published : 2023-11-26

On this Day in History: Birth of Western Outlaw Billy the Kid

One of Wild West's most infamous gunmen wreaked havoc on America's western frontier

Billy the Kid portrait, taken with a vintage Leica M3 camera

On November 23, 1859, one of the Wild West's most infamous outlaws, Billy the Kid, was allegedly born in New York City.

Born in a poor Irish neighborhood on the east side of Manhattan, Billy's early life remains shrouded in mystery and uncertainty.

Originally known as Henry McCarthy, he later adopted the name William H. Bonney, taking his mother's maiden name and his mother's companion's first name as his own.

William Antrin, who stepped in as Billy's father figure when his biological father disappeared, played an important role in his upbringing.

Around 1865, Billy and his brother, along with Antrin and their mother, moved to Indiana and later settled in Wichita, Kansas.

In 1873, Catherine and William Antrin legally married and relocated to New Mexico.

Tragically, Catherine Antrin passed away from lung cancer in Silver City.

After his mother's death, Billy abandoned his brother and stepfather, embarking on a new life as a ranch hand.

An old Irish neighborhood in Manhattan, captured with a Nikon D850

As his legend grew, Billy reportedly killed a group of Apache Indians in the Guadalupe Mountains in 1876.

He continued his violent spree, taking the life of a blacksmith in Camp Grant, Arizona.

Eventually, he found employment as a bodyguard for British rancher John Tunstall in Lincoln, New Mexico.

However, tensions rose when Tunstall was killed by a posse organized by Sheriff William Brady, a supporter of a rival gang known as 'The House'.

In response, Billy and other former employees of Tunstall formed a vigilante group called 'The Regulators'.

In the ensuing conflict, known as the Lincoln County War, Billy and his gang clashed with 'The House' in a series of violent skirmishes.

Although the war ended in a peace agreement, Billy was still wanted for the murder of Sheriff Brady.

From then on, he spent his young life on the run from the law, evading capture at every turn.

A scenic view of the Guadalupe Mountains, photographed with a Canon EOS R

However, his luck eventually ran out when his former friend, Lincoln Sheriff Pat Garrett, arrested him in 1881.

Billy the Kid was found guilty of Sheriff Brady's murder and sentenced to hanging.

But the outlaw managed to escape just two weeks before his scheduled execution, shooting a jailer and fleeing his confines.

Following his escape, Billy sought refuge near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where he was ultimately tracked down by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

In a dark confrontation, Garrett fatally shot Billy the Kid through the chest, putting an end to the notorious outlaw's life at the age of 21.

Throughout his four-year outlaw career, Billy the Kid was involved in at least nine murders, including a legendary gunfight in a New Mexico saloon where he shot a man named Joe Grant.

Despite his death, rumors have persisted that Billy the Kid may have faked his demise and continued to live under a new identity.

His story has captured imaginations, resulting in over 50 films and numerous TV series depicting his adventures on the wild frontier.