lot of what we know about Billy the Kid is dead wrong, and that includes
stories and information about the time he spent in Texas. Tascosa
must have had a population of several thousand if we are to account
for all the first-hand stories people of the day (and not of the day)
later told about what amounted to a working vacation in Texas for
Here are a few true facts, untrue facts, distortions, fictions and
outright lies about Billy the Kid in Texas, sorted out as best we
He wasn't Billy the Kid in Texas. Billy's enduring and romantic
sobriquet came after his stay in Texas. People of the day called every
young tough with a gun and willingness to use it Billy. Anybody who
called Billy the Kid anything called him Billy, which was handy because
he went by a slew of surnames but his first name could always at least
be translated to Billy.
Billy the Kid helped form the Panhandle Stock Association.
Billy arrived in Tascosa
in the fall of 1878 with about 125 stolen horses he intended to sell
to several big Panhandle
ranches like the LX and XIT.
By the time he left Texas he was stealing horses and cattle from those
same ranchers. Fed up with the whole mess and more than ready to take
matters into their own hands, the ranchers formed the Panhandle Stock
Association. Pat Garrett, Billy's (alleged)
killer worked for the association.
| He once broke
into a jail in San
Elizario. This comes originally from an 1880 manuscript by
a member of Garrett's posse, Charles
Frederick Rudolph, who recounted how Billy rode from Las Cruces to
(just outside of El
Paso) after learning that his friend, Melquiades Segura, was in
jail there for murder. Billy arrived in San
Elizario around 3 a.m. and knocked on the jail door to wake up
the Mexican guards. He told the guard who answered the door that he
was a Texas Ranger and he had two American prisoners with him. The
unsuspecting guard opened the door only to find himself staring at
Billy's .44 revolver. Billy relieved the guards of their guns, replaced
Segura with the guards and threw away the key. Then he and Segura
hightailed it a few miles to Mexico.
That's the kind of story that made Billy the Kid into something more
than a horse thief and murderer in the popular imagination. San
Elizario celebrates the escapade every summer with the Billy the
Temple Houston did not best Billy and Bat Masterson in a shooting
contest. In Tascosa,
Billy mostly sold and traded horses but he took a little time off
for horse races and target shooting contests. He liked to bet local
blacksmith Henry Kimball a dollar or two a shot. The fabled shooting
match featuring Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson and Sam Houston's sharp-shooting
lawyer son Temple, with Temple
Houston getting the best of the two legendary gunmen, is a favorite
However, Billy the Kid was already dead (allegedly) and Bat Masterson
was in Colorado when Temple Houston
first strapped on his six guns in Tascosa.
People still tell the story because it's at least compelling fiction,
and it could've been true if only it were possible.
Billy was as sober as a judge. One of Billy's best friends
was a young doctor, Henry F. Hoyt, who late in his life wrote about
his rough-and-tumble pioneer days in the west. Hoyt said Billy was
"expert at most Western sports with the exception of drinking." Hoyt
didn't drink either, and they bonded mostly over their temperance.
On his way out of Tascosa
and Texas, Billy gave Hoyt a horse named
Dandy Dick as a token of their friendship. Hoyt mentioned that he
would be taking Dandy Dick through New Mexico and, you know, someone
might think they recognized it or something, and there might be a
messy misunderstanding…Billy scribbled out a bill of sale, recruited
a few witnesses and sent Holt on his way.
Years later, Hoyt found out New Mexico sheriff William Brady was riding
Dandy Dick on the day he died of gunshot wounds in Lincoln County,
Billy's favorite stomping grounds.
Even women who didn't know Billy remembered him. Tascosa
belle Frenchy McCormick once said of Billy: "He was the best-natured
kid and had the most pleasant smile I ever saw in a young man." Frenchy
must've been thinking of some other kid. She didn't arrive in Tascosa
until 1880. By then, Billy was long gone, never to return.
The Kid Statue in Hico
Photo courtesy Teri
Brown, September 2005
| Or maybe
he did. The record holds that former running buddy Pat
Garrett killed Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1881
but some people will tell you that Pat Garrett
never got it done, that Billy survived, went straight and ended his
life as Brushy
Bill Roberts in Hico,
Bill Roberts was the main person who said that, but enough people
believed him or at least thought it was possible that Hico
celebrates Brushy Bill with a Billy the Kid museum.
The Billy the Kid stories just never stop.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
December 3, 2016 column