6 Famous Outlaws of the Wild, Wild West


Billy the Kid

Billy the kid
William Henry McCarty Jr., aka Billy the Kid, born in 1859, was killed in an ambush by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in 1881. Wikimedia Commons

Billy the Kid was the Arthur Rimbaud of Western outlaws. Sort of. For one thing, the two were near contemporaries. Rimbaud was born in 1854 and Billy in 1859. Still a teenager, Arthur Rimbaud outrageously broke the rules of literature to create a new kind of poetry that continues to influence culture today. Still a teenager, Billy the Kid flamboyantly broke the rule of law, making himself one of the most famous outlaws of the Wild West. Rimbaud abruptly stopped writing poetry when he was just 19. Billy abruptly stopped shooting when he was only 21 (or younger — nobody's sure exactly when he was born). End of comparison. Rimbaud went on to work as a trader in North Africa, dying at the ripe old age of 37. Billy the Kid's career ended at 21 because that's when he was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Also, Rimbaud didn't have a cool nickname.

Billy the Kid started life as Henry McCarty and was later known as William H. Bonney. It's hard to believe that a person could acquire three different names in such a short time, but Billy packed a lot of living into a short life.

He was involved in a high-octane New Mexico dispute known as the Lincoln County War. During one clash, several men were killed and Billy got the blame, whether or not he actually did the killing. A posse soon captured him. But Billy was wily and managed a daring escape. After holing up in Fort Sumner, he was tracked down by Garrett who got the jump on him and shot him dead in a dark room on a dark night.