Billy the Kid Biography

Criminal(1859–1881)
Billy the Kid was a late 19th century thief and gunfighter. He was reportedly killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett, who later burnished the legend of the Wild West outlaw.

Who Was Billy the Kid?

Billy the Kid was born William Henry McCarty Jr. on November 23, 1859, in New York City. Little is known of his youth, but early on he entered a life of thievery, eventually heading west and joining a violent gang. Billy was captured and sentenced to death for the murder of a sheriff, but escaped after killing guards. The legend of Billy the Kid was created by his killer, Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Early Life

Billy the Kid was born William Henry McCarty Jr. on November 23, 1859, in New York City. Little is known about the early life of William McCarty (also known as Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney), but it is believed that his father died or left the family when Billy was very young, and he was orphaned at 15 when his mother died of tuberculosis. Shortly after, he and his brother got involved in petty theft.

McCarty had a slim physique, sandy blond hair and blue eyes, and wore a signature sugar-loaf sombrero hat with a wide decorative band. He could be charming and polite one moment, then outraged and violent the next, a quixotic nature he used to great effect during his heists and robberies. According to legend, he killed 21 men during his days as an outlaw, one for each year of his life, though he likely killed far fewer than that number.

Outlaw

On the run from the authorities, McCarty moved to Arizona briefly before joining up with a gang of gunfighters called to fight in the Lincoln County War. Known as the "Kid," McCarty switched to the opposition to fight with John Tunstall as one of the "Regulators."

Barely escaping with his life, McCarty became an outlaw and a fugitive. He stole horses and cattle until his arrest in 1880 for the killing of Sheriff Brady during the Lincoln County War. After being sentenced to death, he killed his two guards and escaped in 1881. He was hunted down and shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Shortly after the shooting, Sheriff Garrett wrote a biography of McCarty, the hugely sensationalized The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. The book was the first of many accounts that would turn the young outlaw into a legend of the American frontier.

Flea Market Finding

The legend of Billy the Kid resurfaced in November 2017, when a North Carolina lawyer revealed he had unwittingly purchased an old tintype that featured both the Wild West outlaw and his hunter, Sheriff Garrett.

The lawyer had bought the tintype of five cowboys at a flea market in 2011 for $10. A few years later, upon discovering that a similar tintype of Billy the Kid had sold for $5 million, he researched his item more carefully, eventually earning confirmation that Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett were among the men pictured. The owner said he did not have the tintype formally valuated, adding that he felt privileged just to have the historic item.

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