William H. Bonney was also known as ‘Billy the Kid’. Like many of the anti-heroes of the southwest states he started young; by the end of his career, if that’s what it could be called, he was said to have killed at least eight men.
Like many of his contemporaries, Bonney did not use his real name during the later part of his life. He was born as Henry McCarty in New York City in 1959, his mother being one Catherine McCarty. Then his father died and his mother moved her two children to Indianapolis, where she met William Antrim. The group then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where she married Antrim. However, after they moved to Silver City in New Mexico, his mother died, and McCarty only stayed with his stepfather for a short while before Antrim threw him out.
McCarty started to steal food to survive. He was only fifteen years old in 1877 when he fell in with a rancher Henry Hooker, in the Arizona territory. He also joined with a renegade ex-army man called John R. Mackie. McCarty became a horse thief. It was in August 1877 that he had an argument with one Cahill, a blacksmith, who had bullied the young man. McCarty shot and mortally wounded Cahill.
McCarty becomes Bonney
He was detained and put in the Camp Grant jailhouse, but escaped and rode off to New Mexico. On the way his horse was taken from him by Apaches. He joined a gang at Apache Tep, a former trading post, and stole cattle from John Chisum. Afterwards, he changed his name to William H. Bonney.
The Regulators and the Lincoln County War
He then took part in the Lincoln County War, a famous event that took place near the Rio Grande where he worked for John Tunstall, an English rancher. Tunstall, with his lawyer McSween, had held political and economic sway over the county for years. McSween was the opponent of three gunmen, who were also businessmen: Dolan, Murphy and Riley. Bonney was a member of a gang who called themselves ‘the Regulators’ by this time.
McSween owed Dolan $8,000. Dolan enforced a court order and attempted to seize $40,000 of Tunstall’s assets, with the help of Sheriff William J. Brady. Tunstall was killed in an exchange with the Sheriff’s posse, and Bonney swore revenge. After many complicated manouverings, there was the Battle of Lincoln, and Bonney killed one Sheriff Beckwith. The Regulators were eventually charged with three murders.
An anti-hero gains notoriety
Billy the Kid went on the run and soon became a famous public figure, with papers such as the New York Sun and the Las Vegas Gazette carrying stories about his deeds. As with all of these things, the nation needed some sort of anti-hero; because of his age and exploits, Billy the Kid fitted the bill perfectly.
Another capture, another escape and death
Bonney was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett in December 1880, imprisoned and went on trial for the murder of Brady in April 1881. He was sentenced to hang for the murder that following month. However, he did what all desperados do, and escaped from jail that same April, killing two deputies in the process.
He went on the run. His career, if that is what it could be called, came to an end when he was tracked down to Fort Sumner, where he was shot and killed by Pat Garrett. The date was July 14th 1881. You might think that was the end for Billy the Kid, but truth, as always, can be stranger than fiction. For many years after this event there were rumours that not only had Billy the Kid survived, but he had prospered and had killed many more men.
Like all legends, this was one that died hard; just like William H. Bonney, aka Henry McCarty.