Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Keaton from Lake Wales. Keaton Wonders, “Who was Billy the Kid?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Keaton!

What comes to mind when you think of the Wild West? Many imagine a world full of cowboys, saloons, and outlaws. You might picture Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, or Geronimo. Another name that might come up is Billy the Kid.

Who was Billy the Kid? Well, that depends on who you ask. Many people remember Billy the Kid as a dangerous outlaw. Others, however, believe that law enforcement in the Wild West treated him unfairly. 

People are still uncertain about many facts of Billy the Kid’s life. He was born in September or November 1859 or 1860. His birth name may have been William Henry McCarty. Or was it just Henry McCarty? Some think it was William H. Bonney, Jr. No one is quite sure.

Regardless, before he became known by his famous nickname, Billy the Kid called himself William Bonney. He was born in New York City and moved to Kansas and then Arizona. When he was 14 or 15, his mother died of tuberculosis. His father was either already dead or nowhere to be found. This left Billy the Kid as an orphan.

The Kid turned to a life of crime early. Shortly after his mother’s death, he and his brother were arrested for stealing food and clothes. However, that crime would soon be the least of his worries. Billy soon became a leader of “The Regulators,” a Wild West gang of gunslingers

In 1878, The Regulators were involved in the Lincoln County War. This was a skirmish between two groups in Lincoln County, New Mexico. It started over rights to sell dry goods and cattle in the area. As casualties mounted, both sides sought revenge for fallen friends.

The Lincoln County War made Billy the Kid one of the most feared gunslingers in the area, a reputation that would cement his place in history. To help bring the feud to an end, Governor Lew Wallace offered amnesty for all those involved if they would lay down their guns.

The Regulators agreed. However, Billy the Kid was still charged for his crimes. Many in the area saw this as law enforcement going back on their word and breaking the promise of amnesty. The Kid was convicted in April 1881.

Was that the end of Billy the Kid? No, of course not! He escaped from the courthouse where he was being held. Billy the Kid spent the next few months hiding out in the homes of supporters all over New Mexico.

In July, the law caught up to him. Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett discovered he was hiding in the home of rancher Pete Maxwell. When Billy the Kid arrived home on the night of July 14, 1881, Sheriff Garrett shot him.

Sheriff Garrett then collected the $500 reward for Billy the Kid’s death. He also wrote a biography on the gunslinger’s life. Many refuted the account of the killing, believing that the sheriff had shot the wrong person. They said that Billy the Kid was still alive and well in the Wild West.

In fact, many people over the years have claimed to be the outlaw. One of the best known was Brushy Bill Roberts, a Texan who requested Billy the Kid’s pardon in 1950. Was Brushy Bill really Billy the Kid? No one knows for sure. But many believe he had a striking resemblance to old pictures of the outlaw.

Could the real Billy the Kid still be out there? Most historians say no. They believe the outlaw was killed and buried in 1881. However, many continue to disbelieve the official story. They like to think Billy the Kid lived on in the Wild West for many years. What do you think?

Standards: 3.D2.His.2, C3.D2.Civ.1, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1

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