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.
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 Amazon.com 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.