Saturday, August 17, 2013

AUGUST 17 = "Billy the Kid" I : The Kid Kills His First.

"I don't blame you for writing of me as you have. 
You had to believe other stories but then I don't know, as anyone would believe anything good of me anyway.  I wasn't the leader of my gang, I was for Billy all the time... I haven't stolen any stock. I made my living by gambling but that was the only way I could live.  They wouldn't let me settle down; if they had I wouldn't be here today."

- "Billy the Kid" in an the LasVegas Gazette on Dec. 27, 1880.

On today's date, August 17 in 1877, Henry McCarty alias the "Antrim Kid", alias William Bonney, alias "Billy the Kid" killed a man for the first time.  His reputation was that of a cold-blooded killer. But in fact the Kid was far from cold-blooded; he didn't kill that many more.  In fact he was a fairly pleasant young man, like the one in the interview above, bearing no apparent grudge over his ill publicity. He could smile and laugh easily, and he was much beloved by many of the Mexican-Americans of his home territory of New Mexico.   And while his enemies were glad to be rid of him, his legend would live long after they were forgotten.

This shall be the first of three posts on "Billy the Kid".

Henry McCarty - An Unlikely Antagonist

Their are way too many legends and tales about the Kid to tell here, so I will briefly sketch the Kid, and the altercation that resulted in his first killing.

Many details of the early life of the future "Billy the Kid" are unknown. He was born William Henry McCarty in November of 1859, probably in New York City. His mother was Catherine McCarty. He had a brother, Joe (or "Josie") but whether an older or younger brother is unclear. The identity or the whereabouts of the Kid's biological father remain unknown.  In 1868, Kate moved with her boys to Indianapolis where she met and married William Antrim, who was a gambler and a prospector. In the summer of 1873 the family
moved to Silver City, New Mexico (right). Antrim was usually away pros- pecting so Kate, who was ill with Tuberculos- is looked after the boys as best she could. Catherine McCarty was by all accounts a woman who always seemed jolly, and she evidently passed that attitude on to young Henry, who immersed himself in the culture and language of the Mexicans of Silver City.  He would dance their dances, and would even court their daughters. He was a small sized young man, who never grew taller than 5 ft. 8", and at this time weighed about 90 lbs. . But he was always jovial and very politely mannered.  Sadly for the Kid, his mother finally succumbed to Tuberculosis on September 16, 1874.

Young Henry Has it Out With "Windy" Cahill

By 1876 the Kid was hanging around the Army post at Fort Grant, Arizona, doing whatever odd jobs he could to get -- including trying out his poker skills at the local gaming houses.  He had such a slight build, and a smooth whisker free face, so he was called "Kid Antrim" at this time.  There was a short, but pot-bellied, and all-around nasty character working at Fort Grant as a Blacksmith by the name of Frank P. "Windy" Cahill.  An Irish immigrant, Cahill was formerly in the Army, but had turned civilian, and was called "Windy" because of his habit of bloviating on nearly any subject.  Cahill was a bully who derived great pleasure from picking on the Kid, and humiliating him whenever possible.

On the evening of August 17 in 1877, the Kid, dressed like "a country jake" in the words of one witness "with store pants on and wearing shoes instead of boots" came into Atkins Cantina. He was also sporting the new six-shooter which he had recently purchased stuffed into his pants. The Kid  sat in on a poker game. Cahill, who was there at the time began to taunt the Kid.  The Kid eventually began yelling back at him.  At one point Cahill called the Kid a "pimp" and the Kid called Cahill "a son of a bitch". Cahill then charged the Kid and locked his arms around him.  The two wrestled their way out the door.  Cahill had the Kid pinned down and began slapping his face.  The Kid managed to work his right hand free, pulled his six gun out and shot Cahill in the stomach. The Kid squirmed free, and then jumped on a horse and road off into the night. Cahill died the next morning after hours of excruciating pain. But on his deathbed he dictated a statement identifying the Kid as his killer.  And a Coroner's Inquest that day declared the Kid guilty of murder.  There were some witnesses who disagreed with the verdict.  Gus Gildea said of the Kid: "He had no choice; he had to use his equalizer." Nevertheless Billy the Kid, age 17, was on the run.  It wasn't the first time and it certainly wouldn't be the last.


Billy the Kid, full length:

Silver City, N.M.:

Billy the Kid, close up:


"The Boyhood of Billy the Kid" by Robert G. Mullin, Southwestern Studies, Vol. V, No. 1, Monograph No. 17, Texas Western Press, 1967. 

"Billy the Kid, the Endless Ride" by Michael Wallis, W.W. Norton Co. Inc., New York, 2007

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