Billy the Kid and Ol’ Tascosa


I just finished writing my story for  “Give Me a Texas Outlaw”, so of course what else do I have on my mind but outlaws?  I recently blogged about Mobeetie, Texas, and  Bat Masterson; so today, let’s talk about the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid and his time in the second town established in the Texas Panhandle, Tascosa.

I set my story in our newest anthology, “Give Me a Texas Ranger”, in Buffalo Springs. The town was geographically and historical situated in Tascosa, but I took my share of creative freedom. Like Tascosa, Buffalo Springs is divided into two parts — upper and lower.  As the name might indicate, the uppity folks lived on the upper side of the creek while the low life lived in the part of town frequently referred to as Buffalo Wallow.  

Tascosa as a whole was known as the toughest, wildest and most lawless town in this part of the wild frontier.  But no matter what the citizens of Upper Tascosa said about it, the town deserved its reputation in many ways. Before there was any law and order, or formal government, the newest settlement in the area attracted all types of seedy characters. Among them was celebrity desperado William H. Bonney a/k/a Henry McCarty and best known as “Billy the Kid.” Many stories exist about his two aliases, but the simple truth is that his mother was married to a man named McCarty for a brief time, and Billy took that name.

Coming into the Panhandle from his home turf of Lincoln County, New Mexico, in the fall of 1878, the Kid and his four friends trailed 125 stolen horses which they planned to sell to Panhandle ranchers. The group spent money freely and were even well-behaved during their stay in Tascosa.  At first, the citizens were awed by the Kid’s reputation. Once they had observed his exceptional behavior, a number of residents welcomed the beardless, easygoing, blond youth with open arms. It seemed they felt he was too meek and mild to be an outlaw.

Eventually the Kid befriended, Dr. Henry F. Hoyt, an ambitious young doctor who had come to the Panhandle to set up his practice.  As the story goes, John Chisum, infamous cattle baron of New Mexico, had advised him that they needed a doctor at Tascosa.  During a smallpox epidemic in the town, Hoyt had saved the life of the beautiful daughter of one of the area founders, by improvising a poultice of gunpowder and water–and had become an immediate hero. However, once the epidemic was under control, Dr.Hoyt found that the small settlement couldn’t support a doctor, so he began work as a mail carrier between Tascosa and Fort Bascom, which led to his meeting Billy the Kid in a Tascosa saloon.  

  Equity Saloon, Tascosa, Texas

The two became good friends, and at one time Hoyt gave the Kid a lady’s watch he had won in a poker game for the outlaw to give it as a gift to his sweetheart.  Hum, I wonder where I got the idea of a pocket watch for my new story in “Give Me a Texas Outlaw”?

Soon afterward, Dr. Hoyt announced his plans to move and set up practice in Las Vegas, NM. Coincidentally, the day before the fine doctor was to leave, Billy the Kid rode into Tascosa from his camp where the stolen horses were being held by his gang. The Kid presented his friend with a beautiful chestnut sorrel race horse, Dandy Dick.  The doc hesitated to accept the gift possibly because rumor had it that the stolen horses in the Kid’s possession had been taken from the same part of New Mexico he was relocating to.

The Kid good-naturedly walked into the store of Howard and McMasters, tore off a scrap of paper, wrote a bill of sale, witnessed and signed by the owners of the store, and gave it to Hoyt as proof the horse (branded B.B. on the left hip) wasn’t stolen.   Many years later, it was determined that the sorrel belong to Lincoln County’s late Sheriff, James Brady.  Bonney had shot his way out of Brady’s jail against fearful odds, then shot and killed the sheriff, making off with his horse.

 By the end of 1878, Billy the Kid and his gang left Tascosa, having sold most of the stolen horses. There had been a shake-up in his group, since Henry Brown, Fred Waite, and John Middleton decided to forsake the life of outlaws. They elected to stay in Tascosa and go legit.  Bonney didn’t take long to recruit replacements for them. After his departure, it was discovered that he also rustled enough head of cattle to cause considerable concern among the Panhandle ranchers.

