Billy the Kid is a legendary figure in Western folklore. He was a notorious outlaw and a gunfighter who became famous for his exploits during the American Old West.
Billy the Kid was a 19th century American outlaw, who became famous for his part in the Lincoln County War. He is also known as William H. Bonney and has been called one of the most famous criminals of all time. Read more in detail here: why is billy the kid famous.
After failing to get a pardon via New Mexico Territorial Governor Lew Wallace, William H. Bonney, nicknamed “the Kid” and subsequently “Billy the Kid”) sought to put some psychological distance between himself and Lincoln County by establishing a base of operations at historic Fort Sumner in the autumn of 1879. He became a full-time rustler the next year. His tactics, like those of the soldiers who accompanied him, were harsh and ready. The Kid and his crew would kidnap horses all across the Pecos Valley and transport them to Tascosa, the newest and rowdiest cow town in the Texas Panhandle.
The only picture of William H. Bonney, the infamous Kid, that has been verified.
When they ran out of money, they would steal cattle from the open Panhandle range and drive it across into New Mexico Territory, where they would sell it to the self-styled “King of Tularosa,” rancher Pat Coghlan, who had a contract to supply beef to the Mescalero Apache reservation adjacent to Fort Stanton beginning July 1, 1880. They went over to the Panhandle nonetheless, blindly stealing the large ranches there, such as the LX and LIT, when there were no horses to take. Pat Garrett, who would be elected sheriff of Lincoln County on November 2, 1880, and his close friend Barney Mason are likely to have joined the Kid and his men on some of these attacks.
Within a year, the Kid’s depredations had escalated to the point where the newly formed Panhandle Stockmen’s Association hired a range detective, a former LX cowboy named Frank Stewart (although his qualifications and how he obtained them are a matter of conjecture), to accompany him to New Mexico Territory and identify the rustlers and whoever was purcing them. Garrett H. “Kid” Dobbs, Lon Chambers, and Lee Hall from the LX, as well as Charlie Reasor, who was partly Cherokee, from the LIT, made up the party.
They discovered LIT skins in the coral at Coghlin’s Tularosa property. When they questioned the butcher, former Lincoln County Sheriff George Peppin, he told them he had a clean bill of sale and that getting him to stop would require a lot more than a verbal warning. When the Texans learned that Billy the Kid was in the region and that if he ran across them, he would wipe them out, Stewart decided that discretion was the better part of valor and returned to the Panhandle with his men. In his 1885 novel A Texas Cowboy: A Novel, Cowboy Charlie Siringo picks up the narrative.
This enraged [LX foreman Bill] Moore, so he decided to build up his own equipment and send it across after the cattle, which is why he sent out after me. After I had everything set up, I had a chuck wagon with four excellent mules to drive it, a cook, and five guys called James East, Lee Hall, Lon Chambers, Cal Pope (Polk), and last but not least “Bigfoot” Wallace [Frank Clifford]…. Moore gave me these instructions when we first started. “Stay over there until you acquire those animals or the LX business is busted,” says the narrator. I’ll keep you stocked up on cash for as long as they have any nickels left that I can get my hands on. And if you believe you can catch “Billy the Kid” after you have the cattle, go ahead and do it. You may hire as many men as you want, but don’t go after him until you’ve secured the cattle.”
We met Stuart [Stewart] at Tascosa, who had managed to gather a small throng to join us. Mr. [W.S.] McCarty, the LIT ranch’s boss, had supplied five men, a cook, and a chuck wagon; and Torry [Ellsworth Torrey] shoe [TS] ranch had supplied a wagon and two men, while a guy called Johnson had supplied a man and a wagon. The LIT unit was led by Bob Robertson, whose instructions were to recover the stolen livestock before attempting to apprehend the Kid, but to follow Stuart’s orders in the interim.
