BILLY THE KID HAS BEEN DEAD for more than 130 years, but his legacy is alive and well. For many, his name is synonymous with the West, says author and University of New Mexico professor emeritus of history Richard Etulain. People plan trips to Billy the Kid sites like the old Lincoln County Courthouse because they want to see where he once visited, he says. Hit the trail to learn about the Kid.

Billy the Kid Homesite
Also known as Henry McCarty or William H. Bonney (among other names), the charming but deadly outlaw reportedly lived in a Silver City cabin with his mother, Catherine McCarty Antrim, brother Joseph McCarty, and stepfather William Antrim. It was torn down in 1894, but more than a century later director Ron Howard donated an 1870s-style cabin (used in his 2003 movie The Missing) to the site. Catherine’s grave is at Memory Lane Cemetery.

Billy the Kid Gift Shop
More than a place to buy a souvenir, the Mesilla adobe building was once a general store and housed the Doña Ana County Courthouse and jail. In April 1881, Bonney was tried and convicted at the courthouse for the murder of Sheriff William J. Brady during the Lincoln County War. The war played a role in delaying statehood for New Mexico, says Javier Trost, Lincoln Historic Site interpretive ranger. “People on the coasts and in the Midwest saw us as a territory that was still uncivilized.”

New Mexico Magazine June 1990 cover




June 1990

Mark Nohl photographed a collage of Billy the Kid memorabilia, including a circa 1976 bourbon decanter.



Lincoln Historic Site
After the guilty verdict at Mesilla, Bonney was taken to the Lincoln County Courthouse, where he shot and killed deputies James W. Bell and Bob Olinger during a daring escape. The two-story stuccoed adobe structure, built in 1874, now serves as a museum at the Lincoln Historic Site. “It created this mythology of an area that to this day plays a role in what people associate with cowboys, Indians, and gunfighters,” says Trost. Attend Old Lincoln Days the first weekend in August for a parade, live music, and a pageant with Billy the Kid reenactors.

Billy the Kid Scenic Byway
The 84-mile route includes Fox Cave, a reported hideout, the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway Visitor Center, in Ruidoso Downs, and Fort Stanton Historic Site.

Billy the Kid Museum
“This is where he was shot, killed, and buried,” says Tim Sweet, owner of the Fort Sumner museum. Opened in 1952, the roadside attraction features an 1873 Winchester that reportedly belonged to Billy as well as two curtains that came out of Pete Maxwell’s bedroom, where the Kid was killed by Lincoln County sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881.

Old Fort Sumner Cemetery
The end of the line on a Billy the Kid adventure, his grave is locked up behind a black metal fence so he cannot try to escape. “A grave is a final representation of a person,” Etulain says. “The dates on the gravestone, the words on the stone, and the place—Fort Sumner—are bits and pieces of the ideas and images we have about Billy the Kid.”

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