On Thursday, April 28, 1881 William Henry Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, escaped from the county jail in Lincoln, New Mexico.
Billy was 22 and loved reading books, singing, and dancing. He was fluent in the Spanish language and skillful with a rope, horse, and gun. He was a hard worker and not much of a drinker. He didn’t use tobacco either.
But Billy did have two problems: He was small for his age and he had a hair-trigger temper. Also, like most of us, he didn’t appreciate being made fun of. In August 1877, while he was working as a cowboy in Arizona, a bully taunted the Kid one time too many. Bonney shot and he didn’t miss.
When the man died, Billy fled to New Mexico. By November, he was in the Lincoln area. By early the following year, he had signed on at John Tunstall’s ranch. The rest is history. [link to Tunstall post]
Three years later, at the tail-end of the Lincoln County War, Bonney was in jail in the town of Lincoln, waiting to be hung for the murder of Sheriff William Brady. Then he saw his chance and took it. He got away, killing Deputies J.W. Bell and R. Olinger in the process.
Given that he now had the murder of a Sheriff and two Deputies hanging over him, Billy’s friends thought he should head south to Mexico. Instead, he went north to Fort Sumner. There, sheltered by friends and associates, he kept a low profile.
But it wasn’t low enough. Word of the Kid’s whereabouts got out and Sheriff Pat Garrett started nosing around, making inquiries. One night, Garrett was visiting at the Maxwell ranch just outside town when Billy, not knowing he was there, wandered into the room.
Within a few seconds, William Henry Bonney was dead. [link to post about Peter Maxwell in July]. It was Thursday, July 14, 1881, just eleven weeks since his escape from the Lincoln County jail.
Billy the Kid should have listened to his friends.
Sources: Don Bullis, New Mexico, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. I, Rio Grande books, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 2007; Howard R. Lamar, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row, New York, 1977; Ruben Salaz Marquez, New Mexico, a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts and Trails, University of New Mexico press, Albuquerque, 1994.