Mysteries of the Old West: Did Pat Garrett Kill Billy the Kid?

Born Henry McCarty in 1859, and also known as William H. Bonney, Billy the Kid gained notoriety during his short time on Earth as a gunfighter in the Old West. He killed anywhere between four and ten men depending on the accounts you read, and died in Fort Sumner in New Mexico on July 14, 1881, when he was just 21 years of age.

In a previous article about the life of Pat Garrett, I wrote that he killed Billy, the Kid; a statement which is the official version of events but it provoked much disagreement. However, if the Kid was murdered in that house, it is hard to prove that it was anyone other than Garrett; mainly because the version of events we are fed come primarily from Garrett’s own account.

Another possibility is that Garrett murdered someone else and covered it up which meant the outlaw escaped. A man known as ‘brushy’ Bill Roberts claimed to be the Kid. However, his claims are not backed up with evidence, and most credible historians laugh his claim off as nonsense.

The Life of an Outlaw

Billy was probably born in New York City, and when his father died, he moved to Silver City in the New Mexico territory in around 1873. In truth, there is scant detail of his early life. Some historians believe he was born in Missouri or Indiana as late as 1861. We only begin to get a clearer picture of his life from 1877 onwards when he moved to Lincoln County in New Mexico.

Photo that claims Billy the Kid is on the left. History.com

It wasn’t the best time for him to move there since Lincoln County was in the midst of a war between two groups of local cattlemen for power. By this time, Billy had murdered his first man, a thug named Frank ‘Windy’ Cahill, in Arizona on August 18, 1877. The Kid apparently killed Cahill in self-defense.

If he thought he could escape violence, he was sorely mistaken. Billy worked for a man named John Tunstall who was murdered by the warring faction in the Lincoln County Wars. The Kid vowed to get revenge on those responsible and on April 4, 1878, he attacked Sheriff William Brady, as a member of the Lincoln County Regulators. The ambush resulted in the murders of the Sheriff and Deputy George Hindman. The rest of Billy’s short life was steeped in death.

The Kid was heavily involved in the Battle of Lincoln on July 14, 1878, which resulted in several deaths. Billy was indicted for the murder of a bookkeeper named Morris Bernstein (which took place on August 5) even though the murder was probably committed by a policeman. On January 10, 1880, Billy shot and killed Joe Grant. Sources suggest that the Kid believed his victim was sent to murder him, so he supposedly managed to rig Grant’s gun to ensure it was on an empty chamber. When Grant tried to kill Billy, the gun didn’t go off, and the Kid shot Grant in the face. New Mexico’s Governor, Lew Wallace, placed a $500 bounty on the Kid’s head in December 1880. By now, the famous lawman, Pat Garrett, had the outlaw in his sights.