As their first act after organizing in 1880, the Panhandle Cattlemen’s Association sent an expedition to join lawman Pat Garrett in scouting for Billy the Kid and the cattleman’s livestock. With the help of Panhandle men, Garrett found the Kid in Fort Sumner, and shot him to death on the night of July 14, 1881. 


Of interest, in 1962, Lincoln County, New Mexico, filed suit to have the Kid’s body exhumed and reburied in his home county, but lost the case and his gravesite remains in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, near where he was killed.

A number of legends persist concerning the Kid’s escapades in Tascosa. Most of them involved well-known folks who were not even in the Panhandle during Bonney’s tenure. Among the alleged participants are Temple Houston (who Linda Broday told you all about a week or so back), Bat Masterson, Pat Garrett and Frenchy McCormick, all of who came to Tascosa after Billy the Kid left. 


Over the years, I’ve read some conflicting historical accounts on famous outlaws, among them, William Bonney.  I’ve seen wanted posters with his name spelled Bonny and Bonney and rewards from $500 to $5,000.  He’s been reported as being 5’ 3” and 120 lbs to 5’ 10” and 140 lbs., but the truth, there was never any “Wanted” posters on Billy the Kid.  The closest thing to a poster was a reward notice posted in the Las Vegas Gazette in the late 1800’s and even at that his last name was misspelled.

Another historical inaccuracy that has been challenged is whether he was a handsome honyock with two prominent and slightly protruding front teeth or a cold-stone murderer with icy blue eyes.  I must agree with the historian who wrote that if the Kid had teeth protruding like squirrel’s teeth he’d be pretty plug-ugly, so why would he have so many well documented female admirers? 

One thing for certain, the short life and significance of Billy the Kid is disproportionate to the legendary standing his name has achieved.

My question today, do you think the ladies of the new frontier liked his bad boy image or did they prefer the fine lookin’ lad they swooned over?

Link to order at  Give Me A Texas Ranger

Not in my wildest imagination would I ever have thought I’d be adding an update on the 130 year old shoot out between Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett!  Just as I posted my blog, Fox News broke the story that there is a modern day showdown brewing between the decedents of Sheriff Garrett and the governor of New Mexico. Now the story has taken on a life of its own on the Internet. From what I can sort out, Billy the Kid was offered a pardon for his Lincoln County jail escapade by then territorial governor, Lew Wallace, if he’d testify in a bloody range war.  Wallace reneged and eventually Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Garrett.  Now Governor Richardson has to decide whether to keep Wallace’s promise to pardon Billy the Kid or not.  Garrett’s family is up in arms, excuse the pun, and the issue is hangin’ over everyone’s head.

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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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24 thoughts on “Billy the Kid and Ol’ Tascosa”

  1. Thank you for such an interesting post. I think for a while, he had the reputation of a good citizen. Since he is reputed to have been good looking, I’m sure he was an attractive prospect. As his reputation changed, I’m sure he became more like forbidden fruit and was a naughty pleasure. As his true nature became known, he was probably off limits to “good girls” since a murderer is more than just a rebellious date. I’m sure for those women skating on the edge of society, he was an attractive figure – good looking, fun, had money, and gave a taste of danger.
    As for the current court case, why? What difference would it make? Even if he were pardoned, he still was a murderer and a thief. It doesn’t change who or what he was. Sheriff Garrett was within his rights to be pursuing and attempting to capture Billy the Kid, if not for the murder, then for horse and cattle theft. He was what he was and a piece of paper isn’t going to change that or his history.
    I am starting GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER this week. I’m looking forward to it.
    Have a great week and stay cool.

  2. Hi Pat, good to see you this morning. I totally agree with you … why the current issue of pardon? I didn’t read a word about Billy the Kid’s descendants (if he still has any) wanting his name cleared. There’s really a lot more to the story than meets the eye, and I didn’t have the room to write about it. There’s always been speculation that someone else did the killings in Lincoln that the Kid was charged with and he wasn’t killed by Pat Garrett but lived to be a ripe old age; however, there’s a ton of documentation disapproving it. Another story, another time, huh? I just found it interesting that this story broke at the same time I was writing my blog, as if my blog had anything to do with it! LOL Glad you’re reading “Give Me a Texas Ranger” because I know you have a huge stack of TBR’s! Let Linda and I know what you think when you’re finished. Certainly the dog days of summer in Texas … hot! Thanks again, Pat.

