Billy the Kid! Famous outlaw, bloodthirsty killer, scourge of Lincoln County and the terror of the West, a name used to frighten recalcitrant kids into behaving.
Killed his first man when he was only twelve, to avenge an insult to his mother.
Went on to kill twenty-one men, one for each notch on his gun and each year of his young life - not counting Mexicans and Indians.
Lived in a magnificent cavern in Eastern New Mexico with crystal chandeliers, Persian carpets, elaborate feasts served by one hundred beautiful senoritas.
Chased down and captured, tried, convicted, sentenced to hang. Then shot both his guards in an incredible escape.
Finally killed by his nemesis and former friend, Sheriff Pat Garrett, in a darkened bedroom in Fort Sumner.
The story of Billy the Kid has been told many times. Sometimes it's an outlandish fantasy, such as Pat Garrett's own book The Authentic Life of Billy of Kid, or the multitude of Hollywood creations.
Other times it's a work of serious history, except that much of the history has had to be imagined because of conflicting evidence or no evidence at all. So such works often disagree.
This book is not another attempt to tell that history.
This book tells Billy's side. Why he did what he did, what choices he saw, what he felt. His yearnings, his joys, his regrets. Billy's own story, in his own words.
How This Book Came to Be
Billy the Kid didn't die of Pat Garrett's bullet on July 14, 1881. He was shot, but he didn't die. .
When Deluvina Maxwell entered Pete Maxwell's bedroom - alone, because Pete and Pat Garrett were afraid to go back in - she discovered Billy on the floor, badly wounded. As Billy let out a low groan, Deluvina quickly grasped the possibilities and urgently whispered, "Play dead, Billy, play dead."
Though in great pain, Billy held himself motionless as Deluvina and friends moved then dressed his body, attended him through the night, laid him in a coffin with contrived airholes. Delays, to reposition the "corpse," to rehammer the top more tightly, to bring the coffin back up for Deluvina to place a Bible with Billy, led a very nervous Garrett to take off, skin out, as the first shovelful of dirt fell.
With Garrett gone, Billy was brought up, spirited away to a nearby ranch for recuperation, eventually made his way to Wichita and, under the name of Henry Carter, lived to a ripe old age.
Then in 1951, the Wichita newspaper published an article by Ralph Estes, a local high school student. The piece had been written as a classroom essay, and dealt with the early Regulator movements that had opposed dictatorial abuse of power by government authorities.
Henry Carter, dying with cancer and in a senior care facility, saw the article and was much impressed by Ralph's reasoning and the quality of his writing. Ralph had captured almost exactly what Henry, formerly Billy, was thinking in 1878 at the start of the Lincoln County War.
In early American history backcountry farmers, homesteaders and squatters sometimes formed extralegal organizations to defend themselves against corrupt colonial officials, as well as from what they saw as abuse of power by government and economic forces. These came to be referred to as "regulator" movements, and include the North Carolina War of the Regulation or Regulator Movement (c.1764-1771), the South Carolina Regulation (c. 1767-1769), the "Green Mountain Boys" movement (c.1770-1784), Shays' Rebellion (c.1780-1787), and the Whiskey Rebellion (c.1780-1794). Some historians consider the regulator movements as a precursor and catalyst to the American Revolutionary War.
The North Carolina movement was probably viewed by the Lincoln County Regulators as a particularly relevant precedent. There a small clique of wealthy officials became an exclusive inner circle, or "ring" not unlike the Santa Fe Ring, that controlled the political power and legal affairs of the area.
Henry asked the facility to get Ralph to come and see him. They talked at length about Ralph's ideas.
After several visits Henry decided to tell Ralph his real history, admitting that he is Billy the Kid, but first swearing Ralph to tell no one until after Henry is dead. Over some two weeks Ralph visited Henry almost every day, with a tape recorder. (Reel-to-reel tape recorders had been introduced just a few years earlier, and Ralph was able to borrow an early Ampex 200, using 1/4 inch tape, from the university thanks to the persuasiveness of a neighboring professor.)
As Henry grew weaker he became desperate to finish the story, and the sessions lengthened. Finally he gets to Fort Sumner in July 1881.
He tells of his escape, how he worked his way to Wichita, and with just a few sentences passes over the rest of his life. Pleading great fatigue, he refuses to talk in more detail about his life "after Billy." Two days later Henry Carter died.
The tapes were stashed in a box in Ralph's parent's house for years - as a teenage boy other things were more interesting than musty history. But much later, while dealing with the house and residue of his parents' estate, Ralph discovered the box of tapes. He now realizes that nothing could be more interesting and exciting than transcribing Billy's true life story.
Except for minor editorial adjustments, what follows are Billy the Kid's own words.
Excerpted from "The Autobiography of Billy the Kid" by Ralph Estes. Copyright © 0 by Ralph Estes. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.