In Old Silver City He Went to the Bad

by Diane Goodloe 
(first published in the 2014 Outlaw Gazette)

I’ll sing you a true song of Billy the Kid

I’ll sing of some desperate deeds that he did

‘Way out in New Mexico long, long ago

When a man’s only chance was his own forty-four

When Billy the Kid was a very young lad

In old Silver City he went to the bad…

 

From “Billy the Kid” by Marty Robbins

 

As a relatively new member of BTKOG I recently made my first foray into researching the life of Billy the Kid, only to be frustrated by contradicting and misleading information.  What caught my attention, however, were accounts of Billy’s childhood in Silver City, New Mexico.  Not much is known of those years but this small town of 10,000 in Grant County, New Mexico certainly seems to claim Billy as its own.  Following is a short account of Billy’s life up until age 16…or 15…or 17…depending on the source. The facts given here seem to be generally agreed upon among most historians.

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At the age of thirteen Billy the Kid, known then as Henry McCarty, moved to Silver City, New Mexico with his mother Catherine who was an Irish immigrant, his younger brother Joseph, and his new step-father William Antrim.  Sometimes called “Kid Antrim”, Billy was a slender child with blue eyes and sandy colored hair.  He was said to be likable, fun-loving, and mischievous.  A popular boy, Billy attended the Sixth Street Elementary School where his teachers found him to be helpful and eager to please.  He liked to read “dime novels” which contained sensational tales of adventure, perhaps giving him a glimpse of his years yet to come.

 

The following year Henry’s mother died of tuberculosis and his step-father Antrim, never very involved with his step-sons, was away much of the time.  Henry and his brother were taken in by a neighbor where the boys did chores to earn their keep.  Soon, however, circumstances changed and Henry moved into a boarding house.  There he did odd jobs such as washing dishes and waiting tables to support himself.  Eventually Henry began associating with a rough crowd.  This appears to be when Billy’s “life of crime” began.  Accounts differ, but the Kid’s first offenses seem to be minor.  His first arrests were for “throwing rocks at a local Chinaman” and for stealing butter (or cheese).  Later that same year he was arrested for stealing clothing and firearms.  Here it is agreed that he did not actually commit the theft himself but was merely “holding” the items for an accomplice.  The sheriff who arrested him was Harvey Whitehill.  Henry complained that he was being mistreated in the jail so he was not confined to a cell but rather roamed the jail at will.  The day following his arrest Henry made the first of his notorious escapes by climbing out through the chimney of the county jail.  He reportedly got money from a family friend and fled New Mexico.  Henry McCarty (later to be known as Billy the Kid) was only 16 years old.

For more information on the Silver City area visit our Billy the Kid Days page and download a walking map of Downtown Silver City here: