July 14

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 14, 1881:

Billy the Kid is shot to death

Sheriff Pat Garrett shoots Henry McCarty, popularly known as Billy the Kid, to death at the Maxwell Ranch in New Mexico. Garrett, who had been tracking the Kid for three months after the gunslinger had escaped from prison only days before his scheduled execution, got a tip that Billy was holed up with friends. While Billy was gone, Garrett waited in the dark in his bedroom. When Billy entered, Garrett shot him to death.

Back on April 1, 1878, Billy the Kid ambushed Sheriff William Brady and one deputy in Lincoln, New Mexico, after ranch owner John Tunstall had been murdered. Billy had worked at Tunstall's ranch and was outraged by his employer's slaying-vowing to hunt down every man responsible. Sheriff Brady and his men, who had been affiliated with rival ranchers, were involved with the gang that killed Tunstall on February 18. Billy's retaliatory attack left Brady and Deputy George Hindman dead. Although only 18 years old at the time, Billy had now committed as many as 17 murders.

Following his indictment for the murder of Sheriff Brady, Billy the Kid was the most wanted man in the West. Evading posses sent to capture him, he eventually struck a deal with the new governor of New Mexico: In return for his testimony against the perpetrators of the ongoing ranch wars in the state, Billy would be set free. Although he kept his word about the testimony, he began to distrust the promise that he would be released and so he escaped.

Once a fugitive, Billy killed a few more men, including the gunslinger Joe Grant, who had challenged him to a showdown. Legend has it that Billy managed to get a hold of Grant's gun prior to the fight and made sure that an empty chamber was up first in the man's revolver. When it came time to fire, only Billy's gun went off and Grant was left dead.

Legendary Sheriff Pat Garrett finally brought Billy the Kid in to stand trial. The judge sentenced Billy the Kid to hang until "you are dead, dead, dead." Billy reportedly responded, "And you can go to hell, hell, hell." Two weeks before his scheduled execution, Billy escaped, killing two guards in the process.

Garrett mounted yet another posse to bring in the Kid. After tracing him to the Maxwell Ranch, Garrett shot him to death. No legal charges were brought against him since the killing was ruled a justifiable homicide.

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