It was December 18, 1880, for a short time Billy the Kid led Pat Garrett on a cat and mouse game, but finally the sheriff would catch up with the Kid. Garrett was at Fort Sumner looking for the Kid, but the Kid wasn’t there; he was hiding out at a nearby ranch owned by Tom Wilcox and Manuel Brazil. The Kid then received a note from a Fort Sumner resident saying that Garrett and his posse had left and were heading south to Roswell. The Kid and his gang mounted up and made the cold ride through the snow to Fort Sumner. What the Kid didn’t know was that he was riding into a trap, Garrett himself sent the phony note and was waiting in the shadows of the old Military hospital for the Kid to make his appearance.

As the Kid and his gang, which consisted of four members (Dave Rudabaugh, Tom O’Folliard, Billy Wilson and Tom Pickett,) rode towards the hospital, Garrett whispered,  “That’s them” to his men and they opened fire. The lawmen thought the rider leading the way was the Kid and aimed for him, but it was O’Folliard; shot in the chest, he keeled over in his saddle, and didn’t follow when the Kid and the others rode hell bound for leather into the fog. It wasn’t much use to pursue the Kid in the dark and snowy weather, so the lawmen carried O’Folliard inside a room in the old hospital and laid him down on the floor, while the men played a game of poker. Tom O’Folliard, Billy the Kid’s best friend with whom he shared many adventures with, died.

The Kid and his friends rode back to Wilcox/Brazil’s ranch and got their wits back, ate a hot meal and then departed. The cat and mouse game resumed for another three days until one night Garrett tracked the Kid to a stone house in Stinking Springs. The lawmen waited quietly till dawn, until they heard movement and voices coming from inside the house. Garrett then instructed his men that when the Kid appeared, they were to open fire and kill him. Suddenly, a figure came out of the house. Garrett recognized the wide brim hat the Kid always wore and told his men to shoot. Once again, like that night at Fort Sumner, the men shot the wrong man. This time it was Charlie Bowdre. The wounded man wheeled back into the house, then after a few minutes later, Wilson yelled out that Bowdre was dying and wanted to come out. When Bowdre staggered from the house, he walked towards the men and collapsed dead in the snow.

The outlaws refused to surrender and even attempted to escape. Garrett noticed one of the horses was being reeled in through the door. The Kid’s plan was for them to get mounted on their horses, burst through the door and take their chances. The sheriff knew what he was up to and shot the horse dead, which then blocked the doorway. Now the men were really trapped. After their attempted escape, there was a standoff, but by the afternoon the hungry outlaws couldn’t resist the smell of food the lawmen were cooking over a roaring fire. The starving and cold outlaws then gave themselves up.

After a hearty meal, the lawmen and their prisoners packed up and headed back to Wilcox/Brazil’s ranch, where they spent the night. The next morning they headed out to Fort Sumner, where Garrett delivered the body of Charlie Bowdre to his wife, who went into hysteria and attacked the men. The prisoners were then taken to the blacksmith to be shackled. During this brief stay in Fort Sumner, the Kid supposedly gave his most prized possessions to posse members Jim East and Frank Stewart, with whom he became friendly with after his capture: to East he gave his Winchester rifle and to Stewart his beloved mare, said to be the fastest in the territory. Later that evening, saloon owner Beaver Smith had such a fit, saying the Kid owed him the rifle, that East reluctantly gave the it to him. Another more likelier version to the story concerning the Kid’s possessions, is that Garrett confiscated them and gave them to East and Stewart as payment for helping him with the pursuit. This would then explain later why the Kid try to file suit to get his mare back.

The next morning, the prisoners were loaded onto a wagon and headed out for Las Vegas. On December 26th, the posse arrived and were greeted by curious onlookers who wanted to catch a glimpse of the famous outlaw called “Billy the Kid.” At the jail, the Kid and the other prisoners were treated to new clothes and the Kid was said to be in good spirits, playing to the crowd and chatting with a reporter.

One reporter wrote that the Kid “...has a bold yet pleasant cast of countenance. When interviewed between the bars at jail this morning, he was in a talkative mood, but said that anything he might say would not be believed by the people. He laughed heartily when informed that the papers of the Territory had built him up a reputation second only to that of Victorio. Kid claims never to have had a large number of men with him, and that the few who were with him when captured were employed on a ranch. This is his statement and is given for what it is worth.” Dave Rudabaugh backed the Kid's comments by saying that the papers had exaggerated the Kid's depredations in the country and that it wasn't as bad as reported.

After being interviewed by reporters and gawked at by spectators, Billy the Kid and his companions were put in a jail, described by one of the reporters as  “a little hole in the wall,” for the night.

The next morning, the prisoners were hustled to the train depot, where they encountered a mob that was after Rudabaugh (he had killed a Las Vegas jailer several months earlier). But luckily no violence erupted and the train left without incident. At their destination in Santa Fe, the prisoners were taken to the city jail and locked up, and Garrett, who was through with his obligations, left for Lincoln County.



