The First Arrest of Billy The Kid – 9/23/1875

US History |


On September 23rd of 1875, Billy the Kid was arrested for the first time of many. His first (known) offense was stealing a basket of laundry. 

Billy was taken to the county jail, from which he soon escaped. Then Billy roamed the American west, looking for ways to make money with no skills, no education, and no work ethic. Billy chose a life of crime, and eventually earned a reputation as an outlaw. He is said to have committed as many as 21 murders.

Billy the Kid was born William Henry McCarty, but not too much is known of his early years. Historical research suggests that he was probably born around 1860, in either Indiana or New York. His father was not present in his life, and his mother moved the family around a lot. The family lived in Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico before McCarty's mother died in 1874, one day before Billy's 14th birthday.

Left alone at the age of 14, Billy the Kid embarked on a string of criminal activities, the first of which was stealing a basket of laundry. Later, he worked as a horse thief in Arizona. Then he returned to New Mexico in 1878, where he joined a gang of gunslingers and cattle rustlers who were involved in the Lincoln County war. During that war, Billy the Kid is known to have killed a sheriff.

From there, he became a fugitive, and continued his life as an outlaw. For a living, he stole cattle and horses, gambled in saloons, killed people, and took their money. Eventually, the law put a bounty on his head. He was eventually captured and convicted of killing the sheriff during the Lincoln County war. Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang from a noose for his crime, but succeeded in another jail break, during which he killed two deputies.

At some point during 1880, Billy the Kid had his picture taken. It was a tintype photo, as was customary of the day. It was unusual at the time, when photography was still in its infancy, for a man to have his picture taken.

The freedom of William Henry McCarty did not last long. On July 14th of 1881, Sheriff Pat Harris caught up with Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico and shot him dead. On looking at the lifeless body of Billy the Kid, they were surprised to see how young he was. Thus, the nickname: Billy the Kid. 

Despite the fact that he was a heartless criminal, Billy the Kid became a folk hero to some people. His legend grew after his death, perhaps because his life was so short. Today, Billy the Kid remains a famous symbol of the days of the old Wild West, along with Kit Carson, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, and Wild Bill Hickock. William “Billy the Kid” McCarty has been remembered in songs, movies, literature, and works of art. There's even a Billy the Kid museum and grave site in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, about 160 miles southeast of Albuquerque. 

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Charlie Rodriguez


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