5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Billy the Kid

On July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was shot to death in New Mexico by Sheriff Pat Garrett in an ambush. At the time, Billy had a $500 bounty on his head. Think you know Billy the Kid? Here are five of the most interesting facts about the young outlaw...


He May Have Spoken Irish, and He May Also Have Become Fluent in Spanish # Billy the Kid has become one of the most well-known figures of the Old West. Photo credit: By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Billykid.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=555 Billy the Kid was born in New York to immigrant Irish parents, and in 2016, one of the historians who studied the Kid's life found evidence that the Kid may have spoken enough Irish to act as a translator for other Irish immigrants. In the 1800s, many Irish immigrants to the U.S. did not speak English, and the Kid may have put that skill to use, helping those who couldn't speak English adjust to living in their new country. There is also evidence that the Kid learned to speak Spanish fluently after moving to New Mexico territory. In fact, the most popular telling of the Kid's death has him calling out "Who's that?" in Spanish when Sheriff Pat Garrett arrived at the place where the Kid was hiding out.

No One Really Knows His True Name # Sheriff Pat Garrett managed to capture the Kid once, but the Kid managed to escape. Photo credit: By Unknown - here, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1129071. The nickname "Billy the Kid" was derived from the name William H. Bonney (sometimes written as William H. Bonney, Jr.), an alias that he started using in 1877. However, no one really knows what his birth name was. Current theories hold that he was named Henry McCarty or William Henry McCarty, and that at one point he went by Henry Antrim.


The Sheriff Who Supposedly Shot Him Also Created His Legendary Persona The current story of the Kid's death has Sheriff Pat Garrett shooting the Kid in Fort Sumner in New Mexico territory. At that point, Billy was already famous and infamous, but his status as a real Old West legend didn't start until after his death when Garrett wrote a biography of the Kid. The book created a sensationalized persona that captivated readers. As the decades went by, Billy the Kid's public image became the subject of countless books and movies.

The Kid's Case Came up for Review for a Possible Pardon in 2010 Toward the end of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's last term in office in 2010, he took another look at a pardon that had been proposed for Billy the Kid back in the 1800s. The pardon was part of a deal between a former governor and the Kid: a pardon in exchange for testifying for the state. Unfortunately, even though Billy the Kid kept his part of the deal, he was never pardoned. Richardson was not the first 21st-century lawmaker to look at granting the pardon, and in each case, descendants of both the Kid's family and Garrett, as well as descendants of others murdered by Billy the Kid, gave passionate testimony regarding pardoning or not pardoning. In the end, Richardson declined to pardon the Kid in 2011.

He Managed to Escape Captivity Just Before He Was Scheduled to Be Hung The Kid's death was not the first time Garrett had dealt with Billy. In 1880, Garrett managed to capture Billy and had him convicted of killing another sheriff. The Kid was sentenced to hang, but in 1881, he managed to slip away, get out of his handcuffs, steal a gun, and shoot a guard. He then shot a second guard, gathered weapons, cut off his leg shackles, stole a horse and fled. Garrett found him again and shot him a few months later.