  3. Interesting post, Phyliss. I wonder if all the commotion is some sort of publicity stunt. Seems to me the only reason Lincoln County would have wanted to exhume the Kid’s body back in 1962 and move it was because of the legend and tourism surrounding the site at Ft. Sumner. Maybe I’m letting my cinicism show too much, but it seems people start to suddenly care about things when there is money to be made or publicity to be gained. Maybe that is what’s going on with Governor Richardson?

    On a side note, I’m actually in the middle of your story in Give Me A Texas Ranger right now. Too fun! Already read Jodi’s and Linda’s. I started it on the plane back from RWA nationals. The lady across the aisle from me had been at the conference, too, and she was shocked that I was reading a book I’d brought from home instead of one of the myriad of books they gave away at the conference. What can I say? I love a good western, and those are hard to come by these days.

  4. Phyliss, this is so interesting. I always thought it strange that Billy the Kid was buried in Ft. Sumner instead of Lincoln. Maybe one of these days they can dig up the body and move him to Lincoln. In the museums in Lincoln they have letters on display from Billy to Governor Wallace that proves Wallace intended to pardon Billy. I think he was blamed for a lot of things that he had nothing to do with. Hopefully, Gov. Richardson will go ahead with the pardon. One thing about it, it’s sure made the news.

    As far as bad boy versus handsome boys…I’d choose bad boy. There’s something very appealing about someone who bucks the trend and oftentimes the establishment. And I really love writing bad boy heroes. Fun, fun!

    Good luck with your Outlaw story. I think this upcoming anthology might be the best one yet.

  5. Pat and Karen, sure hope you find our Give Me a Texas Ranger well worth the read. Other genres seem to be a dime a dozen, but a good western romance is something to cherish. Long live westerns! 🙂

  6. Thanks, Karen! I hope you enjoy my story as well as you did the rest of them. We’re pretty dern happy with “Texas Ranger” all in all. I totally agree with you on the publicity angle in the 1962 suit. I hear the conference was exceptionally good and a ton of activities and workshops to keep you busy. Get some rest.

  7. I agree, Long live Western1 As for why Billy the Kid had so many female admirers…..perhaps because of his youth, some wanted to “mothe” him or hoped to be the one to reform him. Strictly speculation on my part because I only know what you have printed here. He was an interesting character.

    As for the pardon, again, I agree. How does it possibly matter?

  8. Hey Phyliss,
    Another great post! If you would put all of your great posts in a book, you’d have a winner!
    I have never seen a picture of Billy that I thought was good looking. I think the gals loved him because he was such a rebel, and that attracts women.
    As for the news flash and decision about the body, I, too, think it has to be some kind of a publicity stunt. Who cares at this date? Well, I guess historians do.
    Keep up the great work. You chuck more info into a post than most folks can write in a long article. Molly

  9. Linda, you are so right about him being blamed for things he didn’t do, but he sure did enough without any help. The rumor that he killed 21 men for every year of his life is totally false, too. I agree on the bad boy imagine, too. Yelp, I’m knee deep into “Outlaw”, so gotta get back to work while my H/H are still speaking, because they’ve already told me they’re fixin’ to have a big throwing the frying pan at Ethan type disagreement. Can hardly wait to see what happens. LOL

  10. Connie, I think you’re right about the mothering aspect. There really was only one picture of him that I’ve heard about, and like you, frankly, I didn’t think he was all that appealing. But how many people do we all know who aren’t all that good looking on the outside but have chrism out their ears? Thanks for dropping by.

  11. Good to see you, Miss Molly! What a great idea on posts. As a group, we should pick the best of the best and put them in a book. Wouldn’t that be fun? Agree on who cares now about pardon for the Kid, except I can see the Garrett family’s POV. Yep, Molly, as you can attest to after being one of my critique partners for years, when I’m asked what time it is, I really have a tendency to tell you how the watch was made. I have to edit, edit and then edit again to get rid of unnecessary information, but to me, it’s all important! Thanks for stopping by, friend. Hugs, P

  12. Hi Phyliss! Thank you for such an informative post! When I think of Billy the Kid, I flash to the soundtrack from the movie with “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” I guess that’s really Pat Garrett’s song, but there’s something so poignant about it. Considering the recent lawsuit, I guess those feelings run deep!

