Billy the Kid was a notorious criminal who gained more fame after his death than when he was alive. His life was tragic and short and seemed violent. His friends knew him as a fun-loving guy who seemed to get mixed up in unfortunate situations.
He was known for his quick trigger, but many claim that he did not kill indiscriminately and there was always a justified reason.
Also Read: 30 Famous Outlaws of the Wild West
But he lived at a time when the West was becoming tame and outlaws that stole cattle, which was the livelihood of many, were not going to be tolerated.
There is an interesting end to his story, but it is disputed.
1859-1863 Billy the Kid was born to Patrick McCarty and Catherine Devine. Tragically, his father died when he was only 4 years old, leaving his family destitute.
Also Read: Billy the Kid Family Tree to learn more about his relatives.
June 18, 1868 - Billy's mother Catherine McCarty's name appears in a census in Anderson, Indiana. Her name appears with sons William Henry (Billy the Kid) and Joseph. It would be around this time that Catherine McCarty would meet and, in 1873, eventually marry William Antrim.
August 10, 1870 - The Kid's family relocated from Indiana to Witchita, Kansas.
August 1871 - 1872 - Billy's family moved again after his mother was diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis). The family searched for a drier climate. However, in October of 1872, the family was living in Denver, Colorado.
March 1, 1873 - Catherine and William make it official when they marry in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They had been with each other for 5 years. At this point, Billy and his brother had moved at least four times.
March-April 1873 - The Antrim family moves to Silver City, New Mexico. The fifth move of Billy and Joseph's life. (possibly more, but that is all that is in the records.)
September 16, 1874 - Billy the Kid's mother, Catherine, finally succumbs to her disease and dies. This leaves Billy and his brother alone with their stepdad. William Antrim then moved to Clifton, Arizona, and leaves his stepsons behind. This would subject the boys to live in foster care. Foster care at this time was rudimentary and much worse than even modern standards. Within a year, Billy the Kid would begin to have trouble with the law.
September 23, 1875 - Billy the Kid is arrested for stealing laundry. This becomes his first interaction with the law.
September 25, 1875 - Two days after his arrest, he escapes jail and flees to Clifton, Arizona, where he meets up with his step-dad. He seeks refuge with his dead mother's husband, but William Antrim rejects him and does not take him in. This now puts Billy the Kid on his own.
April 1876 - Records indicate that he takes a job as a cook at the Hotel de Luna. It would be here that he meets a horse thief named John Mackie. Mackie takes the kid under his wing and shows him how to make money stealing horses. This lifestyle because alluring to young Billy since he has moved all over the Wild West and lived in poverty.
March 25, 1877 - The horse thief duo is arrested and put in jail at Fort Grant. Billy the Kid escapes later that evening and begins to get a reputation as an escape artist.
August 18, 1877 - In Fort Grant, the Kid kills his first man, Frank "Windy" Cahill, a bully who attacked the Kid during an argument. The Kid then leaves Arizona and heads back to New Mexico.
September 1877 - The Kid joins Jesse Evans, the leader of "The Boys," a gang of rustlers and killers.
October - November 1877 - The gang rides into Lincoln County. Shortly after arriving, Billy the Kid has a falling out with the gang and is then hired by John Tunstall. At the time, Tunstall was involved in a feud with the Dolan Company that would turn bloody.
February 18 - 23, 1878 - The Kid rides along with Tunstall and his men, herding horses to Lincoln. The group is ambushed by Dolan and Sheriff Brady's men, and Tunstall is killed. Billy the Kid and the others escape. The following day, three of Tunstall's men, which included Billy, try to serve warrants on the men who killed Tunstall. They were arrested and would miss Tunstall's funeral. They would be released from jail on the 23rd.
March 1, 1878- Dick Brewer, Tunstall's foreman, is appointed constable to bring in Tunstall's murderers. The Kid and several others are deputized. They called themselves "The Regulators."
March 6, 1878 - The Regulators arrest Bill Morton and Frank Baker.
March 9, 1878 - The Regulators rightfully believed their prisoners would be released as soon as they were turned over to Sheriff Brady and decided to take matters into their own hands: Morton, Baker, and William McCloskey, a Regulator who was believed to be a traitor, are killed.
April 1, 1878 - Members of the Regulators: Frank MacNab, Jim French, Fred Waite, John Middleton, Henry Brown, and Billy Bonney ambush the Sheriff and his deputies. Sheriff William Brady and Deputy George Hindman are killed.
April 4, 1878 - Buckshot Roberts is killed at Blazer's Mill, but not before wounding Frank Coe and John Middleton and killing Dick Brewer.
