Billy the Kid keeps riding through the dreamscape of our minds-silhouetted against a starless Western Sky, handsome, laughing, deadly. Shrewd as a coyote, feared as a hawk. The outlaw of our dreams - forever free, forever young, forever riding......
Not my words, I only wish they were, but from Paul Hutton's excellent 1990 feature of The Kid.
That paragraph took its author to over 150 appearances on the History Channel as well as appearing on multiple documentary DVD's. The paragraph gave Mr Hutton worldwide fame as an expert on Billy The Kid.
But what is its about the Kid that keeps him large in our minds, making him perhaps the most famous outlaw of the old west?
(pictured - a 19 century engraving of the kid gunning down a foe. Even then the media were Billy the Kid groupies.)
For a man who only lived to be 21 (although this is disputed and census evidence suggest that he was 26) the outlaw has been an enduring legend. Many movies have been made about him, cartoons made and more words have been written about him than any other wild west figure. There have been novels, magazine articles comic books, non fiction biographies, historical studies The character has even been sent off into outer space and fought monsters from Dracula to werewolves in the film and comic book
There is much controversy over the generally accepted fact that the kid was gunned down by Pat Garrett on July 14th 1881. For over the years there has been much doubt cast on the prevailing history relating to the outlaw. And although it seems likely that Garrett did indeed kill the kid it is impossible to say with full confidence.
Some even believe Billy the Kid actually died in Hico Texas in 1950 where he had been living under the name of William Henry Roberts, or, has he became to be known, Brushy Bill Roberts. I myself, am dubious about this but it would be nice to think that Brushy Bill was indeed the Kid and there is some evidence to suggest this may have been the case.
(Pictured Bushy Bill - is this an Elderly Billy the Kid?)
In the late 1940's William Roberts approached a startled journalist and told him he was in fact Billy The Kid and that he wanted his help to secure a pardon which had been promised to him by Governor Wallace.
At first the reporter was sceptical but as the story was looked into it became clear that William Roberts, known as Brush Bill could indeed have been Billy the Kid. There are still those that believe this to this day and, on times, I kinda' believe it myself.
The principle facts around the kid being killed by Pat Garrett were Garrett's own book, The Authentic life of Billy the Kid but large chunks of this book have been proven to be fabrication. Pat Garrett was prone to legend building and, of course, if he hadn't shot the kid on that fateful 1881 night and had instead been in on the cover up with the kid, then his book ghostwritten by Marshall Ashmun is not to be trusted.
(pictured: Is this actually Billy the Kid's resting place?)
When discovered Brushy Bill was riding scout for a stagecoach line in Idaho - he had the look, the size, the eyes and even, according to those who knew the outlaw, the same laugh. A photograph of Roberts was placed under comparison with the only known picture of the kid by the University of Texas and the findings, which were validated by the FBI, were that Billy The Kid and Brushy Bill were in fact the same man. Importantly when Roberts was interviewed about his background it became he knew more about Billy the kid and knew more about the history than the scholars of the day. These revelations caused a frenzy of new research and a bible found amongst Robert's possessions after his death showed family members with the named Bonney, Antrim and McCarthy which were all known alias of the Kid.
Doubt was cast by the only known photograph of the kid showing he was right handed (though for many years the Kid was thought to have been left handed before it was discovered the only photograph was reversed) while Roberts was left handed - in truth he was ambidextrous. It was also reported that Roberts was illiterate while the Kid was very much a reader and writer as his letters to Govoner Wallace prove. However Brushy Bill was not illiterate at all and also spoke fluent Spanish as did the kid.
Evidence that Brushy Bill was the Kid:
- Brushy Bill’s knowledge of the Lincoln County War and the life of Billy the Kid was too extensive to have all been read. Several of the things he knew were known to only a few people at the time, including historians. For example, he knew that Colonel Dudley's soldiers that entered Lincoln on July 19, 1878 were black, he knew all the details of how the Kid had to pay his lawyer for his services in his trial, he knew that Billy the Kid wrote a letter to Gov. Wallace proclaiming his innocence in the murder of James Carlyle, and he knew exactly how the McSween house was set up before it was burned.