  13. Hi Phyliss! I thoroughly enjoyed your blog and the Give Me books! Awesome work, can’t wait for the Outlaws to come out! I live near the Buffalo Springs headquarters for the XIT Ranch and was raised in an old Hotel built to sell the land off when the ranch folded.

    Now onto Billy the Kid, he was also highly educated and could probably charm or con the petticoats and pantaloons off any females he came in contact with. Way back then I think charm would have more to do with whether he was desirable enough to the women, plus the bad boy image made him a good looking prospect. Add them altogether and you have Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Sam Elliott rolled into one. I could go for that!

  14. I’m not sure a legend is ever remembered accurately. More than likely, there a little bit truth in all of the stories about “The Kid”.

    The ladies have always loved a bad boy–give him piercing blue eyes, and what’s a girl to do? 😉

  15. Vicki, thanks. I’ve got to go check out that soundtrack. Sounds familiar, but just can’t get the words in my head. Stephanie, I knew you lived up in that area. The XIT is one of the subjects I have on my “TBO” list … to blog on! It’s got such a rich history, and most people don’t know how its existence fits into the total history of the state of Texas. I’d read that Billy the Kid was educated, but I think we forget that a lot of the time. Hum, gotta think about your list of bad boys for a second. Costner and Elliott without fail. With the current things going on with Gibson, I’d have to really work on him being just another Hollywood bad boy.

  16. Tracy, gotta admit that you’re right on the bad boy-piercing blue eye theory. And, I don’t care if the hero has blond or dark hair. Gotta love ‘um.

  17. Very enjoyable info. We visited Lincoln County last summer & toured the museums in that area.
    I think it was Billy the Kid’s handsome boyish face that a woman fell for, but his unique style probably fascinated a lot of people.

  18. OH PHYLISS!!!

    What a great post! I loved this. I heard about the latest bru-ha-ha with offering the Kid a pardon. I really don’t think that’s right–I can see why the Garretts are upset. Great post–I love the legend of Billy the Kid. Loved the movie Chisum.


  19. Hi Janet, good to see you here. I’ve been over to Lincoln County before, but never seen the museum. Got it on my to-do list. Thanks, Deborah for coming over and checking it out. Appreciate you, girl. Hope you’re enjoying your summer and the heat in these parts.

  20. Hi Cheryl and Estella. Good to see you two. I absolutely couldn’t believe it when I first saw the pardon story on Fox-News, then on the Internet, and even in our local newspaper. What are the chances of writing a blog on a century (plus three decade) old shoot out and having to write a flash news update? I believe the majority of us fall in the category of the whole idea of him being pardoned as nothing but a publicity stunt, but at the same time, it’s so interesting and guess it worked because we’re all talkin’ about it! Thanks Estella for stopping by, and fellow filly, Cheryl, too!

  21. I finished THE RANGER’S ANGEL by Jodi Thomas this afternoon. Loved it. This is why I love anthologies. I can sneak in a story in a day without staying up all night. Tomorrow I’ll read Linda’s and if I’m lucky I’ll get to start yours.

    I think I read somewhere recently (maybe here) about the rumors that it wasn’t Billy the Kid who was killed in the shoot out and that he lived to an old age. Another one of those stories that may never be proved or disproved. It’ll keep people busy and happy speculating for years.

  22. Pat, I’m glad you enjoyed Jodi’s story and can bet you’ll love Linda’s! I think we talked a little bit earlier about the rumors that the Kid wasn’t killed at Ft. Sumner but lived to a ripe old age. The problem ended up that the man who they called Brushy Bill and professed to be Billy the Kid couldn’t keep all his fact straight, so the legend eventually was discounted; however, I don’t think historians have totally discounted it. That’s a story in itself. I was absolutely stunned at the amount of myths, both true and false, compiled on the outlaw. Fantastic subject for sure. Thanks for checking back in again today, Pat.

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