Henry McCarty is believed to be born to an Irish immigrant named Catherine McCarty. Although the identity of his father is uncertain, Henry probably lived alone with his mother in the slums of New York City before moving to Indianapolis some time in the next decade.
Catherine McCarty marries William Antrim in Santa Fe, New Mexico. By this time, Catherine has developed tuberculosis, and before long the family settles in Silver City to take advantage both of the local mining opportunities and of the better climate.
After being confined to bed for months, Catherine McCarty Antrim dies of tuberculosis. Henry's stepfather expresses little interest in raising the teenage boy, and Henry will move in to a local boardinghouse run by Mrs. Sarah Brown.
Henry is arrested for his role in a theft with his boardinghouse mate George Schaefer. According to the legend, Henry acted as a lookout while Schaefer robbed a Chinese laundry operator, stealing clothing and two pistols. Henry is charged with larceny and incarcerated.
Shimmying up through the chimney, Henry escapes from the county jail and probably heads out to Chloride Flats where his stepfather is mining. At just 15, Henry begins his life as an outlaw.
Henry's escape makes the Silver City Herald the following day -- it is the first story ever published about him.
After Henry travels 500 miles in the New Mexican desert alone, Antrim reportedly gives Henry money and tells him to leave town.
Henry arrives near Camp Grant in the Arizona territory, looking for work. He picks up some jobs on ranches in the area and earns the notorious label Kid, a common nickname for juvenile delinquents.
The Kid quickly lives up to his moniker by gambling frequently and falling in with a gang led by local criminal John R. Mackie, who was known as a horse thief and suspected murderer.
Along with Mackie, the Kid is arrested under the name "Henry Antrim alias Kid." The men are charged stealing three horses belonging to soldiers. Despite being shackled, the Kid manages to escape while guards are attending a local dance.
The Kid brazenly returns to the area near Camp Grant, AZ, and joins a poker game where he exchanges insults with blacksmith Francis "Windy" Cahill. When Cahill reportedly pins Henry to the ground and slaps him, the Kid shoots Cahill. The Kid then flees back to the New Mexico Territory. Cahill will die the following day.
Kid Antrim subsequently links up with a group of thieves south of Silver City. This band, known as "the boys," was part of a large outlaw network, a sort of organized crime syndicate of the Southwest.
The Kid assumes the alias William H. Bonney.
He is arrested and jailed in Lincoln County for possessing horses belonging to cattleman John Tunstall. Upon the Kid's release, however, the 24-year-old Tunstall hires him to work as a cowboy and gunman on his ranch.
Tunstall leaves his ranch with the Kid and four other men, transporting nine horses to Lincoln. On their way, a posse (possibly including James Dolan, Billy Matthews, Jesse Evans and Buckshot Roberts) orders Tunstall's livestock seized on behalf of Sheriff Brady. When Tunstall approaches the posse, members of the posse shoot and kill Tunstall.
This event instigates what will come to be known as the legendary Lincoln County War.
Dick Brewer, Tunstall's foreman, is appointed "special constable" by justice of the peace John Wilson, giving Brewer the power to make arrests. He immediately forms a group called the Regulators, a deputized posse that includes Billy the Kid. The Regulators consider themselves a lawful posse with license to avenge the murder of Tunstall, and they are paid $4 a day in their quest for revenge.
Wasting little time, the Regulators capture three members of Dolan's posse. On route to the jail in Lincoln all three prisoners are killed.
New Mexico Governor Samuel Beach Axtell visits Lincoln out of concern over the mayhem and cancels Squire Wilson's appointment as justice of the peace, effectively turning the Regulators into outlaws.
The Kid and five other Regulators position themselves in a corral hidden by a 10-foot wall. As Sheriff Brady walks down the street they open fire, killing him and a deputy in retaliation for Tunstall's death. During the fight, the Kid is shot in the thigh, but he escapes.
Three days later, Buckshot Roberts tracks the Regulators down. Both he and Dick Brewer will be killed.
Over the next three months, the violence escalates on both sides. Several more people are killed, but in the courtrooms, only Regulators are indicted for any of the murders.
The fighting peaks with the Five-Day War. In Lincoln, 60 Regulators fight a gun battle against James Dolan, Sheriff George Peppin and about 40 of their men.
After five days of fighting, Army cavalry and infantry companies ride into Lincoln with a rapid-fire Gatling gun, 2,000 rounds of ammunition, and a 12-pound mountain howitzer. Despite claiming to remain neutral, the Army aims their cannon at the Regulators, and threatens to "blow the house away" if anyone inside fires. Several Regulators flee, diminishing their ranks to 13.