- In 1949, Morrison took Brushy Bill to the old Lincoln County courthouse, which also once served as the Murphy-Dolan-Riley store. In the building, Brushy described how the building looked during the Kid's incarceration there to a T. Every little detail of how the building looked in 1881, Brushy knew. He said how when he killed Bell, one of his guards, the bullet first hit the wall and then ricocheted into Bell's side, which is true.
- In Brushy's possessions, he had a very old scarf that he claimed to have gotten from Deluvina Maxwell after he was captured at Stinking Springs and brought to Fort Sumner. He said he gave Deluvina the tintype of himself and she gave him the scarf. This really did happen, but only posse member Jim East knew of it and he only spoke of it in a letter he wrote to fellow lawman Charlie Siringo.
- Brushy said that when he went to trial, his first indictment was for the murder of Buckshot Roberts and he was represented by Ira Leonard. He also said that Leonard was able to get the case thrown out. This is true, but very, very few researchers knew of this back during the time Brushy made his claim.
- Severo Gallegos, Jose Montoya, and Martile Able, all surviving friends of Billy the Kid, met with Brushy Bill separately. Brushy talked with them all about events from his past as Billy the Kid and all three signed affidavits attesting to the fact that Billy the Kid and Brushy Bill were one and the same.
- Bill and Sam Jones, also surviving friends of Billy the Kid, also met with Brushy Bill. Although they did not sign affidavits in support of Brushy, due to the fact that they wanted to avoid any publicity that would bring, they did tell Morrison they believe him to be the Kid.
- Jessie Evans, or Joe Hines as he was later known, confirmed to Morrison that Brushy Bill was the Kid.
- Bob Young, a native of Round Rock, Texas, visited Hamilton, Texas in 1930 and first met Brushy Bill. The two became friends and Brushy informed Young that he would like to accompany him on his return to Round Rock. When the time came for Young to return home, Brushy regretfully said he couldn’t accompany him, since his wife was sick. Still, Brushy asked Young to look up an old friend of his, Jimmy McDaniels (a former member of the Jessie Evans Gang and veteran of the Lincoln County War), who also lived in Round Rock. Brushy went on to tell Young that when he found McDaniels, to simply tell him ‘’the Kid says hello.’’ When Young returned to Round Rock, he met with McDaniels and delivered Brushy’s message. Upon hearing this, the old man looked as if he had been badly frightened.
- One day in the 1940s, Brushy was walking down a street in Hico. Also walking down the street was a five year old boy and his mother. When the boy ran into the street and was almost hit by a car, the mother yelled out her son's name, Billy, loudly. Witnesses said that Brushy whirled around and reached for an imaginary pistol. After Brushy realized his name wasn't being called, he hurried away. Although this is not technically evidence in support of Brushy’s claim, and in no way connects him directly to Billy the Kid, it does indicate he was a man used to danger.
- One day in 1945, Brushy was walking down a Hico street. An old lawman named Henry Anthony and his sons were also on the street and when Anthony saw Brushy, he jumped up and yelled at Brushy, calling him Billy Bonney, and told him to throw up his hands. When his sons calmed him down, Anthony said that Brushy was the Kid. He swore for the rest of his life that Brushy was the Kid.
- In 1990, the famous tintype of Billy the Kid, a purported photo of the Kid at age 12, a photo of Brushy at age 14, and a photo of Brushy at age 90 were analyzed in the Acton-Bovik photo study. The study used the most advanced photo comparison equipment around as well as the best scientists. The photo purported to be a 12 year old Billy the Kid was determined to not be him. The photo of 14 year old Brushy was close match to the tintype. The photo of Brushy at age 90 had a 93% match to the famous tintype. The missing seven percent can be explained due to age and dental work, so said Dr. Bovik and Dr. Acton.
- Brushy Bill had each and every scar Billy was said to have (and more).
- Sheriff Pat Garrett said he killed Billy the Kid, and Dep. John Poe, Dep. Thomas McKinney, and the vast majority of everyone else who claimed to have seen the body of the man Garrett killed agreed to this.