April 18, 1878 - The Kid, Middleton, and Brown are indicted for the murder of Sheriff Brady. This would be the criminal act that would stick with Billy through the rest of his life.
July 4, 1878 - The Regulators hide out at Chisum's Ranch.
July 15 - 19, 1878 - The Five-day battle at Alex McSween's home in Lincoln. On the 19th, while trying to escape, Alex McSween, Francisco Zamora, and Harvey Morris are killed; on the Dolan side, Robert Beckwith is killed. Billy the Kid and the Regulators escape.
August 5, 1878 - Billy the Kid is blamed for the murder of Morris Bernstein, although it was not him who pulled the trigger, and the shooter, Atanacio Martinez, said he acted in self-defense.
September 4, 1878 - Lew Wallace becomes governor, replacing Governor Axtell. Lew Wallace would become a key figure in Billy's life.
October 1878 - Billy the Kid had moved on from the Lincoln County War and was now located in Texas. While in Texas, he becomes good friends with a young doctor named Henry Hoyt. He gives Hoyt Sherriff Brady's horse, and Hoyt gives him a watch.
November 13, 1878 - Governor Wallace issues a proclamation of amnesty for parties involved in the Lincoln County War. Billy returns to Lincoln County to make peace with his enemies. It seemed as if this truce would work until a couple of months later.
February 18, 1879 - The Kid meets up with Evans in Lincoln to propose a truce. A peace treaty is formed, and both sides forget their differences. Later that evening, the party of men comes across Susan McSween's attorney, Huston Chapman. While the Kid stood by watching uneasily, Evans and his men harass and then shoot the attorney.
March 13 - 21, 1879 - In response to the shooting, Billy the Kid writes Governor Lew Wallace saying that he will testify against Chapman's killers. This would break the treaty he had made with Evans and Doland. The governor receives his letter and says he is willing to meet to discuss the terms. He closes the letter by saying, "If you can trust Jesse Evans, you can trust me."The Kid and the governor meet, and an arrangement is made. If the Kid submits to a fake arrest and testifies in court against Dolan, Evans, and Colonel Dudley, he would be pardoned. Billy is then arrested and brought to Lincoln to testify.
April 14 - June 17, 1879 - Billy does what he agreed to do. He testifies in court against Chapman's murderers and then again against Colonel Dudley and his involvement in the siege of McSween's home. After three months, the governor did not issue a warrant, and Billy was scheduled for trial. He feels betrayed, walks out of jail, and rode off. There was no opposition.
October 1879 - Billy the Kid returns to the life of an outlaw by stealing cattle.
January 10, 1880 - The kid outfoxes the drunk Joe Grant when he checks out Grant's gun and purposely puts the hammer on empty cylinders. As Billy turns, Grant becomes upset and pulls the gun on Billy, only to hear it click. Billy then turns and fires three shots into Grant, killing him.
June 1880 - While in Fort Sumner, Billy the Kid met with an enumerator taking a census. He tells the enumerator he is 25 years of age, born in Missouri, and listed his occupation as working in cattle.
October 6, 1880 - Once again, the Kid is tired of dodging the law, and he writes to Ira Leonard saying that he wants to try straightening things out again with Governor Wallace. Leonard agrees to meet him in White Oaks within the week. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the Kid comes six weeks later, so by then, the deal is off
November 2, 1880 - Pat Garrett is elected sheriff of Lincoln County.
November 27, 1880 - The White Oaks posse surrounds the Kid and his gang at the Greathouse Ranch. During a standoff, Deputy James Carlyle is accidentally killed by his own men. Afterward, the posse leaves the ranch, and the outlaws escape. The Kid is accused of the deputy's death.
December 12, 1880 - The Kid writes to Governor Wallace pleading his innocence concerning Deputy Carlyle's killing and rustling activities in the territory. The governor does not react. Unfortunately, murders continue to happen around Billy, and it is becoming harder to claim his innocence.
December 14, 1880 - Pat Garrett officially begins his hunt for Billy the Kid. The next day, the Governor puts out a $500 reward for Billy.
December 19, 1880 - Pat Garrett gets close to capturing Billy when his posse ambushes him and his gang. Tom O'Folliard is killed, but the others escape.
December 23, 1880 - The Sheriff tracks the Kid and his gang to a rock house in Stinking Springs. When his close friend Charlie Bowdre appears at the door, they think it's Billy the Kid and open fire. Bowdre is killed, and there's a standoff. After a couple of hours, the Kid and his men surrender.
December 24, 1880 - The lawmen bring their prisoners back to Fort Sumner. Charlie Bowdre's body is delivered to his wife, and the Kid and Rudabaugh are shackled together. The posse then loaded up the prisoners in a wagon and headed for Las Vegas.
