In the fall of 1879, after his attempts to negotiate a pardon through New Mexico Territorial Gov. Lew Wallace had come to nothing, William H. Bonney, aka “The Kid” (and best known today as Billy the Kid), decided to put some psychological distance between himself and Lincoln County and made old Fort Sumner his base of operations. By the following year, he had become a full-time rustler.
Billy The Kid’s Methods
His methods, like the men who rode with him, were rough and ready. The Kid and his gang would steal horses up and down the Pecos Valley and drive them to a ready market in Tascosa, the newest, rowdiest cow town in the Texas Panhandle. When their money ran out, they would steal stock on the open Panhandle range and drive it across into New Mexico Territory for sale, with no questions asked, to the self-styled “King of Tularosa,” rancher Pat Coghlan, who had a contract to supply beef to the Mescalero Apache reservation adjacent to Fort Stanton beginning July 1, 1880. When there were no horses to steal, they rode over to the Panhandle anyway and stole the big ranches there — such as the LX and LIT — blind. It’s more than possible that Pat Garrett, who would be elected sheriff of Lincoln County on Nov. 2, 1880, and his close associate Barney Mason accompanied the Kid and his men on some of these raids.
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Within a year, the Kid’s depredations had reached such a level that in the fall of 1880 the newly formed Panhandle Stockmen’s Association hired a range detective, a former LX cowboy who called himself Frank Stewart (although what his qualifications were and how he got them are a matter for conjecture), to take some men with him to New Mexico Territory and identify the rustlers and whoever was purchasing their stolen cows. The party consisted of Garrett H. “Kid” Dobbs, Lon Chambers and Lee Hall from the LX, plus Charlie Reasor, who was half Cherokee, from LIT.
Discretion, not Valor
At Coghlin’s Tularosa ranch they found LIT hides in the corral, but when they questioned the butcher, former Lincoln County Sheriff George Peppin, he told them he had a clean bill of sale and it was going to take a lot more than a verbal notice to get him to quit. When on top of that someone told the Texans that Billy the Kid was in the area, and that if he ran into them he would wipe them out, Stewart decided discretion was the better part of valor and led his men back to the Panhandle. Cowboy Charlie Siringo takes up the story in his 1885 book “A Texas Cowboy”:
“This made [LX foreman Bill] Moore mad, so he concluded to rig up an outfit of his own and send them over after the cattle, hence he sending out after me. My outfit, after getting it rigged up, consisted of a chuck wagon with four good mules to pull it, a cook and five picked men, named as follows: James East, Lee Hall, Lon Chambers, Cal Pope (Polk) and last but not by any means least “Bigfoot” Wallace [Frank Clifford]…. On starting, Moore gave me these orders. “Stay over there until you get those cattle or bust the LX company. I will keep you supplied in money just as long as they have got a nickel left, that I can get hold of. And when you get the cattle, if you think you can succeed in capturing “Billy the Kid,” do so. You can hire all the men you need; but don’t undertake his capture until you have first secured the cattle.
“At Tascosa we met Stuart [Stewart], who had succeeded in raising a little crowd to join us. Mr. [W.S.] McCarty, boss of the LIT ranch, had furnished five men, a cook and chuck wagon; and Torry [Ellsworth Torrey] shoe [TS] ranch was further up the [Canadian] river, a wagon and two men, while a man named Johnson furnished a man and a wagon. The LIT outfit was in charge of a fellow by the name of Bob Robertson, whose orders were to get the stolen cattle before trying to capture the Kid, but in the meantime to be governed by Stuart’s orders.
