Spiritual Lessons From The American West
(Volume 27, March 2011)
The Bad Guys - Billy The Kid
Few, if any, of the characters of the American West have had as many stories told about them, both true and false, as William H. Bonney, alias Henry McCarty, alias Henry Antrim, but best known as Billy The Kid.
The exact date and place of Billy’s birth have always been disputed, but the most generally accepted, both then and now, are November 23, 1859 and New York City.
Though Billy was relatively unknown during most of his lifetime, the young outlaw was catapulted into legend a few months before his death, when New Mexico’s governor, Lew Wallace, placed a price on his head, and stories about him were printed in the Las Vegas Gazette and New York Sun. Then, as now, many looked upon Billy as a wild west Robin Hood, while others saw him only as a vicious killer.
One of the widely-believed myths about William Bonney is that, at the age of twelve, he killed his first man. The man, according to the myth, had made some derogatory comments about Billy’s mother. However, there is no historical evidence that this event ever took place.
Another tale about Billy is that he was left-handed. This too is only myth. Though Billy was ambidextrous, he was primarily right-handed. The only picture in existence of him was proven in later years to have been flipped, putting his pistol on his left side. When closely scrutinized, it can be seen that the writing on the rifle in the picture is reversed, proving the picture somehow got flipped.
Still another legend about Billy is that he killed twenty-one men. According to the records of the time, Billy actually killed four men and was one of several men involved in some large shootouts that left five other men dead.
According to some of his cousins, Billy was about seventeen years old when he was involved in New Mexico’s Lincoln County War. In 1876, the problems between local ranchers and a dry goods store that had a monopoly on the business, led to all out war over control of that business in the county. Sorry, it wasn’t cattlemen and sheepmen, and Billy wasn’t especially close to his English-born boss John Tunstall, who was only a few years older than him and far from a father figure. It was during this five-month “war,” that left twenty-two dead and nine wounded, that the name of Billy The Kid became both famous and infamous at the same time.
Billy The Kid did rustle some cattle with a few of his friends, mostly from the herd of local rancher, John Chisum, who became a legend in his own right. Billy was never a large scale rustler or leader of a large, organized outlaw gang.
The only price ever put on Bonny’s head was $500, not the $5,000 mentioned in most movies about him. And again, contrary to legend, Billy was not friends with Sheriff Pat Garrett who, on July 14, 1881, laid an ambush for Billy and brought his lawless days to a sudden close.
It’s a wonderful thing to know that Jesus Christ is not concerned with out past, but only with our present and future. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” No matter how good or how bad we are or have been, Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). Even Billy The Kid could have been saved had he acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord.