friend-to-friend or employer-to-employee become something more? Why did they marry then? Why did they marry at all? Was Catherine’s increasing struggle with tuberculosis a factor?

For whatever reason, that February, the couple asked Santa Fe’s Presbyterian minister, David McFarland, to perform their wedding ceremony. By then, they must have lived in Santa Fe at least the three weeks required by law. In fact, records list both bride and groom as residents of Santa Fe. The bride was forty-four and the groom was thirty-one.

In spite of a few warm days in late February that year, winter’s chill had returned by early March—often the case with Santa Fe’s erratic climate. The first of March dawned clear but cold. The temperature only averaged thirty-one degrees that day, as Observer Sergeant Clum dutifully reported to the newspaper from his Army meteorology office in the Johnson Building.

Surely, the wedding party would have hurried inside the church, not that this would have provided much comfort. A church member described the Presbyterian Church sanctuary four years earlier, with no reason to believe anything had changed by 1873, as:

… rather longer than wide and, with four bare whitewashed walls, the roof held up by six square wooden pillars, unpainted, and so wide one could be quite hidden behind them … The pulpit was a wooden desk, also unpainted, and neither cushion or cover on which to lay the Bible …

On each side of the room was a wood stove but no chimney and the long black pipe ran out a hole in the roof and oh! How those stoves did smoke! People were moved to tears oftener in that church then in any other I ever attended … It might begin to smoke at any moment and more than once I have seen the smoldering sticks carried out just before the service began as a choice between evils—no fire and a fair congregation, or a warm house and no audience at all. (Powers, 1967)

The service must have been a smoky one if the church was heated, providing good reason to finish quickly. According to the First Presbyterian Church website:

The ceremony was short and, as was common practice, the event was recorded in the Session Minutes so the witnesses could sign. Mrs. McCarty’s two sons also signed, although Reverend McFarland doubted the younger of the two could be more than 14 years old. Nonetheless, the youngster strode up and signed his name “Henry McCarty.”

In addition to the McCarty boys who now took the name of Antrim as their own, three other witnesses attended the ceremony: Amanda McFarland, the minister’s wife, Katie McFarland, their daughter, and Harvey Edmonds, a local resident and frequent witness to such events. Mrs. Hollinger, William Antrim’s supposed sister, must not have attended or she likely would have served as a witness. One wonders if any other guests came.

After the ceremony, Reverend McFarland recorded the marriage and the witnesses names in the church register—the handwriting for all the names is the same; Billy and Josie clearly did not sign the register themselves, in spite of the website’s claim. A government clerk later recorded the marriage in the Territorial records for 1873, finally providing documentation that Billy the Kid did live in Santa Fe as a youth.

Writer Fredrick Nolan thought it odd that the local newspaper didn’t mention the McCarty-Antrim wedding. Yet William and Catherine probably did not belong to the social stratum for which such events were commonly noted. Furthermore, when a couple that had lived together for as long as they had without benefit of marriage finally wed, many may have thought the less said the better.

Even though it had been a long time coming, the four Antrims now officially constituted a family. How might the new family have celebrated their changed status? Santa Fe always offered diversions. Perhaps they ate a special dinner at la fonda, or took in a theatrical presentation:

Last night the citizens of Santa Fe were regaled with a theater given by the Mexican literary society. We learn that it was a perfect success in every particular, and that some of the actors evinced rare talent as stage performers and comedians. (Daily New Mexican, March 2, 1873)

Music and dancing also presented possibilities. The whole family might have attended that fancy masked ball staged on the night of the wedding. Such social functions welcomed all ages and classes, and this one seemed quite an affair:

At the masquerade party on Saturday night we saw all kinds of devices and many of them played with skill and taste. We saw stalking ghosts; peddlers; dog venders; priests; Indian chiefs; Turks; U.S. officers; government agents; Africans; and even the devil himself with his barbed tail and fearful trident. Not to draw the compliment too heavily, the whole thing was well played and did credit to those who got it up. (Daily New Mexican, March 3, 1873)

Acquaintances described Catherine as “a jolly Irish lady, full of life, and her fun and mischief” who “could dance the Highland Fling as well as the best of the dancers.” Catherine and William, and even Billy and Josie, might have celebrated the nuptials there. What better way to commemorate a new beginning!

This selection comes from
Billy the Kid in Santa Fe, Book One: Young Billy
Billy the Kid in Santa Fe, Book One, Young Billy book cover
Paperback US $17.95
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You might also enjoy this brief book about the jail that successfully held Billy the Kid for three months.

Billy the Kid's Jail, Santa Fe, New Mexico book cover
Ebook US $2.99
Paperback US $7.95
Available from these booksellers


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