“We left the LX ranch, went by Tascosa and got enough grub to last us to the Pecos,” Jim East later recalled. “We went right up the [Canadian] River past Sperling’s [ranch] where we camped one night, to San Hilario above Fort Bascom and cut across to the Pecos. Charley [Siringo] said, ‘Now, I’ll go on to Las Vegas, buy grub, and you fellows can go straight across to Anton Chico and wait there until I get back. That would save about seventy-five miles driving for us.’” In Cal Polk’s freewheeling account of the trip. Siringo “started on ahead to Las Vegas with the male [mail] carrier to get corn [for the horses]. He told us to go to Antion Cheeko on the Pacos River and there wait until he came with the corn. We went ahead and got there on Sunday [November 27, 1880] at 12 oclock. Just as we all rode up into town the cathlick church broke and the Mexacans coming out of it. They all stoped and gazed at us, and wondered what was the matter. We all had 2 belts full of cartridges a peace around us and was armed to the teeth with six shooters Bowie knives and Winchesters on our saddles.” Polk went on to tell of a close encounter with the Kid:
“While we was there Billy the Kid come in town one night and stole 3 good horses from Mexacans. He then rote a letter to Frank Stuart telling us to not come no further, that he did not want to fite us. But if we came to come a shootin. This was strate goods but we had it to face. As you will see later we had all went deeply in debt while we was there and expected Charley to come with a picket full of monnie from Las Vagas. But when he come we was broke. He got to gambling up there and lost all the monnie the LX firm started him with and he had to give a check on them for the corn, so we had to give checks here they same way.”
Close to the truth
Cal Polk’s hairy tales of what the posse was up to in Anton Chico have been published elsewhere. Whether they are true or not, we will probably never know, although an unpublished memoir, Deep Trails in the West, dictated to a friend in 1942 by Frank Clifford, the man known to his fellow possemen as “Big Foot Wallace,” suggests that even if Polk was stretching the truth, he wasn’t stretching it very far:
“The morning we left Anton Chico, it was snowing. There was already about five inches of snow on the ground. By the time we stopped at noon, snow was from eight to ten inches deep. We made a dry camp, and melted snow to water our horses. Before we could get started again, Pat Garrett, sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, and Frank Stewart, cattle detective for the Canadian Cattle Association, and another man [Barney Mason] rode into camp. Pat told us that the “Kid” was down by Fort Sumner, and had a large bunch of Canadian River cattle that he was aiming to start for Old Mexico with in the morning. This couldn’t be true, as nobody could go any distance through a snowstorm like that with a big bunch of cattle. There would be nothing for them to eat. Bob Boberson and Charley Siringo immediately told Pat so. They demeaned him, and didn’t mince words either.
“Pat insisted he was telling it straight, and after a long argument, Bob and Charley agreed to leave it to their men personally to decide who would go with Pat. We split up exactly even, seven went, and seven wouldn’t go. I was one who didn’t. We took the wagons and went on to White Oaks, reaching there on the day before Christmas. I remember the date, because just at midnight Christmas Eve, a lot of us slipped out of the saloon and turned loose our artillery, firing two or three salvos in to the air by way of saluting the new Christmas morning. When we went back into the saloon the first thing we saw there was Pinto Tom (Longworth), the lanky, red-headed Marshall of White Oaks, crawling out from under a billiard table, which cost Pinto Tom several rounds of drinks before morning. He thought the “Kid” and his gang had come in and were shooting up the town, as he dived under the table for safety. I never heard of the “Kid’s” shooting up a town just for fun, but folks always seemed to be afraid he was going to!”
The hunt for Billy the Kid would get results in December 1880, culminating in his capture by a Sheriff Garrett-led posse on the 23rd at a rock house (once used as a forage station) at Stinking Springs (Ojo Hediendo) east of Fort Sumner near Taliban. Among those who set down their versions of the pursuit and capture of the Kid were Siringo, Polk and another Kid chaser, Louis “The Animal” Bousman. All stick pretty close to Garrett’s account. Jim East, however, adds telling detail that appears in none of the others. Although one or two writers have cited it, this is the first time his account of the hunting of the Kid has been published in its entirety.
“We crossed to the Piedrenal Springs where we struck the breaks of the Pecos. We left our camp at daylight, rode all day without anything to eat, rode that night and next day about five o’clock we got to Puerta [Puerto] de Luna on the Pecos…. I remember how good chuck tasted there…after we had been without for so long. We spent the night there, and as our horses were played out we stayed there the next day…. We slept in a house that night, as it was very cold. Our party was made up of James East, Lee Hall and Lon Chambers from the LX; and Emory, Bausman and Williams from the LIT.
