Every family has it’s black sheep, and I have recently found out that one of mine is that my 7th cousin 3 times removed is Billy the Kid. Most of the people in my family tree are good people, and many are presidents and even royalty, but there are still a few of them who were…a bit on the wild side. Billy the Kid was one of those. On September 23, 1875, William Henry McCarty was arrested for the first time after stealing a basket of laundry. I can’t imagine why he chose a basket of laundry, but that was his entry into the world of crime. The jails back then weren’t super secure, so Billy the Kid broke out of jail, and roamed the West, eventually earning a reputation as an outlaw and murderer and a rap sheet that allegedly included 21 murders.

No one really knows much about William’s birth, other than his name and approximate year of birth…between 1859 and 1861, in Indiana or New York. William’s dad was never in his life, and the family moved around a lot, living in Indiana, Kansas, Colorado and Silver City, New Mexico. His mother died in 1874 and Billy the Kid…who went by a variety of names throughout his life, including Kid Antrim and William Bonney…turned to crime soon afterward. I guess that explains the decision to steal a basket of laundry. There are criminals who start out as good people, and then circumstances in their life force them to do things they might not otherwise do. Then, once they are into it, there is no going back. Billy the Kid became a horse thief in Arizona before returning to New Mexico, where he hooked up with a gang of gunslingers and cattle rustlers involved in the notorious Lincoln County War between a rival rancher and merchant factions in Lincoln County in 1878. It would be this time period that would eventually get him a death sentence.

Billy the Kid wasn’t a big man, but rather had a slender build and prominent crooked front teeth. He loved to sing, and I have to wonder what he might have become had he chosen singing over crime. Nevertheless, after the Lincoln County War, he went on the lam and continued his outlaw’s life, stealing cattle and horses, gambling and killing people. His crimes earned him a bounty on his head and he was eventually captured and indicted for killing a sheriff during the Lincoln County War.

Sentenced to hang for his crime, Billy the Kid managed to escape from jail one more time, murdering two deputies in the process. His freedom was short lived, however, as Sheriff Pat Garrett caught up with him at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, on July 14, 1881, and fatally shot him. Billy’s legend grew following his short life and violent death. Today he is a famous symbol of the Old West, along with such men as Kit Carson, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, and like many criminals of the past, his story has been romanticized in numerous films, books, TV shows and songs. Each year, tourists visit the town of Fort Sumner, located about 160 miles southeast of Albuquerque, to see the Billy the Kid Museum and gravesite.

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