From the moment he was captured, the Kid’s mind was working on saving his neck. He would try to do it through attorneys, the governor and escaping, but first on his agenda was try escaping. The Kid and his cohorts tried to dig their way through the dirt floor of their cell, but the guards found the hole and separated them. Unfortunately, the Kid got the worst of it; he was chained like a circus elephant and locked in a dark tiny solitary cell.

Next, he tried an attorney, Ira Leonard, who visited the Kid in jail but lost interest in helping him at that time and didn’t come back till weeks later. The Kid then tried Rudabaugh’s attorney, Edgar Caylpless, but the attorney wouldn’t represent him for free, so the Kid offered him his horse that Stewart now owned, which meant the attorney would have to file a suit for ownership of the mare. Caylpless too, lost interest in the Kid’s case.

The Kid then took pencil and paper, and wrote letters to Governor Wallace reminding him of his promise. The Kid did in fact stick to his end of the bargain, not to mention putting his life at peril, but the governor didn’t come through on his. Now it was too late. The governor would never pardon Billy the Kid, who had become too famous. The Kid was running out of options and couldn’t depend on anyone else but himself, and focused on one thing -escape.


On March 28, 1881, the Kid was removed from the Santa Fe jail, and taken by train to Mesilla, where he was to be tried for the killing of Sheriff Brady and Buckshot Roberts. When the Kid and the lawmen arrived at Rincon, just hours away from Mesilla (by coach), a mob confronted them. The lawmen didn't know if it was a rescue attempt or a lynch mob, so they told the Kid if the mob rushed them that he would be shot first (so much for being innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, here the lawmen were ready to make their own verdict). Most likely, by the description of the mood of the crowd, it was to lynch him. The next morning the Kid was loaded into a coach and made the trip to Mesilla, and arrived in one piece.

The first trial began on March 30th, with the bias Judge Bristol presiding and attorney Ira Leonard appointed to defend the Kid. The first case was the killing of Buckshot Roberts, which Leonard was able to get thrown out, stating that the murder took place not on federal land, but private and therefore, the government had no jurisdiction. The prosecution didn’t make too much of a fuss, they knew the Kid would be found guilty for the murder of Brady.

The following day, the Kid was tried for the death of the Lincoln County Sheriff, William Brady. Even though the Kid was one of six involved in the shooting of the sheriff, he was the only one to be indicted, and placed on trial. The Kid didn’t stand a chance in this courtroom. The judge dismissed attorney Leonard, because he was doing too good of a job defending the Kid, and replaced him with two unprepared attorneys, who had no sympathy for their client: John D. Bail and Albert Fountain (who was a supporter of the Santa Fe Ring and hated rustlers). To make matters worse for the Kid, there were prejudice witnesses testifying against him, including Bill Mathews, one of those responsible for Tunstall’s death. Yet, the Kid had no witnesses summoned to testify in his behalf. Then the judge put the final nail in his coffin, by telling the jury:

“If he was present, encouraging, inciting, aiding in, abetting, advising, or commanding this killing of Brady, he is as much guilty as though he fired the fatal shot. As to you what would or would not be a reasonable doubt of guilt, I charge you that belief in the guilt of this defendant to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt does require you to so believe absolutely and to a mathematical certainly. That is to justify a verdict of guilty it is not necessary for you to be certain that this defendant is guilty as you are that 2+2= 4. Merely, a vague conjecture or a bare possibility that the defendant may be innocent is not sufficient to cause a reasonable doubt of his guilt.”

In plain English, “if you do not find the defendant guilty, you’re all a bunch of idiots!” and that’s exactly what they did. On April 13th, the Kid was brought before the judge and was asked if he had anything to say. The Kid said no. The judge then sentenced the Kid to death on May 13, 1881 between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm. He would be taken to Lincoln for execution and hanged “by the neck until his body be dead.” But the Kid wasn’t about to give up just yet; his new attorney, Albert Fountain, was willing to appeal the case if the Kid could bear his expenses. When the Kid returned to his cell, he wrote a letter to Rudabaugh’s attorney, Edgar Caypless, concerning the suit for his horse. If he could regain possession, he would sell her and have money for attorney fees. Unfortunately, Caypless didn’t follow through. The Kid’s only hope now was his cunning abilities and lots of luck.

(to be continued....)


Bell, Boze Bob  The Illustrated Life and Times of Billy the Kid Second  Edition,      
                          Tri-Star-Boze Production, Inc.  1996

Nolan, Frederick   The West of Billy the Kid University of Oklahoma Press,
                               Norman  1998

Nolan, Frederick   The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History  University
                               Oklahoma Press, Norman  1992                 

Tuska, Jon   Billy the Kid: His Life and Legend   University of New Mexico Press,
                    Albuquerque 1994


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