“Garrett got word by a Mexican runner who came up that the Kid and his gang were at Fort Sumner and if we would hurry we might get them. It was forty two miles from Puerta de Luna to Sumner. About dusk we pulled out. It snowed all the way down, and there were about four inches on the ground when we got there just before day. When we left the wagons we had to cut ourselves out of all our bedding except one blanket apiece, as we could not carry more. We had one six-shooter, a Winchester and a blanket apiece. We packed no horses, and we had only the ones we rode. I slept on the one blanket and rode the one horse all that winter.
“We got to Sumner a little before daylight and went to Beaver Smith’s store….Garrett asked him when he had seen the boys last. He said that they were there about sundown and that after they had drunk some whiskey and shot up the store they had gone to a vacant house just across the street and he thought they were still there. We slipped across to the house. It was still snowing. There was a little fire flickering in the fireplace and when it flared up a little we could see the form of a man before the fireplace. We thought that the whole bunch was there. Garrett told us to take no chances and to begin shooting when we went in. Garrett kicked the door open and we all jumped in with our Winchesters ready, and it was only [Mike Cosgrove] the mail carrier from Las Vegas. We came mighty near shooting him, not knowng who he was as there was not much light. He said: “My God, don’t shoot, boys.” And he was scared to death. He said that he did not know anything about the Kid and his gang and he did not want to….
“We found that the Kid was out of town then and we did not know where. We went over to a long adobe building, the old hospital building of the Fort, and built a fire in the fireplace, rustled a little chuck, and stayed there all day. It snowed all the time. The next night Garrett told everybody to stay in Fort Sumner and for no one to leave on pain of death. He was afraid someone would slip out and tell the Kid. During the morning a Mexican came to Garrett and said that his wife and baby were at home and they had no milk for the baby. He said that his cow had got out and…asked permission to go after her and said he would be right back. Instead of going after his cow he slipped over near to Taiban to Wilcox’s ranch where the Kid and his bunch were and told him where we were…and that our horses were in Pete Maxwell’s stable. Nearly all the Mexicans were friendly to the Kid.
“That night [December 19] about eleven o’clock they came in. Lon Chambers and Lee Hall had been placed on guard over our horses. I was rolled up in my blanket trying to get a little sleep before going on second guard, and Garrett, Barney Mason, Tom Emory and Bob Williams were playing poker. The Kid’s idea was, as he told us after we captured him, to slip in and steal our horses, put us afoot, and then take his time in killing us. A man on foot in that country was almost helpless.
“Chambers, who was on guard, heard them coming, slipped up to the door and said: “Get your guns, they are coming.” The boys threw down their chips and cards, got their guns, and we all went out. Just then they turned around the end of the hospital building. The only light was from the snow. Garrett hollered at the bunch to throw up their hands, but they jerked their six-shooters and the fight commenced. All of them wheeled and left with the exception of one. Garrett said: “Throw up your hands; we’ll shoot you down!” He [the rider] said “Don’t shoot any more, Pat; I am dying.” His horse jogged right on up to us and it was Tom O’Phalliard, shot through near the heart. We took him inside and laid him down on my blanket. The boys went back to playing poker and I sat down by the fire. O’Phalliard commenced to cuss Garrett.
“He said: ‘God damn you, Garrett; I hope to meet you in Hell.’
“Pat said: ‘I would not talk that way, Tom. You are going to die in a few minutes.’
“He said: ‘Ah, go to hell, you long-legged sonofabitch.’ (Pat w as six feet, five inches tall).
“The game went on and the blood began running inside Tom. He began groaning and asked me to get him a drink of water. I did. He drank a little, lay back, shuddered and was dead. The poker game went on. It was a thing to get the minds of the men off the fight and keep them from growing morbid.
