Chasing Billy

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Via Atlus Obscura

Lincoln New Mexico: My favorite place

This sleepy little town hidden in the hills of New Mexico was the site of what was arguably the bloodiest and most notorious 4 days in the history of the Wild Wild West.

The events began with a rivalry between lawyer and businessman Alexander McSween, and merchant (and crime boss) Lawrence Murphy. These men were at odds over cattle and their respective mercantile businesses in the mid 1870s.  McSween, an attorney, wanted to bring law and order and fair competition to the little town ruled by Murphy’s moneyed interests.

The town took sides in the conflict.  Cattleman John Chisum sided with McSween and his partner, John Tunstall, while Murphy had Sheriff William Brady and his deputies in his back pocket. Sheriff Pat Garrett, elected later, also sided with Murphy and his partner, James Dolan.

Both Murphy and McSween had storefronts on Main Street and, as tensions grew between them, each faction hired gangs to protect their interests. The Murphy/Dolan faction hired the Jesse Evans Gang, while McSween and Tunstall hired a quasi-official law enforcement gang called “The Regulators” under the tutelage of cattleman John Chisum.

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Enter a young, good looking, quiet, polite teenager named William Henry McCarty, Jr., also known as William H. Bonney.  McCarty was an orphan, his mother having died several years earlier.  He was known to be a jovial boy, studious, with a good singing voice, and could make people laugh with his jokes.  However, to make his way in the world, “The Kid,” as he was known, took to theft, including horse theft.  He learned how to handle a gun and was very prolific.

Billy made the acquaintance of cattleman John Chisum, known to take in young “strays,” providing them with food, education, a roof, and guns in exchange for work as “cowboys.”  Billy quickly rose to the top of Chisum’s “Regulators” pecking order and became a Chisum favorite.

Tensions between Andrew McSween and Lawrence Murphy continued to grow.  Under the orders of Murphy, John Tunstall (McSween’s partner) was murdered by the Brady deputies.  The murder was witnessed by several “Regulators,” including Billy, who went into a rage, took out a rifle and killed both deputies.  Billy, who was known to have a temper, later confronted Brady as both walked down Main Street.  Brady tried to dismiss it, so the Kid pulled out his gun and shot Brady dead.

The killings continued unabated for several months, climaxing in the “Battle of Lincoln,” a four-day gunfight and siege.  As the “war” escalated, the Murphy/Dolan faction, backed by the “official” law, brought in the Army and surrounded the McSween faction and the Regulators.  McSween and the Regulators were trapped in McSween’s house (and the Ellis store) where several Regulators were killed. McSween was killed in the gun battle and and the house burned to the ground.  The remaining Regulators (including Billy) barely escaped with their lives and scattered across the landscape.

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With a $500 bounty on his head Billy the Kid fled the county.  Newly elected sheriff Pat Garrett made it his mission in life to capture the Kid.  Garrett, from the time of his election, spent very little time in Lincoln County, trailing Billy all over New Mexico.  Garrett finally tracked Billy to a little town called Stinking Springs and after a bloody shootout Billy was arrested.

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Billy was tried and sentenced to hanging.

With his execution scheduled for May 13, 1878, Billy the Kid was transported back to Lincoln and held in the Lincoln County Courthouse, under guard by two of Garrett’s deputies, James Bell and Robert Ollinger.  He was held on the top floor, which had no jail cells.  He was handcuffed and shackled and held at gunpoint waiting for the sentence to be carried out.

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On April 28, Pat Garrett was out of town shopping for lumber to build a gallows to hang the Kid.

Billy, being very clever and stealthy, had made several escapes from jail in the past.  He had a reputation for making a getaway without being caught.  Billy had a secret: he had large wrists and small hands, and was able to easily slip in and out of handcuffs without ever being noticed.

On this day, Billy was alone on the second floor of the courthouse.  Bell was downstairs and Ollinger was across the street.  He slipped his cuffs and took out a gun that had been secretly hidden for him on his last trip to the outhouse.  He quietly waited for Deputy Bell to come up the stairs.  As he heard him come around the corner, he politely apologized to Bell for what he was about to do, then promptly shot him dead.  The bullet hole remains at the foot of the stairs. Bell staggered to the door and exited, falling dead outside.  A stone marks the spot where he died in the yard just outside.

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Deputy Ollinger, eating lunch in the nearby Wortley Hotel, heard the shots.  He knew what was happening.  He realized he had left his new rifle in the courthouse and muttered to the people around him that he was about to die.  Billy shot Ollinger from a second-story window with Ollinger’s own rifle as he approached the courthouse.

Billy stunned the territory by killing both of his guards and escaping on a stolen horse, riding off to live another day.

