recent episode of ‘Brad Metzger’s DECODED,’ shown on the History Channel,
delved into—or appeared to delve into—the long-held myth that Brushy
Bill Roberts was actually Billy the Kid. A good friend of mine, W.
C. Jameson, a former president of Western Writers of America, is the
only prominent historian who gives any credence to this. Some years
ago he and the late Fred Beene tried to recruit me to support the
‘Brushy Bill was really Billy the Kid’ bandwagon they were trying
to organize. I presented part of the evidence in this article as proof
he wasn’t and W. C. never spoke to me about it again.
|Sumner, NM -
Billy The Kid Tombstone
Photo courtesy Sarah
| W. C. was interviewed
at some length on the program. The program also included a short bit
taken from a story of mine, published in The National Tombstone
Epitaph some years ago. I wasn’t interviewed.
McCarty A.K.A. Billy the Kid—among other aliases, one of which was
‘William H. Bonney’--was shot and killed on the night of June 14,
1881, in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom in the old officers’ quarters building
at Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. The shot, from a caliber .44
WCF Colt single-action Army revolver with a 7˝-inch barrel, was fired
by Patrick Floyd Garrett, then sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico
Territory. Only a few people doubt this. Most of them are not serious
There have been imposters. The most prominent over the years has been
Oliver Partridge ‘Brushy Bill’ Roberts. The Roberts family has denied
there is any possibility that ‘Brushy Bill’ could have been Billy
the Kid. They base this on the fact that, according to the Roberts’
family records, Oliver Partridge Roberts was born in Coleman
County, Texas, in 1879. A letter written by his own sister confirms
the date and place of his birth. That makes him about two years old
when the Kid was killed. As I have stated many times, if ‘Brushy Bill’
was the Kid, he did a helluva lot of gunslingin’ in his diapers.
That aside, there’s absolute physical proof that O. P. Roberts could
not have been Billy the Kid, and it’s in every photograph ever taken
of ‘Brushy Bill.’ That proof is ‘The Roberts Family Ear.’ This is
a genetic deformity that appears in the Roberts family from Coleman
County. Their ears are not the same size. Their right ears are
about twice the size of their left ears. This shows up in every ‘Brushy
Bill’ photo, and in a photo of his uncle, Walter N. ‘Brushy’ Roberts,
who was a Dallas police
officer in the 1880s. He got the nickname ‘Brushy’ from his handlebar
moustache, which also is obvious in his photo. ‘The Ear’ continues
to show up in the Roberts family from time to time.
Looking at the one absolutely authentic photo of the Kid—and at the
many, many ‘maybe’ photos of the Kid—you don’t see the Roberts ear.
Nowhere in any published description of him do you find it mentioned
that he had one ear much larger than the other. If that distinguishing
characteristic had been present, it would have been mentioned prominently
in every description of the Kid put out to lawmen. Pat
Garrett, who apparently knew the Kid fairly well, would certainly
have told his deputies that night “The Kid’s got one great big ear
and the other one’s normal size. If you see a man with a great big
right ear, that’s the Kid.” If he did, John Poe certainly never mentioned
it in his 1917 letter to Charlie
Goodnight, recounting his experiences as Garrett’s
deputy that night. If Garrett
had told him to be on the lookout for somebody with a huge right ear,
Poe—who was within six feet of the Kid on the porch of Maxwell’s house--would
certainly have been aware he was in the Kid’s presence. He wasn’t
aware of it until Garrett
identified the Kid’s body to him.
The lack of the distinctive Roberts ear isn’t the only proof ‘Brushy
Bill’ wasn’t Billy the Kid. The other is Paulita Maxwell’s reaction
to the body. She was Pete Maxwell’s daughter, the Kid’s mistress,
and possibly his legal wife though no proof of marriage has ever been
produced. Upon seeing the Kid’s body she threw herself on it, screaming
“Billito! Billito! No! No! No!” and sobbing uncontrollably.
If the body wasn’t the Kid’s, she was a better actress than Sarah
Bernhardt, Lynne Fontaine, Katherine Hepburn, and Dame Judy all rolled
‘Brushy Bill’ Roberts was Billy the Kid? There’s simply no way he
could have been. It’s time this myth was put away permanently. However,
there will always be ‘true believers.’ There are those who still firmly
believe, even in the face of DNA identification, that the body in
Jesse James’ grave is that of an imposter and J.
Frank Dalton was really Jesse James.
F. Eckhardt January
7 , 2012 column
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Kid's Tombstone was stolen in 1950. For 26 years it remained a mystery
until 1976, when it was recovered in Granbury,
Photo courtesy Sarah
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