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Ruidoso, New Mexico

The story behind the legend of Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid Historian -  Drew Gomber
Target practice at the Flying J Ranch
Mountain overlook on horseback.

The story of the Lincoln County Wars and Billy the Kid has all of the elements that made the West wild. The story starts with a group of ex-army men from the bloody Civil War that was running the town with monopolistic zeal. The prize was not only the profitable main store, but also lucrative government cattle contracts.

The Trial of Billy the Kid
For all of the murders and countless other offenses committed during the Lincoln County War on both sides, Billy the Kid was the only person ever charged with breaking the law. An incredibly unjust thing, especially considering he was just one of six gunmen in the shooting for which he was charged. This made him a fugitive and he became the leader of a small gang of rustlers that terrorized the county until he was caught in December of 1880. Billy was tried and sentenced to hang.

Billy's escape into legend
Well known throughout New Mexico on the afternoon of April 28, 1881 he catapulted himself into international legend when he escaped from jail. During the jailbreak, he killed a guard that had taunted him constantly about the pains of death by hanging and had dared Billy to try to breakout so he could shoot him. As a testament to how well liked he was in Lincoln, he stayed around for an hour making a speech to the locals and then went around shaking hands. He left town singing on a borrowed horse that he actually returned as he promised he would.

Billy is hunted down
The official record states that 76 days after his escape, Billy the Kid was shot through the heart in a darkened room by lawman Pat Garrett. Life expectancy in the west, due to this lawlessness was short. Many of the men killed in the Lincoln County War had not turned 20 yet. There are many people in Lincoln County that knew Billy the Kid and believe that Billy escaped to Texas.

Billy was a kid
Billy's exact age is not known. It is thought that he was about 17, when Tunstill was murdered and was killed at the ripe old age of 21. Short violent lives were common in the Wild West, but at least two of Billy's gang lived into their late 80's or early 90's. The last died in 1947 , after the first nuclear explosions in New Mexico ushered the world into the nuclear age.

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