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John Waelti: The story continues - The Kid attains notoriety
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1877 - Lincoln County, New Mexico: 18-year-old Henry McCarty/Kid Antrim/William H. Bonney, soon to be forever known as Billy the Kid, had already traveled a long road. From birth in New York City, to Wichita, Kansas with his widowed mother, to Santa Fe where his mother re-married, to Silver City, New Mexico where his mother died a year later, leaving Henry as a 15-year-old orphan, to Arizona Territory after escaping jail where he was held for hiding stolen laundry, to Arizona Territory where, becoming known as "Kid Antrim," he got mixed up with cattle rustler John Mackie, shot a bully who was beating him up, escaped back to New Mexico Territory, throwing in with the Jesse Evans gang stealing cattle and horses, and was hired by English cattleman, John Tunstall, who was competing with a merchant/cattle syndicate headed by Irishmen Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan.

That's quite a run for an 18-year-old kid. To this point he has killed one man, the bully who was beating him up in Arizona. He was not the leader of any of these gangs with which he was affiliated. He was a teenager, valued for his loyalty, physical courage, and alleged proficiency with firearms. It was these qualities that attracted him to Tunstall, who was resented by cattlemen and merchants, Dolan and Murphy.

Late 1877 - Tunstall hires Bonney, along with Charlie Bowdrie, Doc Scurlock, Frank Coe and Abe Saunders to drive and guard his cattle. Members of this crew, led by Richard Brewer, are all proficient with firearms.

The tension between Tunstall and the Dolan/Murphy faction was about to become violent, known as the "Lincoln County War."

February 18, 1878 - Tunstall was driving some livestock to Lincoln. By orders of Lincoln County Sheriff Brady, a posse ordered the livestock seized. Accounts vary regarding members of the posse, but names include James Dolan, Billy Matthews, Bill Morton, Frank Baker, Buckshot Roberts and Jesse Evans. Although names vary according to account, they are clearly members of the Dolan/Murphy faction, also known as "The House," after the mansion in Lincoln that served as their headquarters.

"The House" sought to paint Tunstall's death as "justifiable homicide," although there was absolutely no evidence that Tunstall resisted the posse. The murder of Tunstall enrages his ranch hands and they seek revenge.

Justice of the Peace John Wilson appoints Tunstall's foreman, Richard Brewer, as "special constable," with power to make arrests. Brewer immediately forms a group called "The Regulators," consisting of Tunstall's ranch hands, of which Kid Antrim/Bonney is a member. The Regulators consider themselves a lawful posse with license to avenge Tunstall's murder.

The Regulators capture two of Dolan's men, Bill Morton and Frank Baker. The Regulators report that Morton and Baker were shot as they attempted to escape during their return to Lincoln. The Regulators also kill a third man they believed to be loyal to the Dolan faction.

The same day that Baker and Morton are killed, Territorial Governor Sam Axtell arrives in Lincoln and cancels Wilson's appointment as Justice of the Peace, effectively nullifying legal authority of the Regulators, making them outlaws regarding any future violent actions.

The Regulators, now outside the law, decide to settle the score with Sheriff Brady. They ambush the sheriff and a deputy, gunning them down on the streets of Lincoln.

With that move, the Regulators lose support, as disillusioned former supporters now view both sides as "equally nefarious and bloodthirsty."

Three days later as the Regulators are involved in another gunfight, Buckshot Roberts of the Dolan faction is killed, as is Richard Brewer, leader of the Regulators. During the forthcoming months, the violence escalates. But only the Regulators are indicted in any of the murders.

July, 1878, the residence of Tunstall's partner, Alexander McSween - the fighting peaks when 60 of the Regulators are in a gun battle against James Dolan and the new sheriff, George Peppin, and 40 of their men. After five days of fighting, the Army arrives with a Gatling gun and a howitzer. Although ostensibly neutral, the howitzer is aimed only at the McSween house, where the Regulators are stationed.

The sheriff sets fire to the McSween house. Kid/Bonney takes over, divides the surviving Regulators into two groups in an attempt to escape. McSween and several of the Regulators are killed but Kid escapes. With the Regulators diminished in number, and McSween and Brewer dead, the Dolan faction declares victory and the Lincoln County War is over.

September 1878 - President Rutherford B. Hayes appoints former Union Army General Lew Wallace as governor of New Mexico Territory.

March 1879 - Gov. Wallace receives the first of several letters from Bonney, still known as "Kid Antrim," requesting clemency. The letters are said to be in neat penmanship, and articulate, considering the Kid's minimal schooling.

Gov. Wallace replies to Kid's letters telling him when to appear in court, assuring him that "I have the authority to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you know."

April 1879 - Kid Antrim appears before the court and testifies. Numerous indictments are handed down but none come to trial. Members of the Dolan faction are all acquitted. The U.S. attorney wants to put Kid on trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady.

With the courts clearly under influence of the Dolan faction, and Gov. Wallace either not having the authority, or unwilling, to grant the Kid clemency, Kid sees his only alternative as fleeing. Kid leaves town, resorting once again to the only profession he knows, small-time cattle rustling. He wrote additional letters, but by this time, the newspapers had built him up into something he wasn't.

In summer of 1879 the Kid ostensibly dined with legendary Missouri outlaw Jesse James in Las Vegas, New Mexico. But any story that he rode with the James gang is pure fiction - it didn't happen.

Next week: More gunplay, capture, escape, and death.

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