Jim East later recounted, “We left the LX ranch, passed through Tascosa, and bought enough food to last us until the Pecos.” “We proceeded straight up the [Canadian] River, past Sperling’s [ranch], to San Hilario above Fort Bascom, and cut over to the Pecos. ‘Now, I’ll go to Las Vegas and get food, and you guys can walk right over to Anton Chico and wait there until I come back,’ Charley [Siringo] remarked. That would save us approximately 75 miles of travel time.’” Cal Polk’s rambling description of the journey. Siringo “went ahead with the male [mail] carrier to Las Vegas to buy grain [for the horses].” He instructed us to go to Antion Cheeko on the Pacos River and wait for him to arrive with the maize. We proceeded on and arrived at 12 p.m. on Sunday, November 27, 1880. As we rode up into town, the cathlick church collapsed, revealing the Mexacans within. They all came to a halt and looked at us, as if they didn’t understand what was going on. We were all armed to the teeth with six shooters, Bowie knives, and Winchester rifles on our saddles and had two belts full of cartridges.” Polk went on to describe a near-miss with the Kid:
Billy the Kid came into town one night while we were there and stole three excellent horses from the Mexacans. He then sent Frank Stuart a letter asking him not to come any farther since he didn’t want to fite us. But if we arrived to shoot, it would be a different story. This was excellent strategy, but we had to deal with it. We had all gotten into a lot of debt while we were there, as you’ll see later, and we were expecting Charley to show up with a picket full of monnie from Las Vegas. We were, however, broke when he arrived. He got into gambling up there and lost all the money the LX company had given him, so he had to give them a check for the grain, and we had to do the same thing here.
Cal Polk’s gruesome stories of the posse’s antics in Anton Chico have appeared elsewhere. We’ll probably never know if they’re real or not, but an unpublished book, Deep Trails in the West, written to a friend in 1942 by Frank Clifford, the guy known to his fellow possemen as “Big Foot Wallace,” indicates that even if Polk was bending the facts, he wasn’t going too far:
It was snowing the morning we departed Anton Chico. There was approximately five inches of snow on the ground at the time. Snow had piled up to eight to ten inches thick by the time we came to a halt at midday. We set up a dry tent and used melting snow to provide water for our horses. Pat Garrett, sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, and Frank Stewart, livestock detective for the Canadian Cattle Association, as well as another guy [Barney Mason], rode into camp before we could resume our work. Pat informed us that the “Kid” was at Fort Sumner and had a big herd of Canadian River cattle with which he planned to leave for Old Mexico the next morning. This couldn’t be true, since no one could travel any distance with a large herd of cattle in a blizzard like that. There would be nothing to eat for them. Pat was informed promptly by Bob Boberson and Charley Siringo. They made fun of him and weren’t afraid to say it.
Pat persisted on telling it how it was, and after a lengthy debate, Bob and Charley decided to let their men select who would accompany Pat. We were divided evenly, with seven going and seven refusing to go. I was one of those who didn’t. We loaded up the wagons and drove to White Oaks, arriving the day before Christmas. I remember the date because, shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, a few of us snuck out of the bar and let loose our cannon, shooting two or three salvos into the air to welcome the new Christmas morning. The first thing we noticed when we returned to the bar was Pinto Tom (Longworth), the lanky, red-headed Marshall of White Oaks, slithering out from beneath a billiard table, which had cost Pinto Tom many rounds of drinks before dawn. As he dove beneath the table for protection, he assumed the “Kid” and his gang had broken in and were shooting up the town. I never heard of the “Kids” shooting up a town for no reason, but everyone appeared to be terrified he might!
In December 1880, a Sheriff Garrett-led posse captured Billy the Kid in a rock hut (formerly used as a forage station) at Stinking Springs (Ojo Hediendo) east of Fort Sumner near Taliban. Siringo, Polk, and another Kid chaser, Louis “The Animal” Bousman, were among those who recorded their accounts of the Kid’s pursuit and capture. All of them seem to be based on Garrett’s story. Jim East, on the other hand, provides a crucial element that none of the others do. Although it has been referenced by a few authors, this is the first time his narrative of the Kid’s search has been published in its full.
We traveled to Piedrenal Springs, where we encountered the Pecos River’s breaks. We left our camp at dawn, rode all day without eating, rode all night, and arrived at Puerta [Puerto] de Luna on the Pecos at five o’clock the following day…. I recall how delicious chuck tasted after we had gone so long without it. We remained the night there, and since our horses were exhausted, we stayed the following day…. We stayed in a home that night since it was freezing outside. Our group included LX members James East, Lee Hall, and Lon Chambers, as well as LIT members Emory, Bausman, and Williams.
