Dreaming of Billy the Kid


William Bonney aka Billy the Kid was born in New York of Irish parents in 1860. Both parents died young and Billy was shipped to relatives in Arizona at 14 years of age. These relatives did not know, or want him and he was kicked out sans gun or horse into this almost lawless state, a child of 14 years.

Arizona then was sparsely populated, a land of searing heat, cold nights, flash floods, ignorant drunken killer cowboys, hostile Indians, and most of the women were called soiled doves. It was truly a dreadful place.

To survive, Billy had to grow up fast, so he robbed from the robber and got himself a Colt 45 revolver, a Winchester 73 rifle, and a horse. Now he had a chance of survival. Billy could ride into Mexico, rustle cattle and sell them to vacuous Arizona ranchers.

Now 15 years of age, Billy was an affable youth and had sagacity in spades. He was bilingual and as George Coe said of him “He stood straight as an Indian, spoke Spanish, all Hispanic loved him, and he was a wonder.”

The kid got involved in many gunfights, including the Lincoln county wars, when the US army were called in. His reputation grew big time – even east coast papers had headlines like Kill Billy the Kid.

The kid was caught many times but always escaped from captivity. The governor of Arizona Lew Wallace – who later found fame as the author of Ben-Hur – offered Billy a pardon. The kid turned up and was chained and incarcerated, but he shot his way out of jail again.

Billy kept moving. Everywhere he went most of the men wanted to kill him for the reward. The only safe friends he had were all female; not one girl ever said a bad word about Billy. Indeed, all of his many girls said he treated them with dignity and respect.

Billy was always dancing. He would attend Mexican bailes (dances). The girls said he was always neat and tidy and clean and unarmed. Billy was also a non-smoker, drank very little, had a truly magnificent singing voice and was a superb dancer. Even today, I am sure Billy the Kid would be a big hit with the girls.

Some months later, Governor Wallace called Sherriff Pat Garrett and a gang of thug deputies to hunt and kill Billy. Garrett was tipped off that Billy was calling to see his latest flame Paulita in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. As Billy arrived unarmed he saw moving figures and called out “¿Quién es, Quién es?” (Who is it, who is it?). A volley of shots rang out. On 14 July 1881 William Bonney aka Billy the Kid was dead. How he survived five years alone is astonishing.

At the inquest, Pat Garrett lied and lied again. He said Billy drew his gun when he was told Billy was unarmed he said he must have went for his holster. The jury laughed at this, no cowboy would ride around with an empty holster.

William Bonney was buried at Fort Sumner and from day one his grave was robbed by souvenir hunters – even many tombstones were stolen. In the 1930s the county placed a big, ugly steel cage over Billy’s grave. During my research on Billy I garnered a lot of sympathy for him as he was not a cold killer, he only shot at people who were shooting at him. It was all about survival.

I cannot let this story end in a sad way as I believe Billy was more sinned against than a sinner. Let’s all close our eyes, go into dream time and think of Billy in a better life. In my dream time I see Billy at a camp fire in the great prairie in the sky. He is happy and he is singing. I can see a lovely Spanish angel holding his hand. She is astonished listening to his magnificent timbre voice echoing across the prairie in the sky. He is now dancing with the señorita with such style and grace this is a sight to behold. As I wake from my dreamtime I realise everything is fine in heaven and on earth.

Left: William Bonney photographed on a tintype (tin base photo) at Fort Sumner circa 1879–1880.
Above: Billy the Kid’s tombstone at Fort Sumner.