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Billy the Kid and the U.S. Marshals Service

Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: December 07, 2006 
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On April 13, 1881, Judge Warren Bristol in Mesilla pronounced a death sentence for the outlaw, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Olinger brought him back to Lincoln. The Kid was now Sheriff Garrett's prisoner again, and he was kept in restraints at the Lincoln County Courthouse. On April 28, Garrett was out of town collecting taxes, so Olinger and guard J.W. Bell were watching the prisoner. While the overbearing Olinger was eating his supper across the street, the Kid escaped his restraints and killed Bell, with some regret because Bell had treated him right. Minutes later, he kneeled in the courthouse window and shot down the returning Olinger with no regrets. The Kid made good his escape, according to one later account, on Garrett's own horse.

Garrett, known as sheriff but still also a special deputy U.S. marshal, pursued Billy the Kid for several months after the deaths of Olinger and Bell. It was in the middle of July that Garrett and his deputies found Billy at old Fort Sumner, and Garrett shot the Kid dead in the dark bedroom of one Pete Maxwell. That traditional account — as told by Garrett himself (with the help of a ghostwriter) in The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid — has been questioned many times over the years, with some accounts suggesting that the Kid got away to live another day or decades, and others indicating that somebody else besides the Kid died in Maxwell's bedroom. In any case, the criminal career of Billy the Kid was over, and the Lincoln County War, though it had petered out some time earlier, was now ended.

The fate of the marshals involved in the Lincoln County War was varied. U.S. Marshal Sherman resigned on March 23, 1882, and returned east. During his stint as marshal, some of the known deputies who served under him in Lincoln County were Pat Garrett, John Hurley, George Peppin, George Kimbrell, Robert Widenmann, John Copeland, Tony Neis, Robert Olinger, William Brady and George Hindman. With the exception of Widenmann and perhaps Copeland, all these known deputies were allied with or favored the Murphy-Dolan faction during the Lincoln County troubles. Garrett, of course, achieved everlasting fame for shooting Billy the Kid and was himself shot to death in a 1908 dispute near Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory. Deputy Hurley met his end in a gunfight with a rustler near Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, in January 1885. Widenmann's post–New Mexico career took him to Great Britain, where he visited Tunstall's family, and to Haverstraw, N.Y., where he died on April 17, 1930. According to his daughter, Widenmann lived in fear of his life for many years because of his role in the Lincoln County War and in bucking such powerful New Mexico politicians as Stephen B. Elkins.

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5 Responses to “Billy the Kid and the U.S. Marshals Service”


  1. 1
    hollie says:

    i love billy the kid and im 9

  2. 2
    sos says:

    hi my name is sos and i think that little nine year olds dont need 2 b on the computer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! like hollie

  3. 3
    Albert gonzales says:

    Well, like i said be for History has made the kid look bad and Pat Garrett look real good,i read this article and the Great Escape and The Hunting of Billy the kid, and i sell say the kid was not a bad guy,he was accused of killing Sheriff Brady, and any killing the kid did ,it was commissions,how ever it goes he was in the right,and as for Deputy Robert O. he had it coming ,the kid was shackled hands and foots and harass just bout every day by Robert's,what would you have done ?as for Pat,you see what happen to him in 1908.. thank you

  4. 4
    Scott says:

    Since history is written by the winners, if chisum, mcsween and the regulators had come out on top, how do you think BIlly would be percieved today?

    THe people he gunned down in his life were !) a bar slime who was beating on him when he defended himself a corrupt sherriff (brady) and two deputies who belonged to the corrupt santa fe ring.

    If bily's side had won, its possible he might have gone on to become a lawman like wyatt earp.

  5. 5
    Steve McCarty says:

    Historians are sure the kid killed four men and I believe he killed eleven. The kid was indeed a killer. His motivation was revenge for the murder of John Tunstall, who he admired and who also treated him well. One of the kid's admirable traits was loyalty.

    Billy the Kid had a deep setted set of personal values and he adhered to them. A man who had treated him well, as murdered in cold blood and the kid saw that the law was not going to take action to achieve justice, so he took on that responsibility, legal or not. He joined a group of young men dedicated to the same end. Eventually he rose to the leadership of that group, but not until the original chieftains were murdered.

    It was a hard and very dangerous time and Billy was "all in". He didn't consider his future or muse about his past. He was dedicated to revenge, which in his mind represented justice. Vengence, however; is not legal and it took time for the Kid to come to this conclusion. When he finally did, he understood that he was doomed to a life of crime. It took three years for him to decide to abandon the region and head to Old Mexico. If it had not been a hankering for a late night steak dinner, he might have made it.



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