Billy the Kid: 9 fascinating facts behind the story of America's most wanted outlaw
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Billy the Kid: 9 fascinating facts behind the story of America's most wanted outlaw

Billy the Kid wasn’t just one of America’s most infamous outlaws, he was also one of Ireland’s.

The son of Irish Immigrants, according to historical documents the Wild West outlaw was born Henry McCartney to Irish parents in New York City somewhere between September and November 1859.

Henry's parents moved to New York in search of a better life but fate and personal tragedy set their son on a different path. It was one in which his Irish roots proved useful though.

Historical evidence suggests the notorious criminal was fluent in Irish and often served as a translator for outlaws from the Emerald Isle who had not yet learned English.

It's claimed that he killed as many as 21 people during his life - one for every year of it - though experts believe this figure may be inflated, with the true number thought to be between six and nine.

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Those aren’t the only remarkable things about the short life and violent times of Billy The Kid though – here are 9 other fascinating facts that help tell the story of  the world's most infamous Wild West outlaw.

1. Early Life

Henry McCartney became orphaned at a young age. After the death of his father Patrick McCartney, Henry, his mother Catherine and his younger brother Joseph moved to Silver City in New Mexico. When his mother passed away from Tuberculosis in 1874, Henry began to turn to a life of crime.

2. Early Crimes

Following his mother’s death, young Henry was taken in by a boarding house run by a woman named Sarah Brown but in September 1875 he was caught stealing food. Ten days later Henry robbed a local Chinese-owned laundry, pinching two pistols and some clothing. He was again caught, swiftly charged with theft and thrown into jail.

3. Daring Escapes

During his criminal career, he would become notorious for his many daring escapes and jailbreaks and the first of these took place soon after he was jailed for the laundry theft. Henry broke free from jail just two days after being locked up and became a fugitive for the first time in his life.

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4. First Murder

Following his jailbreak, Henry made his way to the Arizona Territory where, in August 1877, he shot and killed his first man, Francis P. “Windy” Cahill, in an argument at a saloon over a game of cards. He was detained by local authorities at the Camp Grant guardhouse but made a typically daring escape before law enforcement could arrive and put him behind bars for the murder.

5. New Name

The same year, Henry adopted a new name, William H. Bonney, to help him evade the authorities. Soon after people started referring to him as Billy the Kid, because of his young age.

6. Bloody Battles

‘The Kid’ then started working as a cattle-rancher for John Henry Tunstall in Lincoln County. Before long the early events of what would be known as the Lincoln County War began. What started as a violent dispute between Tunstall and his men and a ‘posse’ formed by Sheriff Willam J. Brady, soon resulted in the death of Tunstall and snowballed into the bloody Battle of Lincoln in 1878.

7. The Regulators

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Billy first gained his reputation as a gunslinger in the Lincoln County War, after forming a posse known as ‘The Regulators’ who set out to avenge Tunstall’s death. Then in 1880 he shot and killed Joe Grant and went on the run with his gang of bandits. He soon ran into lawman Pat Garrett, who was hot on his tail because of a series of bloody shoot-outs Billy and his gang had been involved in.

8. America's Most Wanted

In late 1880 Garrett caught up with Billy at Stinking Springs in New Mexico. Realising it was surrender or death, Billy gave himself up. Garett transported Billy and his gang to the Lincoln County Courthouse, where the outlaw engineered his most daring escape. During the short-time when Billy was out of cell, he managed to remove his handcuffs before shooting dead two guards in the courthouse with their own guns. Billy escaped and became one of America’s most wanted.

9. The End

Billy the Kid was just 21 when he died. In 1881 when The Kid was on the run, Pat Garrett caught up with the outlaw at Fort Sumner in New Mexico. On 14 July, Garrett went to question local rancher Peter Maxwell about the outlaw’s whereabouts. At the same time, Billy approached the house and noticing the Sheriff’s men Billy called out ‘who’s there’ in Spanish. Garrett recognised Billy’s voice and emptied his gun in the direction of the voice. One of the bullets hit Billy in the heart and he died shortly after.