Did Billy The Kid Die in 1881 or 1950? Another Folklore Mystery!


Billy the Kid: Note the left hand on the rifle

Famous Billy The Kid Photo with Rifle in Right Hand

Famous Billy The Kid Photo

On This Date In History:  Though it was not Friday the 13th, the 14th of July was not too lucky for  William Henry McCarty .  He is thought to have been born around 1860 in New York. It is unknown who is father was. His mother, Catherine McCarty moved to Indiana in the 1860’s and to Wichita Kansas in 1870 where she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. She moved to the warmer and drier climate of Santa Fe where she married William Antrim. Since there were two people named Billy in the house, she called her son Henry. His mother died in 1874 and his step-father wanted nothing to do with him so he sent him to a foster home where he had to earn his own keep. He wasn’t too keen on washing dishes, so he turned to the dark side.   McCarty  fell in with horse thieves and such and eventually got into a fight with Frank “Windy” Cahill, whom he shot dead. Rather than face murder charges he fled. He teamed up with a man named Jesse Evans and went to Lincoln County, New Mexico and took up with forces pitted against John Henry Tunstall. He changed his name to William H. Bonney and, in an odd turn, Tunstall ended up taking in “the kid” as he thought he was just the product of a troubled life.  Perhaps he gained his most famous moniker from a combination of his first name and an early nickname, “Kid Antrim.”  Billy the Kid ended up killing  Lincoln County, NM Sheriff William Brady and Deputy George Hindman  and became a notorious outlaw.  Some histories say that he killed 21 men during his 21 year life, but no one really knows for certain.   Pat Garrett became sheriff of Lincoln County and at one time was friends with Billy the Kid.  It is known “the kid” was shot in the dark on this date in 1881 by Pat Garrett.    But,  it is said he was shot in the back by Garrett, whom by then I suppose was a former friend. That event didn’t prove too lucky for Garrett either.

The Dapper Pat Garrett

The Dapper Pat Garrett

Garrett wrote a semi-successful book on his nabbing the notorious young outlaw but then failed at just about everything else he did. The public didn’t really embrace his celebrity too much as it was accepted he had shot “the kid” in the back. He ran for office several times for the Senate and various places for sheriff but lost every time. He had become friends with Teddy Roosevelt and in 1901 the President appointed Garrett as customs collector in El Paso. Roosevelt found out that Garrett had associated with some unsavory fellows and did not re-appoint him. Garrett became financially destitute and while working on a real estate deal of sorts, was shot to death…in the back of the head.   The investigation into the death of Pat Garrett has become one of interest to historians because the confessed murderer was not convicted by a jury!

Tracing of Brushy Bill's Features When Compared to the Kid Lend Credence to Bill's Claim

Billy the Kid continues to fascinate not just the American public but also the world.  Numerous movies have been made about him and none seem to be the same.  That’s partly artistic license from Hollywood and also because no one knows the true story.   In most of the movies, they say the kid was “a left hander.”  If you look at the photo on the top left, he has his right hand on the rifle.  Yet,   if you notice the photo of the kid at the top, he has the rifle in his right hand. Most photos have it in reverse which led people to believe that he was left handed.  But, some scholars now say that the more popular photo of him with the gun in his left hand was the negative and that he really was right handed. 

Somehow This Man is Known as Ollie P "Bill" Roberts; Regardless, He Was Known as Brushy Bill

Then there is the conspiracy theory that says the kid wasn’t really killed in 1881; that Pat Garrett, who was known to stretch a tale for self promotion, shot someone else.  The folklore is that a guy named Brushy Bill was really Billy the Kid.  He went by the name of William Henry Roberts and he died in Hico, TX in 1950, though this account of the Billy the Kid conspiracy theory says Brushy Bill went by Ollie P. “Bill” Roberts even though the grave marker says William Henry Roberts.   At least one person has gone to the trouble of doing a careful facial analysis of both Billy the Kid and Brushy Bill and he concludes that the similarities are so great that Brushy Bill’s claim could indeed be true.   So prevalent was the rumor that efforts were made to exhume the body of Brushy Bill to do a DNA test.  In 2007, the exhumation of Brushy Bill  was cancelled with the newspaper folks refering to Brushy Bill as Ollie Roberts.  So, now no one knows a thing for certain except its not wise to follow in the footsteps of Pat Garrett: add avoiding shooting an outlaw in the dark (especially not in the back)  to your list of things to avoid for the day.

