Western Trips

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Billy The Kid Tour of New Mexico

The story of outlaw Billy the Kid is one that has endured well over 125 years. Much of his story has to do with his involvement in the infamous Lincoln County War in New Mexico, his killing of Sheriff Pat Brady in the town of Lincoln, his pursuit by lawman Pat Garrett and his demise at the hands of Garret at a ranch outside of Fort Sumner New Mexico in 1881.

Western Trips has visited some of the sites involved in this story which can be visited today as part of your next New Mexico travel adventure. In many ways the story of Billy the Kid and the violent period of the Lincoln County War tells part of the story of early New Mexico Territory and the lawlessness of the latter half of the 1800's.

Tourists with an interest in old west history will enjoy traveling to some of the historic sites we have described below.

Who Was Billy the Kid?

Often times there are several versions of events when it comes to tales of the old west. The story of Billy the Kid is no different and perhaps the most controversial of all.  Controversy exists to this present day as to where he was actually born, his high crimes and the circumstances of his demise at the hands of a New Mexico lawman in 1881. Our brief version of events are the closest we have found to represent the most accurate account.

There has always been a degree of controversy as to what Billy the Kids real name was. While he went by the name of William H. Bonney, the Kid was thought to have been born William Henry McCarty Jr. around 1859. His birthplace has been speculated as New York City but there has never been proof of this.

billy the kid log cabin
1870's log cabin, Silver City NM
Billy the Kids mother remarried and moved to Silver City New Mexico around 1873 where her son took the last name of his new stepfather and went by the name of Henry McCarty Antrim. While in Silver City Billy attended the Sixth Street Elementary School. After Billy's mother died of consumption in 1874 he left Silver City and his stepfather for Arizona and lived and worked on his own.

Trouble was not far away and after the Kid fell in with the wrong crowd he found himself in a fight in Arizona where he killed his first man. This was at the age of sixteen. This was his start in a life of crime.Shortly after Billy drifted back to New Mexico Territory and Lincoln County and became a cattle rustler.

The Billy the Kid Cabin in Silver City New Mexico

Silver City New Mexico is a very scenic and historic old town of New Mexico which is a great stop to add to your travel planner. The town was named Silver City because rich deposits of chloride silver were discovered just west of town during the 1870's. Located about 230 miles south of Albuquerque and about 40 miles west of Interstate 25, Silver City is the jumping off point to some of the most popular attractions in New Mexico. 

See our Western Trips article about Silver City and it's nearby attractions on the link below...

A Visit to Silver City New Mexico

When you visit the historic district of Silver City you'll be able to explore a log cabin from the movie set of "The Missing" and donated to Silver City by the film's director Ron Howard. The cabin is at the site of the Murray Ryan Visitors Center which is also the site where Billy and his mother lived.

old santa fe jail site
Old Santa Fe Jail site
The New Mexico Jails That Held Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse in December 1880. After the arrest he was taken to Santa Fe and locked up in the old Santa Fe jail. Billy had actually lived for a time in Santa Fe New Mexico with his mother and did have acquaintances there. One of his jobs in Santa Fe was as a dishwasher at what is now the La Fonda Hotel on the plaza.

Billy the Kid was to stand trial for the murders of Sheriff William Brady and a man named Buckshot Roberts of Lincoln County. The trial however was transferred to Mesilla New Mexico and Garret and his men transported him there. The Kid was found guilty in the April 1881 Mesilla trial and was sentenced to hang. Because the murders took place in Lincoln County the execution was scheduled to occur there on May 13, 1881. Once again Sheriff Garrett and his men transported Billy back to Lincoln. While awaiting his execution date the Kid grabbed a jail guards shotgun and killed him. After shooting and killing another guard he stole a horse and escaped Lincoln.

The locations of the jails in New Mexico that held Billy the Kid can be visited today.  A lot of research was done to pinpoint the exact location of the old Santa Fe jail.  Walk west down San Francisco Street and you’ll come upon a plaque on the side of a building on the south side of the street. This plaque marks the site of the old Santa Fe jail that at one time, and probably more than once, housed the infamous Billy the Kid.

See our Western Trips tour of Mesilla New Mexico on the link below...

Mesilla NM and the Mesilla Valley

old jail mesilla new mexico
Old courthouse and jail, Mesilla NM
In Mesilla which is located just a few miles outside Las Cruces and about 45 miles north of El Paso Texas is one of the oldest settlements in southern New Mexico. It was here where Billy the Kid was jailed and tried for murder. The old building built around 1850 that served as the courthouse and jail is on the southeast corner of the Mesilla plaza. Today the building serves as the Billy the Kid Gift Shop. Mesilla New Mexico is easy to reach with both Interstate 10 and Interstate 25 close by.

In the old town of Lincoln, once the county seat of the very large Lincoln County, is the old Lincoln County Courthouse and Jail. This was the jail where Billy the Kid was transported to after his Mesilla trail and from where he escaped before his date with the executioner. Lincoln was made famous during one of the most violent years in New Mexico history during the period of the Lincoln County War. The war was so bloody,widespread and long that federal troops were sent in to try to restore order. Some of the troops sent in were part of the Buffalo Soldiers regiments.

courthouse and jail lincoln new mexico
Old courthouse and jail, Lincoln NM
Visitors to Lincoln today can tour the old courthouse and jail and explore exhibits which detail events during the Lincoln County War. Lincoln is located about 57 miles west of Roswell New Mexico via U.S. Hwy 380.

The End of the Line at Fort Sumner

Fort Sumner New Mexico is located 166 miles southwest of Amarillo Texas and about 158 miles east of Albuquerque NM. It is also about 44 miles southeast of Santa Rosa NM and Interstate 40.

It was at a ranch near Fort Sumner that Sheriff Pat Garrett hunted down Billy the Kid and shot him dead. Fort Sumner is also the location of Billy the Kid's grave site.

See our Western Trips article on Fort Sumner on the link below...

Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo

billy the kid gravesite
Billy the Kid grave site, Fort Sumner NM

Adjacent to the Billy the Kid grave site is the Old Fort Sumner Museum, one of two museums in Fort Sumner, with a very large collection of frontier artifacts and firearms from the 1800's and interesting items and information concerning Billy directly. This site is about 4 miles east from the center of Fort Sumner. It is about one-half mile south of U.S. 60/84 on Billy the Kid Road.

The second museum, The Billy the Kid Museum, is on the main highway U.S. 60/84 (Sumner Ave.) which goes directly through Fort Sumner. The museum is about two miles east of Fort Sumner.  If you're a lover of old west history then the museums in Fort Sumner are very well worth a visit. Both museums are just a few miles apart and it's fun and convenient to visit both.

(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. NM map image and Lincoln Jail photo in public domain. Remaining photos from Western Trips collection)