Sheriff Peppin surrounds the house, setting it on fire and calling for surrender. Taking command, the Kid tries to save the others by making a run for it and causing a diversion, but it is not successful. During the firefight later dubbed "the big killing," most of the remaining Regulators are killed and the Dolan faction claims victory.
President Rutherford B. Hayes appoints Lew Wallace as governor of the New Mexico Territory in hopes that he can restore order. Governor Wallace soon issues a proclamation of amnesty for all parties involved in the Lincoln County War, except those currently under indictment. Unfortunately for the Kid, the murders of Sherriff Brady and Buckshot Roberts prevent him from receiving pardon.
On the one-year anniversary of Tunstall's murder, the Kid and four others ride to Lincoln to meet with Jimmy Dolan and four of his men. The meeting nearly turns violent, but ultimately both sides meet in the center of the road, shake hands, and sign an agreement to stop testifying against or killing each other. It is also agreed that if anyone violates the pact "he should be killed on sight."
Governor Wallace receives the first of several letters from the Kid. In his letter the Kid says, "I have no wish to fight any more. Indeed I have not raised an arm since your proclamation. As to my character, I refer to any of the citizens, for the majority of them are my friends and have been helping me all they could. I am called Kid Antrim but Antrim is my stepfathers name. Waiting for an annser I remain your obedeint servant." [sic]
Wallace replies to the Kid's letter telling him to appear at Squire Wilson's house in Lincoln at a specific date and time. Wallace also writes, "I have the authority to exempt you from prosecution, if you will testify to what you know... If you could trust Jesse Evans, you can trust me."
The Kid appears before the grand jury and testifies that Jimmy Dolan and Billy Campbell killed Chapman. In return, "I will let you go scot free with a pardon in your pockets for all your misdeeds," Wallace tells the Kid. After having seen the Kid interact with the public, Wallace realizes what a popular figure he is.
Dolan and Campbell are indicted for murder and Jesse Evans is named an accessory. In all, more than 200 indictments are returned against 50 men. But only a few would ever come close to going to trial -- many took advantage of the governor's amnesty or were released on writs of habeas corpus. Others disappeared. Those with ties to the Santa Fe Ring, such as Dolan, Peppin, and Dudley, won acquittals or had the charges dropped. After Dudley's acquittal the Kid leaves town.
The Kid rides to New Mexico, arriving in Las Vegas where, according to his friend Henry Hoyt, the Kid dines with notorious Missouri outlaw Jesse James.
Back in New Mexico, the Kid poses awkwardly for the only photo ever taken of him. Billy's lover Paulita Maxwell later claims that she never liked the picture, claiming it does not do him justice.
In a saloon in Fort Sumner, the Kid shoots and kills a local drunk during an argument.
A posse tracks the Kid and his gang back to a ranch between Vegas and White Oaks where a gun battle breaks out. A popular White Oaks blacksmith, Jim Carlyle, is shot while entering the house to discuss terms of surrender with the Kid. Both sides blame the other for Carlyle's death.
J. H. Koogler, the editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Gazette, publishes an editorial in which he refers to the Kid for the first time as "Billy the Kid." Koogler continues writing articles that embellish the Kid's exploits, helping promulgate the Kid's reputation as a Western outlaw.
The Kid writes Governor Wallace and vigorously denies that he or any of his men shot Jim Carlyle. Despite the Kid's pleas of innocence, Wallace publishes a notice in the New Mexico newspapers three days later. "$500 Reward. Notice is hereby given that five hundred dollars reward will be paid for the delivery of Bonney alias 'The Kid' to the sheriff of Lincoln County."
Five days later, Sheriff Pat Garrett and his men ambush the Regulators after luring them back to town with false information. But the Kid escapes back to his hideout with most of his gang intact.
Garrett's men track down the Kid's hideout and surround the one-room, stone house. After a day of banter between the Kid and Garrett, the Kid and his men surrender, allegedly drawn out by the aroma of bacon and beans from Garrett's posse.
Over the next few days -- after a soulful goodbye to his sweetheart, Paulita Maxwell -- Garrett brings the Kid to Las Vegas, where he is the talk of the town.
The Las Vegas Gazette publishes a jailhouse interview with the Kid. In it the Kid is quoted as saying, "What's the use of looking on the gloomy side of everything? The laugh's on me this time."
The trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady begins in Santa Fe. Albert Jennings Fountain, who had written scalding editorials on Billy's former gang, is chosen to represent the Kid.
After only two days of testimony, both sides of the case rest. The jury returns a guilty verdict for first degree murder, and the Kid is sentenced to die on May 13.
He will be the only person convicted for any crimes from the Lincoln County War.