“The next morning at daylight, Bausman and another man were sent out as scouts to see where they had gone. They went up towards the Taiban and found a dead horse, one that Dave Rudabaugh was riding. They had gone about a mile before his horse, which had been shot, died on him, and he had to dismount and get up behind another of the boys. It kept snowing. The winter of 1880 was an exceptionally cold one, and there was a heavy loss of cattle along the Canadian.
“We lay over that day, got a Mexican to bury Tom O’Phalliard. We got a Mexican to make a box for him. The next day about twelve o’clock a man by the name of Wilcox who owned a ranch about three miles from the Taiban and about fifteen miles east of Fort Sumner, on what they called the Texas Road but which was not traveled much, came in and said: “Boys, the Kid and his bunch had supper at my house and have gone over to that rock house on the Taiban.” This was a one room house with one door and a little window next to the arroyo near which it stood. It had probably been a sheep ranch. The snow was pretty deep and we had to travel slowly.
“We started up there and got to this house just before daylight. Garrett took Tom Emory, Lon Chambers, Jim East and Lee Hall and crawled up the arroyo until he was within about thirty feet of the house. Their horses were tied to the vega poles and we could see them. We crawled up by the low bank of this dry arroyo which was covered with snow to keep under cover.”
Frank Clifford’s Story
It was some time before news of the Kid’s capture reached the possemen who had stayed in White Oaks. One of them, the man who called himself Frank Clifford, tells the story:
“The boys came in from Fort Sumner, telling us that the “Kid” had been captured, and from there I must tell the story as they told it to us. The only hearsay about this story is from the lips of the men who were actually present at the occurrences, and told to me and the other boys by these men immediately after the event took place.
“Garrett and his deputy, Kip McKinney [he means Barney Mason], and five men, together with Frank Stewart and six of our men, formed a posse and went to Fort Sumner. Pat hired a Mexican for one hundred dollars to go to the “Kid’s” hideout on the edge of the Staked Plains and tell the “Kid” that “the Texans,” that was us, had turned back home, and that it was now safe for him to come on in to Fort Sumner, which the “Kid” told the Mexican he would do that evening. When Pat Garrett got that word, he placed his posse out of sight, where they could cover the road which the “Kid’s” gang would ride in on. There were in the gang, the “Kid” (whose name was “William Bonney”), Dave Rudabaugh, Charley Bowdre, Tom O’Phalliard (they have spelled his name O’Folliard on the tombstone which has been put up for these three, as I notice in a photograph which I saw, but we always called him O’Phalliard), and one other whose name I cannot be sure of. I think it was ‘Wilson.’
“When they got opposite to where Pat’s men were hiding, Pat opened fire on them without calling to them to surrender, according to the definite words of these men who told us about it, men who were in the posse, Lon Chambers, Tom Emory, Jim East, “the Animal,” Cal Polk, and Lee Hall, all men who were from our expedition. Well, O’Phalliard was killed, and the rest of the “Kid’s” gang turned back and headed away from there, but with eight or ten inches of snow on the ground they were easily tracked. They went out to their hideout, which was a crude rock shanty at the edge of the Staked Plains. Pat’s men placed themselves just under the edge of a draw where they had full view of the shanty, but were out of sight themselves, and waited for daylight.”
From this point on, Clifford’s account becomes much like all the others, so it was exciting to discover a version of these events that has never been published.
KID DOBBS’ story
In 1942, Amarillo newspaperman John L. McCarty interviewed Garrett H. “Kid” Dobbs at Farmington, N.M., and elicited the following information:
“Garrett and his men had some letters from Wallace, Chisholm [Chisum] and Capt. Leech [Lea] offering Kid amnesty if he would surrender. Pat sent a Mexican to Billy and Charley [Bowdre] telling them of these letters and asking them to meet him one at a time at a cross fork near by [Punta de la Glorieta above Fort Sumner]. Bowder sent word back he would meet Pat at 10 o’clock the next morning. He did and he and Garrett shook hands and Garrett showed him the letters. Bowder said he would go back and tell Billy and whatever Billy decided to do he would do.