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In Ft Sumber at Pete Maxwell’s  place                  (someone known by both Billy and Garrett) on the warm moonlit night of July 14, 1881, Pat Garrett would shoot and kill Billy the Kid…. or did he?   Contrary to the fashion and procedures of the day where famous / infamous outlaws were photographed and displayed in their coffins, Billy was quickly buried without fanfare and confirmation. In fact, an arrest warrant was issue for his arrest more than a year after he was supposedly killed?

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Young Brushy Bill

Now Comes Brushy Bill

In 1949, an aging man called Ollie L. “Brushy Bill” Roberts, who lived in Hamilton County, Texas, about 100 miles southwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, declared that Pat Garrett had not killed Billy the Kid that night in Fort Sumner.  Brush Bill contended, Garrett had killed another man, whose name was Billy Barlow. Brushy Bill claimed that he was the real Billy the Kid. He said that he, in fact, had escaped and fled Fort Sumner.                               Five people who had known Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War were contacted.  Each of them, separately, met Brushy Bill in person.  All five witnesses signed sworn affidavits stating that Brushy Bill Roberts was indeed Billy the Kid.                           Brushy Bill suffered a heart attack and died on a street in Hico, Texas on December 27, 1950. Was Brushy Bill Roberts the notorious outlaw, Billy the Kid?  His friends and neighbors believe so and have even erected a memorial in his honor which reads, “…he spent the last days of his life trying to prove to the world his true identity.  We believe his story and pray to God for the forgiveness he solemnly asked for.

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The question of whether Pat Garrett really shot Billy the Kid that night in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom remains unanswered to this to this day.

The Legend, Mystery and Romance lives on….

For fellow blogger John Siebelink

 

15 comments

    • Thank you so much! I did also, just like you and loved so much that it’s been preserved through all this time. It really is as though you step through time and right into one of those old westerns we used to watch!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. […] Lincoln NM, the setting of the Lincoln County wars, lays preserved as it had in those bygone days.  The courthouse still stands as it had when Billy was jailed there and the bullet hole remains at the foot of the stairs where he killed Deputy Bell.  For more about Lincoln, see my post:  Chasing Billy […]

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  2. […] Lincoln NM,  a tiny town much preserved as it was during the Lincoln County wars.  The courthouse  where William Bonney aka Billy the Kid, was jail and he infamously killed deputy Bell on the stairwell and sheriff Ollinger from the window.  I see “Young Guns” in my head and hear the words, “I’ll make you famous”.  Lincoln is one of my favorite all time places.  You can read about it and see the pictures in my post “Chasing Billy“. […]

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  3. Wow, wow, wow! I knew a little of The Kid’s story but I did not know the end twist and I did not know that he had big wrists and small hands (what a thing to have and be able to use to your advantage so cunningly) …. so much to love in this post for a girl who grew up obsessed with the Wild West but being English it was quite hard to satisfy properly. I am absolutely DEtermined to get down and see these places for myself that you describe so eloquently. I promise I will behave decorously at all times but boy will I have excited child stamped all over me! 😜

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    • Lincoln is one of my all time favorite places! I grew up in a times of tv westerns and ran through yards on broomstick horses, playing cowboys and indians. Being the daintly princess that I was, what I wanted more than anything on earth for my 6th birthday way a holster. Lol. I still remember getting it….2 silver 6 shooters (pop guns) with antler grips in a black holster adorned with silver conchos that had a plastic ruby in the center and ornate silver buckle. Hahaha
      It was only natural that I’d have a romance with billy the kid and lincoln. 😊

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      • I’m right there with you. Back in the time when I couldn’t wait for the Sears and JCPenny Christmas catalogues arrived! I’d keep them all year just to visualize myself being those kids in the pictures holding the western guns, saving the princess from the dragon

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      • Oops. I hate when I hit that darn reply button before I am done. Anyway dressed in one of those knight costumes saving the princess. But I always went back to being Billy the Kid in the black hat, waving the guns around. (That all ended after I got shot by a B.B. gun and my fear of guns took control) 😕

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      • Awwww. That hurts! It was great times through….when kids actually went outside to play and used their imaginations. My mom have have a different opinion though. My grandmother was watching me dancing in the front yard through the window. She called my mom over to see. ” Isn’t that so cute?” She said grinning. My mom laughing, asked ” what’s is that on her head?” Grandma just laughed. The dawning realization changed moms smile into horror. It was her little black bra, cups on the top of my head, tied under my chin! I was Mickey Mouse! Lol
        Mom follows my blog ….think I’ll blog about that! Hahaha

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      • Yep, considering it is still lodged in my head some 30 years later, its a constant reminder! I think that would be ab amazing subject! I am happy to say that I largely avoided the bra as Mickey ears hat wearing days, when I was younger. 🤭😛 But, that was very inventive. I am impressed!

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