December 25, 1880 - The posse and their prisoners have Christmas dinner at Padre Polaco's store in Puerto de Luna. Later that evening, they head out and travel all night to Las Vegas.
December 26, 1880 - Garrett's posse and the prisoners arrive in Las Vegas. The town is curious about Billy the Kid but hostile towards Dave Rudabaugh -several months earlier, Rudabaugh had killed one of their deputies.
December 27, 1880 - The next morning, Sheriff Garrett and his men take the prisoners to the depo, where they are met by a mob who are after Rudabaugh. The lawmen hold the mob back until the train leaves. They then arrive in Santa Fe, where the prisoners are placed in jail.
1881, January 1- The Kid writes to Governor Wallace to come down to the jail to see him. The governor at the time is out of town.
February 28, 1881 - The Kid and his cohorts try to dig their way out of jail, but they are caught. The prisoners are separated, and the Kid is chained to the floor in a dark solitary cell.
March 2 - 27, 1881 - Billy the Kid continues to write Governor Lew Wallace. He even threatens to reveal their correspondence, which would show the governor working with the famous gunslinger. There is no response. On March 27, he wrote his final letter to the governor, which was ignored.
March 28 - April 21, 1881 - The Kid is taken to the depot to be transported to La Mesilla for trial. The first trial was over the killing of Buckshot Roberts, which was dismissed. The second trial was for the killing of Sherriff Brady. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and given the death penalty. Out of all the surviving killers in the Lincoln County War, only Billy was convicted. His sentence was to be carried on on May 13. He was then transported to Lincoln and held in the courthouse until his hanging. Just before his departure, he wrote a letter to Attorney Edgar Caypless that said he wanted to file a suit against Pat Garrett for confiscating his mare. Nothing ever becomes of this communication.
April 28, 1881 - While waiting to be hanged, Billy the Kid makes his final and greatest escape from legal custody. He is able to get the gun of the guard watching him, and after killing him, he shoots the guard coming across the street to inspect the commotion. He then rides out of Lincon County.
July 14, 1881 - Garrett visited Fort Sumner to question a friend of Billy the Kid's about his whereabouts and learned he was staying with a mutual friend, Pedro Menard "Pete" Maxwell. Around midnight, Garrett went to Maxwell's house. The Kid was asleep in another part of the house but woke up in the middle of the night and entered Maxwell's bedroom, where Garrett was standing in the shadows. The Kid did not recognize the man standing in the dark. He asked him, repeatedly, "¿Quién es?" ("Who is it?"), and Garrett replied by shooting at him twice. The first shot hit the Kid in the chest just above the heart, while the second missed. Garrett’s account leaves it unclear whether Billy was killed instantly or took some time to die.
July 15, 1881 - Milnor Rudolph organized a coroner's jury and makes out a verdict stating the death of Billy the Kid was justifiable homicide. In the afternoon, the Kid's body is laid to rest next to his friends, Charlie Bowdre and Tom O'Folliard.
Early 1882- Pat Garrett's book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid is published. Although the book is more myth than fact, it immortalized Billy the Kid in legend.
1948 - Brushy Bill Roberts appears on the scene and claims to be Billy the Kid. He is put into contact with investigator William V. Morrison. Morrison then began a correspondence with Roberts, who eventually "confessed" to being the Kid and detailed his supposed exploits as an outlaw. He told anecdotes that, if true, would fill in undocumented gaps in many aspects of the life of Billy the Kid and asked for Morrison's help in acquiring the full pardon he said he had been promised by New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace in 1879, but which was subsequently withdrawn. He showed his ability to slip out of handcuffs and said that Pat Garrett had actually shot and killed another gunslinger named Billy Barlow and had passed his body off as the Kid's, which had allowed the Kid to vanish and escape to Mexico. The only three witnesses to the alleged killing of the Kid by Pat Garrett were Garrett himself and Deputies John W. Poe and Thomas McKinney. While McKinney claimed to slightly know the Kid, Poe had never previously laid eyes on him. Moments after the shooting by Garrett, Poe told Garrett he had "shot the wrong man"; since it was too dark in the room for visual identification, Garrett claimed he knew it was the Kid by his voice, though all present had only heard whispers. Ultimately, both Poe and McKinney agreed with Garrett, but McKinney recanted years later and claimed – like Poe before him – that Garrett had killed someone else. Local residents of Fort Sumner also immediately disputed the death of the Kid. Garrett hastily assembled an official inquest by political cronies and clinched his claim to the killing and all outstanding rewards. The body was quickly buried the following day in a grave that vanished in floods over the years; the grave, as marked today, likely contains no remains at all, and requests for an exhumation have been officially denied.