Billy the Kid
By Steve Goldman
NCSA Member #9
The most famous outlaw-gunfighter of the frontier Southwest was William Bonney, alias "Billy the Kid". Born in New York City, Billy moved West with his family and eventually became a cowboy in Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory, working for cattleman J. H. Tunstall. In February, 1878, Tunstall was killed by a rival cattle outfit, and this started Lincoln County War in which Billy played a leading role. This "war" was actually a struggle between two rival groups of businessmen and ranchers. Murders and depredations between the two groups culminated in a three day battle in Lincoln, New Mexico during July of 1878. Billy was one of the group that shot to death Sheriff Bill Brady. "The Kid" was said to have been involved in twenty other murders in his lifetime.
Governor Lew Wallace (also author of "Ben Hur") offered a $500 reward to anyone who would capture William Bonney, alias "The Kid", and deliver him to any sheriff in New Mexico. In 1880, Lincoln County elected Sheriff Pat Garrett and a posse trapped "The Kid" and four companions in a hut at Stinking Springs. After a three day siege, the gang was captured on December 23, 1880.
The first report of his capture was presented in the Las Vegas (New Mexico) Daily Gazette Extra of December 27, 1880. This newspaper was one of the most widely read in the Southwest. The Gazette, along with the Las Vegas Daily Optic, covered the closing of "The Kid's" career more thoroughly than any other newspaper. This was because, at the time, Las Vegas was the marketing center for the area in which Billy operated.
Billy was convicted of murder, and was sentenced to be hanged in Lincoln. However, on April 28, 1881, he escaped from custody, killing two guards. The news of his escape made page one of the Gazette on Sunday, May 1, 1881. The short article was titled "The Kid Escaped", but did not give many details. On May 3, a page four article (page four was where the local news was usually placed) detailed "The Kid's Escape". This account took up an extra column and went into great detail of the escape.
For two and a half months the Las Vegas newspaper carried reports of Billy's supposed whereabouts. During that time he was tracked down by Sheriff Pat Garrett, who cornered Billy only July 15, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. On July 18, 1881 the Las Vegas Daily Optic carried the story headlined: "The Kid Killed". Thus ended the short life and stormy career of William Bonney -- "Billy the Kid"