“Bowder told Billy about the letters and Billy offered $100 to [Thomas] Wilcox for a bottle of strychnine. He said he could get the Mexican woman cook at Fort Sumner to poison [the meals she cooked for] Garrett and all his deputies. Wilcox wouldn’t sell him any poison. That night Billy and his men slept in a stack lot and [Billy] made his last resolution for the next day which was to meet Garrett and feint a surrender and kill Pat. Leech, Wilcox’s partner [Manuel Brazil] slipped out that night to Sumner and told Garrett of Billy’s plans. Garrett got ready. But Billy didn’t meet Garrett that morning. That evening a bad blizzard and snow storm came up and Billy thought Pat wouldn’t follow them, but he did. Billy was in a deserted rock house 15 miles East; Garrett’s men surrounded the shack during the night.
“Billy and his men had tied their horses to a vegas [viga] on the south side of the shack….Charley Bowder got up first the next morning before good daylight. He picked up the Kid’s Mexican hat by mistake. This was a $200 hat and had more silver on it than any hat I ever saw. Bowder put on this hat and stepped outside. Pat was 50 feet away. One of his men recognized the hat and said “That’s Billy.” Pat shot Bowder under the heart. Bowder knew it was Pat and said, “Don’t shoot any more, Pat, you’ve got me.” Garrett said “Is that you Charley” and he said “yes.”
“Pat told him to crawl on down where they were and Bowder did. He told Pat he didn’t blame him for shooting and said he had a will in his pocket he wanted Pat to carry out. Pat told him he would. Bowder lived 40 minutes. He left his horse, saddle and blankets and $118 in cash to the Mexican woman cook in Fort Sumner. She got every bit of it that day, too.”
Waiting the kid out
Knowing the element of surprise was gone, Garrett decided to wait the Kid out. After a while they saw the tie ropes of the horses tethered outside the cabin move and figured the Kid and his men were trying to get the horses inside so they could mount up and come out running. Without compunction he shot one of the horses dead; it fell across the doorway, blocking it. After a while Garrett called to the Kid that he had them surrounded and there was no chance of escape. The Kid told him to go to hell. About sundown, according to Jim East, this is what happened:
“A white handkerchief was stuck up through the chimney tied to a Winchester barrel. Garrett asked them what they wanted and Billy said they wanted to surrender, but they wanted the condition that we would give them safe conduct to Santa Fe….So Garrett promised them safe conduct through Las Vegas. The Kid and his men came out with their hands up. Barney Mason said: ‘Kill the S — B — he is slippery and may get away.’ Mason had been one of the Kid’s gang at one time, had deserted him and now was afraid of him. He leveled his gun at the Kid and Lee Hall and I threw our guns down on him and said ‘If you fire a shot we will kill you.’ Mason lowered his gun.”
The posse and their prisoners spent the night at the Wilcox ranch, bout four miles west of Stinking Springs. Next day, Dec. 24, they headed for Fort Sumner, where the prisoners were put in shackles, and from there to Puerto de Luna, arriving in time to eat Christmas dinner at Alexander Grzelachowski’s store. They reached Las Vegas the following day, Dec. 26, and a day later the Kid was taken by train to the jail in Santa Fe.
The Panhandle posse had done its job: They had captured Billy the Kid and put him in jail, where most cattlemen firmly believed the belonged. In March 1881, the Kid was taken to La Mesilla, New Mexico Territory, where he was tried for and found guilty of the murder of Sheriff William Brady almost exactly three years earlier during the Lincoln County War. The date for his execution was set as Friday, May 13, in Lincoln. But as the Kid was wont to observe, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. He would write another bloody chapter in the history of the West before Pat Garrett wrote finis to his career. Ww
English author Frederick Nolan is considered one of the foremost authorities on Billy the Kid, as well as many of the Kid’s friends and enemies. His books “The West of Billy the Kid,” “The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History” and “The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall” are recommended for further reading, along with Leon C. Metz’s “Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman.“ This article originally appeared in the June 2003 Wild West.
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