Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Silver City, New Mexico History Part II - Billy the Kid

The Silver City/Billy the Kid Connection

William H. Bonney, better know as Billy the Kid, achieved his claim to fame through his involvement in the Lincoln County War between ranchers in northern New Mexico. Prior to the Lincoln County “bloodbath”, however, Billy the Kid made a name for himself in and around Silver City, New Mexico.

Born in New York City, Billy’s mother, Catherine McCarty, married William Antrim in Santa Fe in 1873. Then about 12 years old, the family moved to Silver City to take advantage of the newest and richest mining district in the area.

Billy’s stepfather soon purchased a house in town to install his family while he went off gallivanting about the countryside searching for silver and gold. Legend has it the young lad's real name was Henry McCarty and attended a local school. According to one classmate, Henry (Billy) was very small and rather effeminate, with dark hair and eyes, and an avid reader.

Billy’s mother died in 1874 and she was buried in Memory Lane Cemetery in Silver City. Her grave still stands to this day and it a popular tourist attraction. According to legend, it didn’t take long for Billy to turn to a life of crime. He began with theft – stealing butter from the hotel he worked at and then robbing a Chinese laundry. The fifteen-year-old was incarcerated in the local jail but quickly escaped by contorting his slender body to fit through the chimney.

Some have claimed that Billy the Kid killed his first man in Silver City, but historical records show that this happened, instead, in Arizona. To escape the murder charge, he returned to New Mexico and quickly became embroiled in the Lincoln County War. This may be when he adopted the name William Bonney and it is speculated he used his mother's maiden name in conjunction with his stepfather's first name to come up with this new moniker.

While I was growing up, I was always told Billy’s mother's grave was located in Pinos Altos in front of a small house with an orchard in front. Some stories claim the grave site was moved to town later. I can find no records which verify this claim, but it made for a nice story. Pinos Altos is a rather spooky place anyway - I'll relate some tales from my youth in a later post.

It is extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Billy the Kid, but no matter what you believe, you can’t deny that Billy the Kid’s story is one which conjures up romantic, and violent, images of the old West.

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