On the night of July 14, 1881, Pat Garrett killed Henry McCarty (alias Billy the Kid) in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom at old Fort Sumner, in New Mexico Territory. Over the years, more legends have cropped up over this one incident than all the rest of Southwest history put together. Some claim that a deal had been struck allowing the real Billy the Kid to escape. Others blast Garrett because, according to them, he didn’t give the Kid a fair chance, whatever that means. So let’s try to put this western episode in the proper perspective.
Following that shooting there was never an authenticated sighting of Billy the Kid again. Years later, a Texas resident, Brushy Bill Roberts, claimed to be the Kid. However, upon public examination, he failed to convince the public of that claim. And, remember, this was during the time that many of the New Mexico frontiersmen were still alive, men who had actually known the Kid.
An even more compelling argument can be made for the Kid’s actual death. During his lifetime, the Kid had killed at least three men and had been present and shooting when several other men were killed by the Kid and his friends (though no one knows if Billy fired the killing shots). The last two men to fall under the Kid’s gun were deputies of Sheriff Pat Garrett.
Now, imagine that two of your co-workers have just been murdered during a jail break. What on earth would make someone want to make a deal to let their killer go free? In fact, Garrett had every reason to want to make sure that their killer was brought to hand.
Finally, some argue that the Kid never had a chance to fire his handgun, being shot in the dark and by surprise. Others claim that the Kid only had a knife that he was going to use to cut some meat from a hanging beef carcass. Still others say that Billy wasn’t holding a weapon of any kind when Garrett fired on him. Who cares? Billy had killed two deputy sheriffs, it was time for pay backs, and no sheriff in his right mind would have passed up the chance.
By all accounts, Billy was well liked by many New Mexico residents while Garrett was never held in very high esteem. Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that the Kid is buried somewhere near the old fort and that he got just what he deserved.