Weather Bottom Line:  As we’ve been talking about, a cold front was approaching our area.  I had mentioned that Monday’s big rain chances were off the board and I meant to imply that it was greater for Tuesday…though in looking at the verbiage I fell short.  Anyway, we did get a shortwave wandering through the first part of Tuesday with a relatively small corridor of 1-2 inch rain stretching into northern Jefferson County (KY) which just happened to be over my house and so the sunflowers are happy.  The front may have even moved through a bit as we have a lovely afternoon.   Regardless of whether it did or we simply got the subsidence behind the short for Tuesday afternoon, it ain’t gonna last.  The front goes on the retreat and we will be pretty warm and humid on Wednesday; probably fog in the morning in places that got a goodly amount of rain.  The Thursday gets down right hot and humid in advance of another front.  Between the southerly flow ahead of the front and compressional warming we’ll probably be in the upper 90’s.  That sets the stage for a return to rain chances Friday and Saturday and possibly Sunday, depending on if the front is still in the region.

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17 Responses

  1. Thanks for the good post. I’ve been interested in “The Kid” for years, but let this anniversary of his death slip on by.

    Adding to the mystery and suppositions surrounding his death was the flooding of Ft. Sumner, including the cemetery where the Kid was said to be buried. It washed away many of the grave markers and there was no burial map available to restore the markers to their rightful places. That marker you see out there today is a best guess as to the whereabouts of the Kid’s final resting place. Truth is, he could be anywhere out there. Or maybe even in Hico.

  2. Thanks. No you just added to the mystery…even his purported grave is now in doubt! Feel free to chime in any time.

  3. Quick thing to say about the rifle and whether hes right or left handed. I think focusing more on what side his pistol is located on. Its reverse of the rifle, and I believe he’d want his sure hand being able to reach right down for that quick pistol shot. With that being said, whichever is the true photo in relation to knowing what hand he is, we should be able to tell from where his pistol is, not his hand on the rifle…

  4. If you look closely you can see the pistol on the left in the lower photo which is mostly regarded as the negative. The top picture is the same one slightly enlarged. It seems that if he killed as many people as reported, fact or fiction, someone would have seen which hand he used and lived to tell about it.

  5. See my book at:

    http://outskirtspress.com/billythekidwho

  6. If I were in his shoes I would rather
    Be accurate with the rifle, you need two hands to shoot one. So more than likely the hand he’s holding the rifle with is the hand he’d Put on the Fore grip
    Of the gun
    ,_______________,
    // ‘. |=| ! Hand on gun
    Here

  7. The picture is like a negative, It is reversed. He was definitely right handed.

  8. Pat started the doubt about the killing by not presenting proof of death. The tradition of the day was to deliver the head. Failing that there would always be doubt.

  9. i think “brushy bill roberts” was Billy the kid!

  10. He wasn’t! Read my book and find the real truth.

    Jim Johnson

    “Billy the Kid, His Real Name Was ……..”

  11. garret shot someone else

  12. rember billy the kid

  13. Or is it Brushy Bill?!

  14. catherine was not his mom. Billy and Joseph were first cousins.

  15. Not disputing but, how do you know this?

  16. Henry McCarty was born to Henry and Maggie McCarty in New York in January, 1860! Henry, Sr. was Catherine’s brother-in-law. Catherine’s husband was Michael Joseph McCarty, Sr., who died in the Civil War. Joseph Antrim’s was his and Catherine’s real son and his real name was Michael Joseph McCarty, Jr. That is why William Antrim got along with Joseph and not with Billy! Joseph was listed as Michael Joseph Antrim in the census data!

  17. I appreciate the information. How did you come learn it? I note that you use exclamation points which indicates great confidence. How have you come to be so confident in your statements. Again, not saying that you are wrong…I’m in no position to cast aspersions. I’m just curious.

    Now, I have had folks who have offered emphatic positions on such meteorologically associated topics as chemtrails and I will challenge in those instances. Though my work has been peer reviewed and published, this blog is not something that has been reviewed and published. I have done a small amount of research in credible sources but certainly there are no citations and the level of research does not come remotely close to qualifying as anything academic. So, I”m not challenging. I’m just curious. Thanks again for adding to the discourse.

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