While awaiting execution in the Lincoln jail, the Kid asks his guard to take him to the toilet. During the trip, the Kid gains possession of the guard's gun and kills him. From Sheriff Garrett's office, the Kid then grabs a 10-gauge shotgun, takes aim out a jailhouse window at the second guard who is walking across the street, and kills him. The Kid knocks the shackles off his legs with a pickax and flees on a stolen horse.
The next day, word of the Kid's escape inspires hundreds of news stories and pulp articles around the world.
Sheriff Garrett and his two best deputies slip into Fort Sumner in the early evening to look for the Kid after reportedly hearing a rumor that Paulita Maxwell was pregnant with the Kid's child. Near midnight the men enter the gate of the Maxwell house and stand on the porch. Garrett enters Pete Maxwell's room, sitting near the head of the bed. The Kid, spotting the deputies on the porch, pulls his gun from his waistband and whispers, "Quien es?" [Who is it?] as he backs towards Maxwell's door. Maxwell whispers to Garrett, "El es" [It's him], and Garrett pulls out his gun and fires twice, killing the Kid.
A coroner's jury rules that the Kid's death was justifiable homicide. In the afternoon a procession follows the wagon carrying the coffin to nearby Fort Sumner cemetery. The Kid is buried near two of his fallen brethren.
By railroad and telegraph lines, news of the Kid's death travels worldwide as The Times of London runs a reprint of his obituary. Garrett receives international acclaim and the Kid's story makes headlines in hundreds of newspapers.
Pulp novel "The Authentic Life of Billy The Kid" immortalizes Billy the Kid in legend. Although the author appears as Pat Garrett, a newspaper journalist ghostwrites the book, which is more myth than fact.
Writer O. Henry bases his western-hero fictional character The Cisco Kid on Billy the Kid. The Cisco Kid will appear dozens of times in books, radio programs, and movies, becoming a cultural icon during the six-season television series "The Cisco Kid" in the 1950s.
Walter Noble Burns publishes the book "The Saga of Billy the Kid," portraying Billy the Kid as a hero. The book instantly gains widespread popularity and becomes a Book of the Month Club offering.
Billy comes to epitomize the romantic Old West as the wild American frontier continues to shrink.
Burns' book is turned into a movie, starring Johnny Mack Brown as Billy the Kid. In the movie, Brown carries the actual pistols that belonged to Billy the Kid loaned to the studio by William S. Hart. The film is so popular that it will be remade in 1941.
Woody Guthrie, most known for the song "This Land is Your Land," records the song "Billy the Kid" in his series Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings.
The Kid's Tombstone is set in place in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Ignoring his birth name, the tombstone depicts his name as "William H. Bonney." In the decades following its placement, the tombstone will be stolen twice. Today, the entire gravesite is enclosed in a steel cage.
In The Left-Handed Gun, Paul Newman plays Billy the Kid as a madman.
The Tall Man series premieres on NBC depicting fictionalized stories about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid set in New Mexico. The series will last for 75 episodes and captivate American audiences across the country.
One-Eye Jacks stars Marlon Brando whose character is based on the Kid.
Michael Ondaatje's "The Collected Work of Billy the Kid: Left-handed Poems" wins the Governor General's Award for experimental poetry. Described as historiographic metafiction, the text contains poetry, prose, and images from both historical and pop-culture sources. Following the outstanding reception by critics, the work was adapted into a play in 1973.
The movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid premieres with Bob Dylan providing the soundtrack and an identically titled album.
Young Guns stars Emilio Estevez as the Kid, mixing facts and myth, and reigniting Billy the Kid fever. A box office success, the movie features Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Philips. Young Guns II will follow in 1990.
The bones of John Miller, one of several men who claimed to be Billy the Kid, are disinterred in Arizona. Scientists compare the DNA with samples from blood believed to be from the real Billy the Kid. No test results have been made public, but in 2008 a lawsuit will be filed to release the findings.
Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who had been considering a posthumous pardon for Billy the Kid on the premise that it would follow through on the purported 1879 promise made by Governor Lew Wallace, announces on his last day in office that he will not pardon McCarty. He cites "historical ambiguity."
The only existing tintype of Billy the Kid sells for $2.3 million at an auction in Colorado. The buyer, a 71-year-old businessman from Florida named William Koch, also owns guns once belonging to General George Custer and Jesse James. He plans to display the photo only in a few small museums.
Billy the Kid holds the record for the most motion pictures made on a single individual in filmmaking history.
My American Experience
From Billy the Kid to Wyatt Earp, and George Custer to Geronimo, the real-life people who helped tame the west would shape the western heroes celebrated in film and television for decades.