- No contemporary account carries any mention of the gunfight that Brushy claimed transpired between himself and Garrett, Poe, and McKinney after Barlow was killed.
- There exists no evidence, other than the word of Brushy Bill, that Billy Barlow, the man Brushy said Garrett really killed, ever existed.
- When retelling his story, Brushy did make several historical errors. Although a good portion of these dealt with events and facts that were questionable in the first place and therefore dubious (i.e Brushy saying he was present at Tunstall‘s funeral when it is very possible the real Billy the Kid was or Brushy saying that it was Fred Waite who was shot by Billy Mathews during the Brady assassination, not Jim French, when contemporary sources differ as to who the wounded Regulator was), there were some that were definitely wrong. For example, Brushy said that John Selman fought on the McSween side in the Lincoln County War. However, Selman did not fight for either side and didn’t even arrive in Lincoln until after the final battle of the war.
- Brushy claimed that throughout 1871-1874, he left the care of Catherine McCarty a few times to visit his biological father, James Roberts, in Texas, and ended up staying with him a total of two years. However, there exists no contemporary evidence that the real Billy the Kid ever left the care of Catherine McCarty, especially for so long a time period.
- Brushy also claimed that after he fled Silver City in 1875 up until fall 1877, he basically traveled over the entire West (Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Oregon), making a living as a bronc rider. However, although documentation of Billy the Kid’s life during this period is sparse, the documentation that does exist seems to indicate he spent this time in Arizona operating as a horse and saddle thief.
- In 1988, physicist and amateur photo expert Thomas Kyle underwent a photo comparison study between the tintype photo of Billy and a photo of Brushy taken at his meeting with Gov. Mabry. Although he used his own methods and his home Apple Macintosh II computer, he announced that in his opinion, the two photos were of two different people.
- Brushy Bill had a well-known association with J. Frank Dalton, a proven false Jesse James claimant. Although this is technically not evidence against Brushy’s own claim, it does cast a serious shadow of doubt on his own credibility.
False evidence used against Brushy Bill:
- It has been claimed that Brushy Bill was illiterate, and therefore could not have been Billy the Kid. In truth, Brushy was completely literate. He had several diaries when Morrison found him, he wrote several letters to Morrison and other people, and he had thought for a time to write his autobiography, but later decided not to, fearing the press he might get. Jim Tully, a good friend of Brushy's, signed an affidavit that Brushy was completely literate. Bob Young, Alton Thorton, W. F. Hafer, Jimmy Ramage, Ablo Norman, Tom Turner, and L. L. Gamble, all surviving friends of Brushy, said he was either literate, or not sure, but none of them said he was illiterate. The theory that he was illiterate sprang from a quote C. L. Sonnichsen wrote in his book, that Roberts was "not a literate man." However, Sonnichsen later said he wished he never wrote that because he meant that Brushy wasn't the type of person who would sit around all day reading history books. He meant to say he was not a literary man.
- It has also been claimed that Brushy could not speak Spanish, whereas Billy the Kid could. However, when Morrison took Brushy to visit with Severo Gallegos, Brushy spoke with Severo's Mexican neighbor, Josephine Sanchez, in perfect Spanish. Jim Tully signed an affidavit that he could speak Spanish as well as a native. Bob Young, Alton Thorton, W. F. Hafer, Jimmy Ramage, Ablo Norman, Tom Turner, and L. L. Gamble also said Brushy was fluent in Spanish. The reason people think he was non-fluent in Spanish is because a myth started that Jarvis Garrett (or Oscar Garrett or Arcadio Brady, depending on which version of the myth you heard) asked Brushy a question in Spanish at the meeting with Gov. Mabry, to which Brushy couldn't respond. This is false. Not one person who was at the meeting ever mentioned this happening.
- Another false piece of evidence used against Brushy was that he was left-handed, and the Kid right-handed. In fact, both the Kid and Brushy were ambidextrous. According to people who knew them, both Brushy and the Kid could write and shoot just as well with either hand.
Pictured - Brushy Bill's original grave before the Billy The Kid surround was added as seen above.
The evidence is compelling and it's nice to think that Billy the Kid actually lived to be an old man.