The Brutal Death Of Billy The Kid

Billy the Kid, who went by several different names in the course of his relatively short life, had a reputation. He'd been a loyal soldier in a New Mexico range war, been arrested for petty theft (and escaped), and stolen cattle and horses as needed. He was described as slight, cheerful, funny, charming, and witty. He loved to dance and sing and enjoyed a good joke, while fluent in at least two languages.

Oh, and he shot people. Shot them dead.

As Alexander Pope told us, "hope springs eternal in the human breast," and Billy's breast was no exception. In 1879, he tried what can only be described as a Hail Mary pass: he wrote to the territorial governor of New Mexico, General Lew Wallace, offering to testify in a murder trial if the governor would "annul" indictments that arose from Billy's actions during the aforementioned range war. (Fun fact: Wallace wrote the novel Ben-Hur, which eventually gave us Charlton Heston.) The two men actually met and struck a bargain. A fake arrest was staged, but while Billy was in fake custody, the local district attorney revoked the deal with Wallace and it became real custody. After a few weeks behind bars, Billy again escaped and returned to joshing, rustling, and shooting.

Pat Garrett took down Billy the Kid

The local sheriff was Pat Garrett, who got to know Billy while the young outlaw was behind bars. After the escape Garrett was encouraged by local ranching interests to stop Billy, one way or another. (Not the families of Billy's victims, mind you, but ranchers. Because cows.)

Garrett finally caught up with The Kid in the Fort Sumner, New Mexico house of Pete Maxwell. It was the night of July 14, 1881. According to Robert M. Utley's Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life, Billy was hungry and stepped out to cut a slice of meat, when Pat Garrett arrived and entered the house. Billy returned to the residence, pistol in one hand and knife in the other, and sensed someone inside in the dark. Usually Billy was quick on the trigger, but not this time. He asked repeatedly, in Spanish, "Who is it?" Garrett fired twice at the voice and heard groaning, and then Billy was dead, his weapon unfired, never knowing who killed him. He was just 21.

The body was cleaned and dressed and buried the next day in the town's cemetery.