by HB Auld, Jr.
On this date, the most famous outlaw in the old West allegedly meets his death at the end of a gun, wielded by one of the most famous sheriffs. Billy the Kid dies when he is shot in a darkened bedroom by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, 140 years ago today.
On April 1, 1878, Billy the Kid ambushed Sheriff William Brady and a deputy in Lincoln, New Mexico, after ranch owner John Tunstall had been murdered. Sheriff Brady and his men were associated with the gang that allegedly killed Tunstall, Billy the Kid’s employer. Billy’s retaliation against the gang left Brady and Deputy George Hindman dead. At only 18 years old, Billy the Kid had now killed 17 men.
Now a fugitive from justice, Billy killed a few more men, including the gunslinger Joe Grant. It is claimed Billy got hold of Grant’s gun prior to the fight and made sure that an empty chamber was up first in Grant’s revolver. When they both fired, only Billy’s gun went off and Grant was left dead.
Sheriff Pat Garrett eventually arrested Billy. The judge sentenced Billy the Kid to hang until “you are dead, dead, dead.” Billy reportedly replied, “And you can go to hell, hell, hell.”
After Billy the Kid once again escaped custody, Garrett mounted another posse to bring him in. After tracing Billy to the Maxwell Ranch, Garrett ambushed Billy and shot him to death in a darkened bedroom, allegedly as Billy the Kid returned home that night.
Down through the ages, conspiracy theorists claimed it was not Billy who was killed that night by Sheriff Garrett, but a Mexican who also lived at the Maxwell Ranch. Legends lived on and claimed Billy escaped and lived out a full, rich, quiet life into the 1900s in Texas.