“GUNFIGHT AT STINKING SPRINGS”

— CAPTURING BILLY THE KID —

On the night of December 23, 1880, a posse led by Sheriff-elect Pat Garrett waited along a moonlit road to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, poised to spring an ambush on Billy the Kid and several other outlaws.

PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID

Former buffalo hunter Garrett campaigned for the job of Lincoln County Sheriff on a reform ticket in November 1880, vowing to end the lawlessness and violence disrupting southeastern New Mexico.

Among Garrett’s priorities: Capture Billy the Kid—known by more than a dozen aliases, including William H. Bonney.

Governor Lew Wallace, who assumed command investigating the Lincoln County War, had levied a $500 bounty on the Kid for killing Sheriff William Brady.

Garrett spent about a month tracking the outlaw. But the Kid managed to evade and outsmart him at every turn.

The lawman, however, remained persistent. 

On Thursday, December 23, Garrett and his posse heard hoofbeats and spotted the Kid and his gang members approaching.

Garrett leaped from hiding and ordered them to halt. But a few deputies began shooting.

The gunfire killed Tom O’Folliard, a close friend of Billy the Kid. Outlaw Tom Pickett was also wounded and fell from his horse. Picket would later become a Deputy U.S. Marshal.

The barrage of bullets killed Dirty Dave Rudabaugh’s horse. But Rudabaugh* swung aboard a horse ridden by Billy Wilson (sometimes known as David Anderson) and made a successful getaway.

Billy the Kid, Charlie Bowdre, and Pickett—who scrambled back on his horse—all managed to escape.

The posse regrouped and tracked the gang to an abandoned stone building hideout near Stinking Springs and surrounded the building.

The next morning, Bowdre* stepped out into the cold to feed his horse tethered near the front door. The posse opened fire, killing Bowdre.

Minutes later, the door cracked open, and one of the gang members reached outside to grab the horse’s halter rope.

Garrett aimed and killed the horse, which fell in front of the door and blocked the only way out. Hours later, the outlaws realized they had no way of escaping and gave themselves up.

Authorities escorted Billy the Kid first to Las Vegas and then transferred him to Santa Fe.

The following spring, he stood trial in Mesilla. After a one-day trial, a jury convicted him of murdering Brady and sentenced the young gun to hang. 

Authorities transferred Billy the Kid to the courthouse and jail in Lincoln. But he didn’t stay long. 

On April 28, 1881, he killed deputies John Bell and Robert Olinger and escaped.

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