Getting to Know the Real Billy the Kid
Henry McCarty, AKA William H. Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid lived a short life to become such a mysterious and legendary figure. You may think you already know Billy the Kid, but there’s a lot that you might not be aware of about this prolific New Mexico outlaw. Following are some interesting facts and details that will help you get to know the real Billy the Kid.
Billy the Kid was Raised by a Single Mother Until the Age of 14
While Billy the Kid met his end on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, he was not a New Mexico native. In fact, he was born in 1859 in the New York City slums, and was raised by his single mother. He spent some of his childhood in Wichita, Kansas, and didn’t move to New Mexico until the 1870’s. Sadly, his mother passed away in 1874 from tuberculosis, and he was orphaned at the age of 14. This may have a lot to do with what ultimately led to his short life of crime. Henry, as he was still called at the time, spent his earliest teenage years in boardinghouses and foster homes, quickly becoming involved with criminal friends.
Henry Became Billy the Kid in 1877 After His First Murder at Age 17
Billy the Kid was Henry McCarty until the year of his first murder in 1877. This was not his first crime, though. He was a petty thief by 1875, and was first arrested that same year for stealing clothing from a laundry. McCarty escaped punishment for that crime by using a chimney to get out of the jailhouse. He quickly left town to avoid being recaptured, and then began his short career as a gang member and gunslinger. He was also known to gamble and briefly worked as a ranch hand. The first man he killed was in Arizona in a bar fight. After that incident, he started calling himself William H. Bonney, which eventually transformed to the name we all know him by, ‘Billy the Kid.’ In 1878, he was involved in the frontier war in Lincoln County, New Mexico, and his reputation began to grow.
The Kid was Known for His Baby Face, Mellow Nature, and at Least 9 Murders
In the space of five years, between 1877 and 1881, Billy the Kid was involved with at least nine murders. At least four of those he committed with his own hands. This is a sharp contrast to his most notable and memorable characteristics, which include a baby face and a nature that was generally mellow and even tempered. That calm personality and childlike face, combined with his short stature and the fact that he was only 21 years old when he died, ensured his legacy to be forever known as ‘Billy the Kid.’
Billy the Kid Has Been Portrayed in More than 50 Different Movies Since 1911
The first time Billy the Kid was portrayed in a movie was in a silent 1911 film, when he was played by Tefft Johnson. If he hadn’t been shot and killed in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, by Sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid would have been 51 years old at the time of the first movie based on his life and crimes. His legend survived until the invention of television and movies through oral tradition and cheap novels. He’s been the star character in 52 movies and several TV shows, since then. His character has been brought to life by some of the most well loved actors. Emilio Estevez, Paul Newman, Kris Krisofferson, Val Kilmer, and Roy Rogers are just a few examples of famous actors who have been Billy the Kid.