- Because some of the best American drama comes from the “Old West”…
There are few stories in Western mythology more compelling than that of Henry McCarty, popularly known as Billy the Kid. This notorious bandit was a pivotal figure in the Lincoln County War, and his exploits have inspired numerous films and television shows.
But despite his enduring fame, there remains much mystery and controversy surrounding the details of his death at the tender age of 21. So, if you want to learn more about this famous gunman and the numerous theories about his demise, just keep reading.
Who Is “Billy The Kid”?
To fully understand the events surrounding this captivating character, one needs to start from the beginning. Billy grew up in poverty in New Mexico and lost both parents when he was just 15. Faced with this dramatic event, McCarty was forced to steal food to survive, a decision that led to his first arrest.
Only ten days after being arrested, he robbed a Chinese laundry and was put behind bars once more. He escaped shortly afterward, and we can mark this moment as the beginning of his life as an outlaw. It was 1977 when Henry started to call himself William H. Booney, and in the same year, he killed a blacksmith during an altercation, becoming a wanted man.
He gained notoriety in New Mexico after joining the Regulators and participating in the Lincoln County War of 1878. Subsequently, he and two other members of the Regulators were accused of murdering three individuals, which included the County Sheriff, William J. Brady, and one of his deputies. It was this specific murder that made Billy the Kid a target for the local and federal authorities. A move that will eventually lead to his death in 1881 but there’s more to discuss on this particular topic.
Billy’s Close Calls And His Mysterious Death
Some say that Billy the Kid was a true gambling man even though his adventures took place long before US online casinos were created. He didn’t shy away from risk but always weighed the odds of various confrontations throughout his life. Of course, Billy had his share of luck to be able to escape multiple times from the hands of the law.
Billy the Kid had numerous encounters with sheriff Pat Garrett after the Lincoln County War when he became one of the most-wanted fugitives. The sheriff first got the better of McCarthy in December 1880 when the outlaw was apprehended alongside other fellow gunmen. However, through a series of carefully planned actions and miraculous escapes, Billy managed to outsmart Garrett time and time again.
His luck ran out in July 1881 when the sheriff caught up with the fugitive at a ranch in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. As the story goes, when McCarty entered the room, he couldn’t see Garrett due to the dim lighting. Consequently, he withdrew his revolver and stepped backward, questioning who was in front of him. Once Garrett identified McCarty’s voice, he pulled out his revolver and shot twice.
The first bullet hit McCarty just above his heart, while the second missed. It is unclear from Garrett’s account whether McCarty died instantly from his gunshot wounds. And this uncertainty is fueling a handful of intriguing theories about Billy’s survival after the incident.
Did “The Kid” Really Cheat Death?
One of the most intriguing theories about Billy the Kid’s death suggests that he may have actually survived the encounter with Sheriff Garrett, and gone on to live a long and peaceful life under an assumed identity. This theory is based on a number of factors, including inconsistencies in the historical record, conflicting eyewitness accounts, and a general lack of hard evidence to definitively prove that Billy was killed that night.
As time passed, myths surfaced that asserted McCarty had not been killed and that Garrett had orchestrated the shooting and death as a favor to help Billy evade the law. In the subsequent five decades, several individuals claimed to be Billy the Kid, but most of these attempts were easily discredited. However, that was not the case for one such claim that continued to generate debates for quite some time.
The Brushy Bill Incident
An unusual tale connected to the demise of Billy the Kid concerns a person named Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts. In 1949, Roberts came forward and said he was Billy the Kid and even asked for a pardon. Roberts stated that he had not perished in 1881 but had, in fact, lived under an alias for several years. Despite some individuals believing Roberts’ assertion, others disregarded it as a deceit or a publicity stunt.
Whether he was truly killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett on that fateful night in Fort Sumner, or he managed to cheat death and disappear into the shadows, one thing is certain: the legend of Billy the Kid will never die. His story remains a testament to the untamed spirit of the Wild West, and a reminder of the power of myth and legend to shape our understanding of history and culture.