It might be oversimplifying the legend of Billy the Kid to say he is an American version of Robin Hood, but the comparison is a valid one. Arguably the first “hero” or “outlaw” (depending on your perspective) of the Wild West, Billy the Kid was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett on 14th July 1881. He was only twenty-one years old.
Or was he?
Almost immediately following his death, there were rumors and rumblings that “The Kid” did not meet his demise as history stated he had. In more recent years he has been the subject of several conspiracy theories, and even legitimate investigations, as to exactly what happened to him in the summer of 1881 in New Mexico, and possibly in the years following.
Before we delve into some of the more interesting aspects of the character that was Billy The Kid, check out the documentary below that gives a good overview of the legend.
The Mystery At The Courthouse
According to Sherriff Pat Garrett’s version of events, following his original arrest, Billy escaped incarceration from Lincoln County Courthouse, in part, by shooting J.W. Bell in the back while he stood guard at the bottom of a set of stairs. However according to investigator Steven Sederwall, there is considerable doubt if this was actually what happened.
Using the chemical luminol (which will show traces of blood under ultraviolet light), a substantial amount of blood was found at the top of the stairs – even over one hundred years after the killing – and at the same time, not a drop was found at the bottom. While the blood isn’t forced to be Bell’s, there is no record of any other killings in the building, and more importantly the lack of blood at the bottom of the stairs suggests, innocently or not, Garrett’s version of what happened is not correct. Sederwall argued it was most likely that a struggle ensued and Billy killed Bell out of “necessity” rather than malice.
Further to Sederwall’s claims there is also discrepancy over how Billy obtained the gun he used. Records show that Bell’s gun was still in his holster when his body was discovered. This would suggest that Billy had not stolen it from Bell and used it to kill him as Garrett stated.
Various theories and versions of how Billy came to be in possession of a gun have circulated over the years, with one in particular being that a weapon may have been left for him in the outhouse of the court. Sederwall even went as far as to speculate that the weapon might very well have been left for him by Garratt himself.
He mentioned how highly suspect and questionable it was for Garrett to have left town for something so trivial as to “prepare the gallows”, leaving Billy – public enemy number one – in the charge of a deputy.
A quick look into both men’s past lends a little more credence to this theory.
Sheriff Pat Garrett’s “Connections” To Billy The Kid?
Perhaps conspiracy rumours circulated so strongly due to the fact that Pat Garrett and Billy were known to each other long before Garrett went out to apprehend the outlaw. The pair had both worked for Pete Maxwell on his ranch several years earlier. Although this part of the Billy the Kid legend is not in doubt, to what extent they knew each other, and exactly how friendly they were is very much up for debate.
If there was an “arrangement” between Garrett and Billy though, it surely shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Given the large reward that was being offered, and the fact that Garrett had desires on a political career after having spent his life as a Buffalo hunter and barkeeper, it is not inconceivable that the pair hatched a plot to have him apprehended, allowed to escape and then “disappear” to enjoy his half of the reward money in peace, while Garrett is labelled a hero and enjoys the attention as the “man who got The Kid!”
It has also long been assumed that Billy’s friend, Pete Maxwell, was the person who was responsible for “giving up” his friend to Pat Garrett. There were rumours that Billy was romantically involved with his sister and that this did not sit well with Maxwell. For some though, Maxwell, and his property simply presented an opportunity for all of them.
It is certainly possible that Maxwell’s farmhouse was an ideal “out of the way” place for Billy and Garrett to prepare and then put their plan into action. In another bizarre twist, one of the two deputies who were supposedly part of Garrett’s search team, was a cousin of Billy the Kid’s, and had, like Garrett and Billy, worked for Pete on the ranch.
Pay-offs and The Unidentified Mexican
According to a newspaper report, John Poe, one of the deputies with Garrett on the night Billy was supposedly killed, stated Garrett did not see Billy when he shot him, and instead claimed he knew it was him from his voice alone. Poe stated that Garrett himself appeared unsure if the person he had shot was actually Billy the Kid.
