Killing the Kid
Although Billy the Kid and his gang had escaped at Fort Sumner, they couldn’t evade the reach of the Sheriff for long. Within a couple of days, Garrett tracked the gang down once again, this time in Stinking Springs. There was no escape for the outlaws on this occasion. After a siege that lasted several days, Charlie Bowdre was killed, and the other four gang members were captured on December 23.
Billy the Kid was found guilty of his crimes and was sentenced to hang in New Mexico. However, if Garrett thought he had seen the last of the Kid, he was sorely mistaken. On April 18, 1881, Billy escaped custody and killed guards on his way to freedom; the chase was on once again. Garrett pursued his quarry one last time and arrived at the ranch of Peter Maxwell on July 14 to ask questions about Billy’s whereabouts. It transpired that Billy was staying with Maxwell unbeknownst to the Sheriff.
There are differing accounts of how Billy the Kid died. Some say he walked into a darkened bedroom while others say he woke up in the middle of the night to get something to eat and met his killer in the kitchen. Either way, Garrett was in a darkened room with Maxwell and caught Billy completely by surprise. The outlaw did not recognize his pursuer in the dark and asked âWho is it?’ in Spanish several times. Garrett responded by firing two bullets at the outlaw; one of which hit him in the heart and killed him instantly.
If Garrett thought he would become a hero for killing the notorious outlaw, he was sorely mistaken. While he initially gained fame, things turned sour within a few years. Five days after the death of Billy, Garrett traveled to Santa Fe to claim the reward but the acting governor of New Mexico, William G. Ritch, would not pay the money. Citizens of the state responded by raising over $7,000 in bounty money for the Sheriff and a year after the killing, Garrett finally received his $500.
The End of Garrett’s 15 Minutes
The media of the day claimed that Garrett shot Billy the Kid in a cowardly fashion and turned the Sheriff into a villain and the outlaw into a folk hero. Garrett responded by telling his side of the story in the 1882 book entitled The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, the Noted Desperado of the Southwest. However, the book fared poorly, mainly because there were eight books on the subject released before it.
While historians originally believed that Garrett’s account of the incident was authoritative, they later found that there were a number of inconsistencies and exaggerations when compared with other books on the subject.
Although Garrett was initially seen as âhero of the hour,’ question marks surrounded the circumstances of the outlaw’s death, so his popularity quickly dwindled. When his term as Sheriff ended in 1882, he moved to Texas and worked with the famous Texas Rangers for a short while in 1884. He resigned his commission within a year and moved back to his ranch in New Mexico. The rest of his life was marked by bad luck and unsuccessful business ventures.