Garrett received news from a Mexican runner who had come up that the Kid and his crew were at Fort Sumner and that if we acted quickly enough, we may be able to capture them. The distance between Puerta de Luna and Sumner was 42 miles. We left just before dark. It had snowed all the way down, with approximately four inches on the ground when we arrived just before daybreak. We had to cut ourselves out of all our bedding save one blanket each when we left the wagons since we couldn’t carry any more. Each of us had a six-shooter, a Winchester, and a blanket. We didn’t bring any horses, and we just rode the ones we had. That winter, I slept on a single blanket and rode a single horse.
We arrived in Sumner early in the morning and proceeded to Beaver Smith’s shop…. Garrett inquired as to when he had last seen the youngsters. He said that they arrived about sunset and that after drinking whiskey and shooting up the shop, they went to an empty home across the street, where he believed they were still. We snuck over to the home. It continued to snow. A little fire was flickering in the fireplace, and as it flared up a bit, we could see the shape of a guy standing in front of it. We assumed the whole group was present. Garrett advised us not to take any risks and to start firing as soon as we entered. Garrett slammed the door open, and we all rushed in with our Winchesters drawn, only to see [Mike Cosgrove] the Las Vegas postal carrier. We were quite close to shooting him, but we couldn’t see who he was since there wasn’t much light. “My God, don’t shoot, boys,” he said. He was also terrified to death. He said that he knew nothing about the Kid and his gang and that he didn’t want to learn anything about them….
We discovered that the Kid had left town and we had no idea where he had gone. We walked over to a large adobe structure, the Fort’s old hospital, and made a fire in the fireplace, rustled a little chuck, and remained there all day. It was constantly snowing. The following night, Garrett issued a death threat to anybody who attempted to escape Fort Sumner. He was worried that someone might sneak away and inform the Kid. A Mexican came to Garrett in the morning and stated that his wife and infant were at home and that they didn’t have any milk for the baby. He said that his cow had gotten loose and that he needed permission to pursue her and that he would be right back. Rather than go after his cow, he sneaked over to Wilcox’s ranch near Taiban, where the Kid and his gang were, and informed them where we were…and that our horses were at Pete Maxwell’s stable. Almost everyone in Mexico was nice to the Kid.
They arrived in about eleven o’clock that night [December 19]. Our horses had been put under the watchful eye of Lon Chambers and Lee Hall. Garrett, Barney Mason, Tom Emory, and Bob Williams were playing poker as I was curled up in my blanket attempting to catch some sleep before going on second watch. The Kid’s plan, as he informed us when we apprehended him, was to sneak in and steal our horses, put us on foot, and then murder us slowly. In such country, a guy on foot was virtually powerless.
When Chambers, who had been on watch, heard them approaching, he crept up to the door and whispered, “Get your guns, they’re coming.” We all walked out when the guys put down their chips and cards and grabbed their firearms. They turned around the end of the hospital building just then. The sole source of illumination was the snow. Garrett yelled at the group to raise their hands, but they pulled their six-shooters back and the battle began. With the exception of one, they all wheeled and walked away. “Throw up your hands; we’ll shoot you down!” Garrett said. “Don’t shoot any more, Pat; I’m dying,” he [the rider] pleaded. His horse galloped up to us, and it was Tom O’Phalliard, who had been shot near the heart. We carried him inside and put him on my blanket. The guys resumed their poker game, and I took a seat by the fire. Garrett was cussed by O’Phalliard.
“God damn you, Garrett; I want to see you in Hell,” he said.
“I wouldn’t speak like that, Tom,” Pat replied. In a few minutes, you’ll be dead.”
As the game progressed, Tom’s blood started to flow. He started moaning and begged me to go fetch him some water. That’s exactly what I did. He drank a bit, leaned back in his chair, shivered, and died. The poker game continued unabated. It was a means of diverting the men’s attention away from the battle and preventing them from becoming morbid.