Billy was also speaking Spanish in the moments before he died, which although he was known to be fluent in, if he was speaking to Maxwell – which the official accounts state he was – then it is probable that he would have used English. Incidentally, Poe went on to become the next Sheriff of Lincoln County following Garrett. Make of that what you will.
So if the man wasn’t Billy the Kid who met his end that night from a bullet in Garrett’s gun, who was he?
Alleged descendants of Billy The Kid, as well as one particular person who claimed he was in fact the infamous outlaw (who we will get to later), all maintain that it was not Billy the Kid who was killed that evening on 14th July 1881, but an innocent Mexican man (some sources claim his name was Billy Barlow who was half-Mexican). Barlow just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Rather than admit to the tragic error, as well as having to continue his search for the outlaw, it is theorised by some that Garrett simply “passed the man off” as Billy the Kid.
Whether or not it was a genuine error, or whether the intention was for Billy to “escape” all along is the subject of much conversation – at least for those who don’t believe Garrett’s version of the story.
The video below looks at theories that Billy did in fact survive the shooting. Although it looks “greyed” out the video is live.
Other Notable Aspects Of The Kid Conspiracy
Billy’s body was put on “display” following his killing, but only close friends were asked to identify it. This point has been argued by many authors and investigators, and it is the kind of detail that conspiracy theorists thrive on.
If there was a conspiracy to allow Billy to escape unnoticed into a life of normalcy somewhere, then having only those close to him “identify” his body is one sure way of allowing him to make the world believe he is indeed dead.
Perhaps more interesting than the choice of people asked to identify his remains, was the fact that not one photograph was taken and offered to the rest of the world as proof of his killing. Is it just coincidence that Garrett – an otherwise organised man – neglected to do this?
The alleged grave of Billy the Kid has apparently completely flooded twice. So assuming for one moment that Garrett was telling the truth and this patch of land did indeed house the infamous American legend, it might not do so now. His body, or the remains of it, could have been sent miles away by the intruding waters.
His gravestone still sits where it always has however, now fenced off from the public due to the amount of people who wouldn’t be able to help themselves from chipping away a piece of it for a grim reminder of their visit.
Perhaps most suspect of all, particularly when the amount of inconsistencies in his story are examined, is that the only official account of the life and times of Billy the Kid, is that written by Pat Garrett himself, the man who claims to have killed him.
Those who subscribe to Garrett’s version of events though, point to the rather inglorious way “The Kid” met his end – rather than the incident being told as a gunfight to end all gunfights, with a scenario painted to make Garrett the all-American hero, he instead told a bland, almost gutless tale of shooting a man in the dark and without warning.
The short documentary below is interesting viewing as to just who did the shooting and who was shot.
William “Brushy Bill” Roberts – The “Real” Billy The Kid?
While several people have stepped into the public eye claiming to be “The Kid”, one of the most intriguing was a man named William Roberts – known to some as “Brushy Bill” – who sixty-nine years after Billy’s alleged death, claimed he was in fact rogue hero of the Wild West, and what’s more he was seeking a pardon for the crimes he had been charged with.
He appeared to know in detail facts about Billy’s life and, many years after his own death in 1950, his face was examined against the only known “official” photo of Billy the Kid, using techniques and programs that are accepted and utilised by the FBI, CIA and other high intelligence organisations. The results seemed to indicate that the faces matched, and Brushy Bill was indeed Billy the Kid.
A meeting was arranged between Roberts and the governor of New Mexico at the time of his claims. However, possibly realising the historic moment unfolding before him, the governor went on to turn the meeting into a media circus, inviting a whole host of characters to be present.
Roberts had a heart-attack shortly after the meeting began, and died several weeks later. He never received his pardon, nor was there any definite proof he was in fact, Billy The Kid. For now the legends and the theories will continue.
The recent documentary below explores some of the legends surrounding the first outlaw of the Wild West.
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