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.

We’ve got ourselves a winner, darlin’s!

Old West with HorseshoesI threw everyone’s name in a Stetson to draw today’s winner, but ’cause it was so dang hot, I decided to do the drawing out by the corral.  Well, you all will never believe it, but a big gust of West Texas wind blew the blasted hat out of my hand and I never did catch the critter, but I found one name stuck on a mesquite bush.   Congratulations … librarypat

If you’ll give me a shout at with your home address, I’ll get you an autographed copy of “Give Me a Texas Ranger” shipped off.

Thanks everyone for joining in on my blog.  It was a great day.  Until we meet again, Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

If you need a real man … “Give Me a Texas Ranger”

The rich history of the Texas Rangers has been chronicled in works of nonfiction and memoirs. Movies and television series have been made about them, and they are a favorite hero in novels; so when you need a real man — “Give Me a Texas Ranger”.

I began work on “One Woman, One Ranger” for our newest anthology with a duel purpose.  I didn’t want to write just another romance with a Texas Ranger hero, but about one who found love. I wanted it to reflect the ideals that brought peace to the untamed frontier; the strengths and traditions that made the famous respected organization the lawmen they are today.

In order to accomplish my goal, I had to understand the iconic lawmen; a colorful and brave body of fighting men who had a reputation for tenacity, firmness and quick-triggered justice.  I wanted to delve into their thinking and their hearts.

I love research!  When we were on tour with “Give Me a Texan” Linda Broday and I spent a day in Waco, Texas, at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.  One of our favorite exhibits was “Writing the Ranger”, where authors from Louis L’Amour to Diane Palmer have their covers on display. The comics, the cowboys, and The Lone Ranger are all there. 

But, my favorite resource that gave me the best insight into the ol’ time Texas Rangers is a book written in 1921 by James Gillett “Six Years with the Texas Rangers”.  Sgt. Gillett joined the organization June 1, 1875, and rode with them until 1881.  His first-person accounts influenced many scenes in my story.

From their inception, the only true criteria for being a Ranger: Could he ride? Could he shoot? Did he have the guts it took to protect?  Famous lawman Rip Ford said, “They ride like Mexicans; trail like Indians; shoot like Tennesseans; and fight like the devil.”  The early lawmen fashioned traditions which affected all future Rangers by creating an aura of invincibility with their dedication, toughness, and perseverance.

In 1823 they were referred to as Citizen Soldiers and “rangered” the new frontier. They’ve had a number of names including the State Police. Between the annexation of Texas in 1846 and the outbreak of the Civil War, the Texas Ranger existed almost in name only. However, in 1874, Stephen F. Austin formed two bands of ten Rangers each to protect the new frontier. The Frontier Battalion protected the vast area between the Red River and the Nueces River, while the Special Force unit handled Southwest Texas.

A must for all Rangers was a serviceable horse, a good rifle, and a six-shooting pistol.  “An Act to Provide for the Protection of the Frontier of the State of Texas 1874” became the blueprint for frontier law enforcement. One clarification was the value of their horse and how it had to be appraised by the enrolling officer and two disinterested parties, so in the event something happened to the animal the Ranger could be reimbursed fairly. Yet, the horse couldn’t be disposed of without the consent of the commanding officer. Each critter was given an allowance of no more than 12 lbs. of oats or corn a day, plus 2 ounces of salt per week.  If the dang rascal over indulged, the overage came out of the rangers pay check … $40 a month!   I used that little known fact in my plot. Hayden McGraw’s horse, Stewball, liked to go off on his own to find food, so at times it really put my hero at a disadvantage.


At first, the Rangers were more interested in performance and gettin’ the job done than in personal appearance. The only well-groomed critter around the lawman was generally his horse, who was meticulously cared for.     

In contrast, today’s Ranger dress requirements are certainly more uptown.  “The appropriate Texas Ranger clothing is deemed to be conservative western attire.  The Texas Ranger hat will be light-colored and shaped in a businessman’s style.  Styles commonly called the Rancher or Cattleman are recommended.  Brims must not exceed 4 inches or be flat with edges rolled up. Hats excessively crushed, rolled, or dipped are not acceptable. Members of the Ranger Division will own both a quality straw and quality felt hat. The appropriate hat will usually be determined by the weather or assignments.”      

For my story, I wanted an emotional connection between my third generation Texas Ranger, Hayden McGraw, and his father and grandfather. Prior to 1835, these lawmen didn’t wear badges.  The State of Texas Adjutant General’s Office issued Warrants of Authority, an impressive paper document kept folded in their pockets, to commissioned officers. Although that procedure played a big part in my plot, I still needed something more personal. 

The origin of the Ranger badge fascinated me. The first ones were made for individual lawmen, at their request, from Mexican coins.  Some were probably made by jewelers, while others may have been made by gunsmiths or metalworkers. The legend of Rangers cutting them out of coins around campfires is unlikely. These first badges were used as a means of identification in the midst of feuds and disputes that might involve several law enforcement agencies, or where hired guns were introduced.  Photographs taken in the 1870’s through the 1920’s show that there was a great variety of badges and that comparatively few Rangers wore them.  Of interest, later research indicates they didn’t wear badges because the sun reflected off them, making tracking easier. Many kept them hidden beneath their saddle, but always in easy reach.

Today, the Texas Rangers wear a replica of the historic original insignia which old-time Rangers carved out of a Mexican five peso silver dollar. Symbolically the five-pointed star represents the “Lone Star” of Texas, while the points are supported by an engraved wheel. Thus it is termed the “wagon-wheel” badge. The oak leaves on the left side represent strength and the olive branch on the right signifies peace.  These are taken from the Texas Great Seal. The cutout center star has engraving on it and the center of the star is reserved for the Company designation or the rank. The edges still often have the coin lines and the peso is still highly visible on the reverse of the badge.  Thus, First Lieutenant Hayden McGraw’s badge is a key element of my story.

As of old, the Texas Rangers still maintain vigilant watch and ward over the peace and welfare of Texas, bringing a sense of security and trust to our law-abiding citizens.

Do any of you have any Texas Rangers in your family tree?  I wish I did, but since I don’t, I can only write about the fearless body of men who shaped the new frontier and salute those protecting the citizens of the fine state of Texas today. 

I’m givin’ away a copy of your choice of titles to one lucky person!

Order today!  Give Me A Texas Ranger    Give Me A Cowboy    Give Me A Texan