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John Waelti: 'Kid Henry' grows up and gets into trouble
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Fort Sumner, New Mexico - Tom and I stopped at the Billy the Kid Museum. A visit to that museum stokes the curiosity and an attempt to separate myth from reality of the West's most notorious and, arguably, most misunderstood outlaw.

It is somewhat of an exercise in futility as historians and serious researchers either disagree, or are unable to document missing links, regarding the Kid and his family.

Nevertheless, with limited confidence in accuracy, let's review what seem to be reasonably credible and, more or less anyway, agreed on events in the life of the Kid.

Henry McCarty, born Sept. 17, 1859 in New York City, was the second of three children born to Irish immigrants Patrick McCarty and Catherine Devine. Henry's father died in 1864. The next firmly documented evidence of the family leads to Wichita, Kansas in 1870. In 1871 Catherine purchased land from William Henry Harrison Antrim who claims to have known her for six years.

The next documented evidence of the McCarty family is March 1, 1873 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. William Henry Harrison Antrim married Catherine Devine McCarty in Santa Fe's First Presbyterian Church. Henry would have been 13, and his younger brother, 9.

Catherine Devine McCarty Antrim suffered from a lung affliction. For health reasons, the family moved to Silver City, then a mining town in southwestern New Mexico.

Today, Silver City is home of Western New Mexico State University and a budding artsy community, a very attractive city, off the beaten path. I have spent some time there and find it to be a delightful place. But I digress.

Eighteen months after her marriage, Catherine died of tuberculosis. Henry, referred to by his mother as Henry McCarty Antrim, was a day shy of 15 upon his mother's death. His stepfather abandoned the two boys and left for Arizona, leaving the kids with a boarding house.

Exactly one year after his mother's death, a day shy of his 16 birthday, Henry had his first brush with the law. He and boarding housemate, Sombrero Jack, were charged with stealing laundry from laundry operators, Charley Sun and Sam Chung. According to the Silver City paper, Henry McCarty who was jailed, was the "tool of Sombrero Jack who done the stealing whilst Henry done the hiding. Jack has skinned out."

One would like to believe that the authorities would have let the luckless orphan off easy for hiding some laundry. But Henry wasn't about to find out. He escaped jail by climbing out through a chimney, and headed for Arizona Territory, beginning a life of running afoul of the law. His escape from the Silver City jail gives the Silver City Herald the distinction of having published the first story about the future "Billy the Kid."

By some accounts, Henry found his stepfather in Arizona Territory, who gave him some money, and told him to leave. In any case, Henry arrived at Camp Grant in Arizona Territory, looking for work. He found some odd jobs and picked up the label of "Kid." That could have been because it was a common name for juvenile delinquents or, according to one biographer, because of his "slight build and beardless countenance, his young years, and his appealing personality."

Young Henry used his earnings to test his skills at local gaming houses, probably benign enough, except that he again fell in with bad company. He met John R. Mackie, a Scottish-born ex-cavalry private and known horse thief. They stole from local soldiers, Henry acquiring the name of "Kid Antrim."

According to at least one account (a PBS series), "Henry Antrim, alias Kid," and Mackie were arrested and charged with horse stealing. According to this account, despite being shackled, Kid escaped while his guards were attending a local dance.

In any case, he returned to Camp Grant. On Aug. 17, 1877, a month shy of his 18th birthday, Kid Antrim, got into a spat with a local tough, Windy Cahill. As Cahill had Henry on the floor, beating him up, Henry managed to reach his gun and shot Cahill in the stomach. Cahill would die the next day. Kid Antrim didn't stick around to face murder charges and/or revenge from Cahill's friends. He headed back to New Mexico Territory, once again on the lam from the law.

Now an outlaw for sure, Kid Antrim fell in with a gang of cattle rustlers known as "The Boys," headed by Jesse Evans. Among the targets of the rustlers were the sprawling herds of cattle owned by cattle baron John Chisum, after whom the Chisum Trail was named.

According to one account, Henry was spotted by a resident of Silver City. During 1877 Henry, or Kid Antrim, started referring to himself as "William H. Bonney."

Meanwhile, over in Lincoln County, a feud with ethnic overtones was brewing. Irish immigrants Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, established town merchants, resented competing interests of upstart Englishman, John Tunstall, and his attorney-partner, Alexander McSween. The far-reaching cattle and merchant trade of Dolan/Murphy was known locally as "The House," after a mansion in Lincoln that served as their headquarters. "The House," had support of powerful interests in Santa Fe, which would prove significant.

It's unclear whether the Jesse Evans gang started stealing John Tunstall's cattle, or whether Henry/Kid Antrim/William Bonney arrived in Lincoln County on his own. The PBS series asserts that Bonney was arrested and jailed for possessing horses belonging to Tunstall. Another account has Tunstall agreeing to hire Bonney if he testifies against the other rustlers. Biographers agree that Tunstall hires Bonney as one of his hands to drive - and guard - his cattle. So Kid, as his friends call him, is employed by Tunstall, from who he once rustled stock, and who is resented by the Dolan/Murphy faction with their well-positioned allies.

Next week: The Kid attains notoriety.

- John Waelti of Monroe can be reached at His column appears Fridays in The Monroe Times.