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Billy the Kid

William Henry Bonney (c. 1860 - 1881) better known as Billy the Kid was a 19th century American frontier[?] outlaw and murderer. He is reputed to have killed 21 men but the figure is probably closer to nine.

Little is known about Bonney's early childhood. He was probably born in New York City. The exact names of his parents, and thus Bonney's own surname, is not known for certain. Variations for his parent's names include: Catherine McCarty or Katherine McCarty Bonney for his mother and William Bonney or Patrick Henry McCarty for his father (who probably died around the end of the American Civil War). In 1873 his mother married William Antrim and the family moved to Silver City, New Mexico. His stepfather was a bartender and carpenter but soon became more interested in prospecting for fortune than in his wife and stepsons.

Faced with an indigent husband, Bonney's mother took in boarders in order to provide for her sons. She was by now afflicted with tuberculosis even though she was seen by her boarders and neighbors as "a jolly Irish lady, full of life and mischief." The following year in 1874 his mother died of her condition and at 14 Bonney was forced to find work in a hotel. The manager was impressed by the young boy, boasting that Billy was the only kid who ever worked for him that didn't steal anything. His school teachers thought that the young orphan was "no more of a problem than any other boy, always quite willing to help with chores around the schoolhouse."

At the age of 15 Bonney was arrested for hiding a bundle of stolen clothes for a man playing a prank on a Chinese laundryman. Two days after Bonney was thrown in jail the scrawny teen escaped by worming his way up the jailhouse chimney. From that point onward Bonney would be a fugitive.

He eventually found work as an itinerant ranch hand and sheepherder in southeastern Arizona. In 1877 he became a civilian teamster at Camp Grant Army Post with the duty of hauling logs from a timber camp to a sawmill. The civilian blacksmith at the camp, Frank "Windy" Cahill, took pleasure in bullying young Bonney. That August Cahill attacked Bonney after a verbal exchange and threw him to the ground. Bonney retaliated by drawing his gun and shooting Cahill, who died the next day. Once again Bonney was in custody, this time in the Camp's guardhouse awaiting the arrival of the local Marshall. Before the Marshall could arrive Bonney escaped.

Again on the run, Bonney next turns-up in the house of a Heiskell Jones in Pecos valley, New Mexico. Apaches had stolen Bonney's horse which forced him to walk many miles to the nearest settlement, which was Mrs. Jones' house. She nursed, who was near death, back to health. The Jones' family developed a strong attachment to the young man and gave him one of their horses.

He later became embroiled in the infamous Lincoln County War in which his newest friend and employer, John Tunstall, was killed. Bonney would enact revenge by gunning-down the deputy that killed his friend, another deputy and the county sheriff. Now an even more wanted man than before, Bonney went into hiding but soon started to steal livestock from white ranchers and Apaches on the Mescalero reservation[?].

In autumn 1878 retired Union General Lew Wallace, became the new territorial governor of New Mexico. In order to restore peace to Lincoln County, Wallace proclaimed an amnesty for any man involved in the Lincoln County War that was not already under indictment. Bonney was, of course, under several indictments (some of which unrelated to the Lincoln County War) but Wallace was intrigued by rumors that Bonney was willing to surrender himself and testify against other combatants if amnesty could be extended to him. In March 1879 Wallace and Bonney met to discus the possibility of a deal. True to form, Bonney greeted the governor while a revolver was in one hand and a Winchester rifle[?] was in the other. After several days to think the issue over, Bonney agreed to testify in return for an amnesty.

Part of the agreement was for Bonney to submit to a show arrest and a short stay in jail until the conclusion of his courtroom testimony. Even though his testimony helped to indict one of the powerful House faction leaders, John Dolan, the district attorney defied Wallace's order to set Bonney free after testifying. A skilled escape artist, Bonney slipped out of his handcuffs and fled.

For the next year he survived by stealing and rustling as he did before. He did hang around Fort Sumner[?] on the Pescos River[?] and developed a fateful friendship with a local bartender named Pat Garrett[?] who was later elected sheriff of Lincoln County. As sheriff, Garrett was charged with arresting his friend William Bonney.

Garrett set-up many traps and ambushes in an attempt to apprehend Bonney but the Kid seemed to have an animal instinct that warned him of danger. However, Bonney's instinct failed him at an abandoned stone building located in a remote location called Stinking Springs. Garrett's men surrounded the building during the night and waited for sunrise. One of Bonney's companions named Charles Bowdre had a hat similar to Bonney's and was shot dead by the posse after leaving the structure to feed his horse. Soon afterward somebody from within the building reached for the horse's halter rope but Garrett shot and killed the horse (the horses body now blocked the only exit). Without transportation there wasn't any chance of escape but the besieged and hungry group didn't surrender until later that day when the posse was cooking a meal.

Bonney was jailed in the town of Mesilla while waiting for his April 1881 trial. Deliberation took exactly one day and Bonney was convicted of murdering Sheriff William Brady and sentenced to hang.

Story not over-- He escaped again




See also: List of Cowboys

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