Bausman and another man were sent out as scouts the following morning at daylight to check where they had gone. They walked up to the Taiban and discovered a dead horse, which was being ridden by Dave Rudabaugh. They’d gone about a mile when his horse, which had been shot, died on him, forcing him to dismount and ride beside another of the lads. It continued to snow. The winter of 1880 was very harsh, and livestock were lost in large numbers near the Canadian border.
We stayed the day and had a Mexican bury Tom O’Phalliard. We hired a Mexican to build him a box. “Boys, the Kid and his gang had dinner at my home and have gone over to that rock house on the Taiban,” said Wilcox, who had a ranch about three miles from the Taiban and approximately fifteen miles east of Fort Sumner, on what they called the Texas Road but which was not much trafficked. This was a one-room home with just one entrance and a little window next to the arroyo. It was most likely a sheep ranch. We had to drive carefully since the snow was very thick.
We began our journey there and arrived at this home just before dawn. Garrett crawled up the arroyo with Tom Emory, Lon Chambers, Jim East, and Lee Hall until he was approximately thirty feet from the home. We could see their horses since they were tethered to the vega poles. To stay under cover, we crept up the low bank of this dry arroyo that was coated with snow.
The news of the Kid’s arrest took some time to reach the possemen who had remained in White Oaks. One of them, a guy named Frank Clifford, recounts the tale as follows:
The guys came in from Fort Sumner, informing us that the “Kid” had been apprehended, and I had to repeat the tale just as they had given it to us. The only information I have about this tale comes from the lips of the guys who were there at the events and who informed me and the other lads about it just after they happened.
Garrett and his deputy, Kip McKinney [he says Barney Mason], and five men organized a posse and proceeded to Fort Sumner with Frank Stewart and six of our men. Pat paid a Mexican $100 to go to the “Kid’s” hideaway on the edge of the Staked Plains and inform him that “the Texans,” that is, us, had returned home and that it was now safe for him to enter Fort Sumner, which the “Kid” promised the Mexican he would accomplish that evening. Pat Garrett positioned his posse out of sight where they could cover the route that the “Kid’s” gang would ride in on when he received the word. The “Kid” (whose name was “William Bonney”), Dave Rudabaugh, Charley Bowdre, Tom O’Phalliard (whose name was spelled O’Folliard on the tombstone that was put up for these three, as I noticed in a photograph that I saw, but we always called him O’Phalliard), and one other whose name I am not sure of were all in the gang. I believe the name was “Wilson.”
According to the definite words of these men who told us about it, men who were in the posse, Lon Chambers, Tom Emory, Jim East, “the Animal,” Cal Polk, and Lee Hall, all men from our expedition, when they got opposite to where Pat’s men were hiding, Pat opened fire on them without calling them to surrender. Well, O’Phalliard was murdered, and the rest of the “Kids” gang turned around and fled, but they were easily traced with eight or ten inches of snow on the ground. They walked out to their hideaway, a makeshift rock shack on the outskirts of the Staked Plains. Pat’s men positioned themselves just under the edge of a draw, where they could see the shanty but were hidden from view, and waited until dawn.
Clifford’s story becomes a lot like everyone else’s after this, so it was thrilling to find a version of these events that had never been written before. Garrett H. “Kid” Dobbs was questioned in Farmington, New Mexico, in 1942 by Amarillo newspaperman John L. McCarty, who extracted the following information:
Garrett and his men received letters from Wallace, Chisholm [Chisum], and Capt. Leech [Lea], all of whom offered Kid amnesty in exchange for his surrender. Pat dispatched a Mexican to Billy and Charley [Bowdre], informing them of the letters and inviting them to meet him one by one at a crossroads near Fort Sumner [Punta de la Glorieta]. Bowder replied that he would see Pat the following morning at 10 a.m. He did, and Garrett and he exchanged handshakes before Garrett showed him the letters. Bowder said he’d go back and inform Billy, and he’d do whatever Billy chose.
