BILLY THE KID:
“I’LL SING YOU A TRUE SONG OF BILLY THE KID,
I’LL SING OF THE DESPRATE DEEDS THAT HE DID.
WAY OUT IN THE WEST LONG, LONG AGO,
WHEN A MAN’S ONLY CHANCE WAS HIS OWN FORTY-FOUR.”
As I sit here prepared to start this new chapter of the old west, I’m surounded by at least six books. All have business cards, post-it notes and grocery reciepts stuck throughout them marking pages. While the main story remains basically the same through them, the details vary greatly. These books are serious works of individuals who researched their stories as best they could, none are the dime and penny stories of his day.
Even “The Kids” origin differs from book to book. Some say without doubt that Henry Antrim and his older brother Joe were both born in New York to Catherine McCarty, Billy around 1860. Some claim his father was named either Patrick McCarty, or William Bonney. In another book it is stated that historians have largley dismissed this theroy and feel he was born in Illiniois, Indiana or Kansas. And one it is stated that Billy told an 1880 census taker that he was born in Missouri.
What is known is that by 1870 Mrs. McCarty was in Wichita, Kansas where she became acquanted with a William H. Antrim. Antrim was a discharged private with the Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Antrim was a part time carpenter, farmer and bartender. Catherine filed on a quarter section of land and purchased a lot in town where she operated a hand laundry.
After a lengthly courtship the couple marrried in Santa Fe. Antrim is often potrayed as a shiftless scoundrel, but he seems to have done his best to provide for his family. Catherine suffered terribly from tuberculosis and soon after the marriage the family moved to Silver City, New Mexico. Probably in the hopes that The dry climate would prove benificial for her health.
While life in a mining camp could hardly be described as a wonderful experience, Henry’s could not be called unpleasant either. He seemed to have done well in school, and was described as an eager learner and very helpful in the classroom. He acquired the ability to express himself, as later revealed in letters he wrote to the governor.
“WHEN BILLY THE KID WAS A VERY YOUNG LAD,
IN OLD SILVER CITY HE WENT TO THE BAD.
WAY OUT IN THE WEST WITH A GUN IN HIS HAND.
AT THE AGE OF TWELVE YEARS HE KILLED HIS FIRST MAN.”
Not true! Catherine McCarty died on Sepetember 16,1874, and the family began to disolve. Antrim could not exert much influnce over the boys. Joe would roam the west and die in Denver, Colorado at the age of seventy-six on November 25, 1930. His body went unclaimed and was donated to the Colorado Medical School. He has never been quoted as saying anything about his infamous brother to my knowledge.
It did not take Henry long to have his first brush with the law. According to the Grant County Herald of September 26,1875 “Henry McCarty was arrested and commited to jail to await the action of the grand jury on charges of stealing clothes from Charlie Sun and Sam Chung. It is believed that Henry was simply the tool of Sombrero Jack who did the actual stealing while Henry did the hiding. Jack has skipped out.”
Henry did not like the jail accomodations, so he decided he should skip out also. After two days confinement he wiggled and squeezed his skinny frame up the chimney , onto the roof and disappeared. Now, only in one book did I find the following excerpt.
A few months later Henry Antrim and Sombrero Jack made an appearance in New York City. There on the evening of Sepetember 9, 1876, Henry, Jack and a young Irish tough named Thomas Moore, along with two young female companions spent the night drinking. Sometime later an agurment erupted and in an angry brawl Henry stabbed Moore in the neck with a cheese knife. Within an hour Moore was dead and young Antrim fled back to New Mexico.
Henry drifted around Arizona and New Mexico, sometimes sheep herding and doing odd jobs. Finally he secured a job as a teamster at the post saw mill at Camp Grant. There he encountered a nemis in the form a burly blacksmith who delighted in tormenting the youth as to his small size. It was somewhere in this time frame that he started being called “The Kid” or “Kid Antrim”.
On the evening of August 17, 1877, in the small town of Bonita, Billy and Frank P. “Windy” Cahill ( the bullying blacksmith) were playing cards. A disagreement erupted and Cahill called The Kid a “pimp”, Antrim responded by calling Cahill a Son-Of-A-Bitch. The Kid quickly found himself penned to the floor and in for a severe beating. Drawing his gun, he pressed it into Cahill’s stomach and fired.
A coroner’s jury found The Kid guilty of “criminal and unjustifiable” homicide. He was thrown into the post guardhouse, the only secure jail in the area.
It is unclear how The Kid escaped. Probably the most reliable story is a soldier opened the door and fired a few shots into the air as The Kid borrowed a fast horse and scampered away.
“Fair Mexican Maiden’s play guitars and sing,
A song about Billy their boy bandit king,
Now here his young man-hood reached its sad end,
He’d a notch on his pistol for twenty-one men.”
Billy stood about five-nine, weighed less than one hundred-sixty pounds and had small hands and feet. His hair was a scruffy blond and his eyes were blue. He had two slightly oversized front teeth and a cheerful, out-going personality (when not killing someone). He was the kind of youth that older women wanted to mother and the younger ones liked to be teased and courted by.
He spoke fluent spanish, and was very popular with the girls. Billy never married but there is strong speculation the he fathered two daughters and possibly one son. He was not the wanton killer sometimes potrayed, nor a homicidal killer. Facts support the claim that he had above average intelligence and possessed leadership skills. He did not love to kill his enemies but had no qualms about doing the deed either.
The killing of Cahill brings us to the brink of the Lincoln County War, and the beginning of the “Billy The Kid” saga. This seems a good place to take a break.
More on Billy The Kid from Rambling Bob: