Henry McCarty (Billy the Kid) was born in New York City on 17th September, 1859. After the death of his father, Patrick McCarty in 1863, the family moved to Wichita. His mother remarried William Antrim but she died in 1874. Around this time he acquired the nickname, Billy the Kid.
In 1875 Billy was arrested and charged with being involved in robbing a Chinese laundry. He managed to escape through a fireplace chimney and fled to Arizona where he became involved in horse stealing. In August 1877 he killed Frank Cahill, an army blacksmith at Fort Grant. He was arrested but once again escaped and eventually found work with John Tunstall.
After Tunstall was murdered on 18th February, 1878. This incident started the Lincoln County War. Billy the Kid was deeply affected by this murder and claimed that Tunstall "was the only man that ever treated me like I was a free-born and white." Apparently at Tunstall's funeral Billy the Kid swore: "I'll get every son-of-a-bitch who helped kill John if it's the last thing I do."
Billy the Kid joined the Regulators, a group led by Dick Brewer that supported Alexander McSween, Tunstall's former partner. It was claimed that Tunstall had been murdered on the orders of Major L. G. Murphy. Over the next few months this group killed Sheriff William Brady, George Hindman, Frank Baker, William Morton, Buckshot Roberts and others who they claimed they had been involved in the killing of Tunstall.
On 19th July, 1878, Alexander McSween and his supporters, including Billy the Kid, were besieged by Sheriff George Peppin and a group of his men. McSween's house was set on fire and several people were shot dead as they came out of the house. This included McSween but Billy the Kid managed to escape.
When Lewis Wallace took office as Governor of New Mexico on 1st October 1878, he proclaimed an amnesty for all those involved in the bitter feud. However, after Billy the Kid surrendered to the authorities, he was told he would be charged with the killing of William Brady. Billy the Kid escaped from custody and went to see John Chisum, a prominent figure in the Lincoln County War. Billy believed he was owed $500 but Chisum refused to pay. Billy the Kid responded by promising to steal enough cattle to make up this sum. This he did with a gang that included Dave Rudabaugh, Billy Wilson, Tom O'Folliard and Charles Bowdre. Billy's gang also stole from other cattlemen and became a serious problem in Lincoln County.
In 1880 Pat Garrett was elected sheriff of Lincoln County. He immediately attempted to deal with the problems being caused by Billy the Kid. In December 1880, Garrett shot dead two of the Kid's gang, Tom O'Folliard and Charles Bowdre. Soon afterwards Billy the Kid, Dave Rudabaugh and Billy Wilson were captured by Garratt.
Billy the Kid was found guilty of murdering William Brady and was held in Lincoln jail while waiting to be executed on 13th May, 1881. However, Billy killed two guards (J.W. Bell and Bob Olinger) and escaped while Pat Garrett was away collecting taxes. News eventually reached Garratt that Billy the Kid was hiding out at the abandoned Fort Sumner. With his deputies, John Poe and Thomas McKinney, Garratt headed for Fort Sumner, a place 140 miles west of Lincoln. On 14th July, 1881, Garratt killed Billy the Kid during a shoot-out in a darkened room at the home of Pete Maxwell.
It was later claimed that Billy the Kid had killed 21 men in his 21 years of life. However, most experts believe he was only responsible for nine deaths.