Bowder informed Billy about the letters, and Billy offered [Thomas] Wilcox $100 in exchange for a bottle of strychnine. He said he could persuade the Mexican lady chef at Fort Sumner to poison Garrett and his deputies’ lunches. Wilcox refused to sell him poison. That night, Billy and his men slept in a stack lot, and [Billy] made his last decision for the day: to meet Garrett, fake a surrender, and murder Pat. That night, Leech, Wilcox’s sidekick [Manuel Brazil], snuck out to Sumner and informed Garrett of Billy’s intentions. Garrett prepared himself. Billy, on the other hand, did not meet Garrett that morning. A severe blizzard and snowstorm hit that evening, and Billy assumed Pat wouldn’t join them, but he did. Garrett’s soldiers encircled the cabin throughout the night because Billy was in a desolate rock home 15 miles east.
On the south side of the cabin, Billy and his men had tethered their horses to a vegas [viga]. The following morning, Charley Bowder was the first one awake, well before dawn. By accident, he took the Kid’s Mexican hat. This hat cost $200 and had more silver than any other hat I’d ever seen. Bowder donned his hat and went outdoors. Pat was around 50 yards distant. “That’s Billy,” one of his guys remarked, recognizing the cap. Pat fired a shot to the heart of Bowder. “Don’t shoot any more, Pat, you’ve got me,” Bowder replied, knowing it was Pat. Garrett said, “Is that you Charley?” He replied, “Yes.”
Pat instructed Bowder to crawl down to where they were, which he did. He claimed he didn’t blame Pat for shooting and that he had a will in his pocket that he intended Pat to execute. Pat assured him that he would. Bowder was only alive for 40 minutes. He gave the Mexican woman cook at Fort Sumner his horse, saddle, and blankets, as well as $118 in cash. She received all of it that day, as well.
Garrett decided to wait the Kid out now that the element of surprise was gone. They saw the tie ropes of the horses tied outside the cabin move after a time and assumed the Kid and his men were attempting to bring the horses inside so they could mount and go. He shot one of the horses without hesitation, and it fell over the entryway, obstructing it. Garrett soon informed the Kid that they were encircled and that there was no way out. He was ordered to go to hell by the Kid. This is what occurred about sunset, according to Jim East:
A white handkerchief was attached to a Winchester barrel and hung up the chimney. When Garrett inquired what they wanted, Billy said that they wanted to surrender on the condition that we grant them safe passage to Santa Fe…. As a result, Garrett assured them of a safe journey through Las Vegas. With their hands up, the Kid and his guys emerged. “Kill the S — B — he’s sneaky and may get away,” Barney Mason stated. Mason had formerly been a member of the Kid’s gang, but had left him and was now terrified of him. I slammed our rifles down on him and shouted, “If you fire a shot, we will kill you.” He aimed his pistol towards the Kid and Lee Hall, and I repeated, “If you fire a shot, we will kill you.” Mason drew his weapon and lowered it.
The posse and their captives slept at the Wilcox ranch, some four miles west of Stinking Springs, for the night. They left the next day, December 24, for Fort Sumner, where the captives were shackled, and then for Puerto de Luna, where they arrived in time for Christmas supper at Alexander Grzelachowski’s shop. They arrived in Las Vegas the next day, December 26, and the Kid was transported to the Santa Fe prison the next day by rail.
The Panhandle posse had completed their mission: they had apprehended Billy the Kid and imprisoned him where most cattlemen felt they belonged. The Kid was transported to La Mesilla, New Mexico Territory, in March 1881, where he was tried and convicted guilty of the murder of Sheriff William Brady during the Lincoln County War nearly precisely three years before. His execution date was scheduled on Friday, May 13 in Lincoln. But, as the Kid was like of pointing out, there’s a lot of room between the cup and the lip. Before Pat Garrett’s career came to an end, he would record another deadly chapter in the history of the West.
Frederick Nolan, an English novelist, is regarded as one of the greatest experts on Billy the Kid, as well as many of his friends and foes. His works The West of Billy the Kid, The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History, and The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall, as well as Leon C. Metz’s Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman, are suggested for additional reading.
This story first published in Wild West magazine’s June 2003 edition. Subscribe to Wild West magazine now for more excellent stories.
The where did billy the kid live is a historical question that has been asked for years. In order to find out where Billy the Kid lived, you need to do some research and look at old newspaper articles.
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