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Billy the Kid vs. Sheriff Pat Garrett

The above photo is of Fort Sumner, with the house of the Maxwell family being the large building located in the center. The room where Billy was allegedly killed is the corner room nearest the photographer. At the time of the shooting, the house was only one-story, with the second story being added in 1882.

NOTE: The following version of events is based primarily on the account of Sheriff Pat Garrett, with some key deviations of Deputy John Poe's account being noted.

July 14, 1881; Fort Sumner, San Miguel County, New Mexico Territory---Ever since Billy the Kid's escape from Lincoln in late April, rumors have been running rampant as to his current whereabouts. He's been said to be in Old Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even still somewhere in New Mexico, camping out at the ranches of friends. One rumor is that Billy has stated he will not leave the territory until he has killed Pat Garrett, Barney Mason, and John Chisum. When Sheriff Garrett arrived back in Lincoln after the Kid's daring escape, he had assumed Billy had done the most logical thing for a man in his position and fled the area, and therefore made no serious attempt to recapture him. Still, on a frequent basis, Garrett gets word that Billy has been seen somewhere around Fort Sumner, but doesn't take these accounts seriously. Finally, in late June, Garrett sends a letter to rancher Manuel Brazil, who played a pivotal part in the Rustlers' capture at Stinking Springs, asking him what he knows of the Kid's whereabouts. In the first week of July, Garrett receives a response letter from Brazil, stating that while he himself has not seen Billy, he is certain he's in the vicinity. He goes on to say he has been hiding out at his ranch, afraid that Billy will come to kill him at any moment for his part in the Rustlers' capture. Around the same time, Garrett meets with John W. Poe, Frank Stewart's replacement as detective for the Canadian River Cattlemen's Association, who has been in the territory since March, investigating Pat Coghlan, a frequent buyer of stolen cattle. Poe, who Garrett has deputized, has recently been in White Oaks, where a drunk friend of his who sleeps in the Dedrick-West stable overheard the owners talking about the fact that Billy was in Fort Sumner. The drunkard relayed this information to Poe, who in turn relays it to Garrett. Faced with this information, Garrett writes another letter to Brazil, requesting they meet at Arroyo Taiban, a few miles south of Fort Sumner, on July 13. (NOTE: Garrett's version makes no mention of Poe's drunken snitch, and maintains that the only source supporting Billy's presence in Sumner was Brazil. Also, it has been theorized that both Poe's snitch and Garrett's letter from Brazil were but cover stories and that the true source of Garrett's tip of the Kid's whereabouts stemmed from none other than Sumner rancher Pete Maxwell, a friend of Billy's who was nonetheless greatly disturbed by Billy's relationship with his younger sister, Paulita.)

On July 11, Garrett, Poe and another deputy they picked up at Roswell, Thomas "Kip" McKinney, ride north into San Miguel County. Although as Lincoln County's sheriff Garrett is not legally allowed to pursue outlaws into other counties, he leans on his dubious status as a deputy U. S. Marshal, giving him full legal authority to do so. In the late afternoon of the 13th, the three-man posse arrive at Arroyo Taiban, but Brazil is not yet there. They decide to wait for him to arrive, but by nightfall, Brazil is still nowhere to be seen. Realizing they've been stood up, they make camp for the night, planning to assess their situation the following day.

In the morning, it's decided Poe, who is virtually unknown in the area, will ride into Fort Sumner, scout around, and try gathering information on Billy's whereabouts. If nothing is to be learned in Sumner, Garrett instructs Poe to ride to Sunnyside, seven miles north of Sumner, and talk with Post-master Milnor Rudulph. Before Poe leaves, it's agreed upon that he will meet back up with Garrett and McKinney at Punta de la Glorieta, located four miles north of Sumner.

Poe rides into Sumner in the late morning and is immediately looked upon with suspicion by the townsfolk. He introduces himself as a cattleman from White Oaks who is riding to his old home in the Texas Panhandle for a visit. The townsfolk, nearly all Hispanic and friends of the Kid's, don't buy this story and try avoiding Poe. Poe eventually goes to the saloon of Beaver Smith, where he has a meal and several drinks and attempts to talk to some of the patrons. However, every time he casually brings up the subject of Billy the Kid, all the men in the bar go silent. Realizing he is getting nowhere in this taciturn scene, Poe finishes his meal, saddles up, and rides north to Sunnyside's post-office, where he meets with Milnor Rudulph. Although Rudulph is at first friendly and welcoming, he turns evasive and defensive when Poe begins questioning him about the Kid. Rudulph eventually confides in Poe that he has heard the Kid is around, but that he doubts the reports are factual. When Poe tries to probe further with his questioning, Rudulph clams up. Apparently, Rudulph is afraid that his son, Charlie, who was in the posse that captured the Rustlers, may already be in danger of the Kid's wrath, and will be more so if he gives away information about him. Faced with this, Poe rides out of Sunnyside around dusk and heads towards Punta de la Glorieta to rendezvous with Garrett and McKinney.

Shortly after sunset, the three lawmen gather at Punta de la Glorieta. Poe informs the other two of his findings (or lack thereof), and the suspicious actions of Rudulph and the citizens of Sumner, coupled with Brazil's letter, convince Garrett that Billy is definitely nearby. The trio quickly elect to ride to Sumner and stakeout a house Garrett knows to belong to one of Billy's girlfriends. According to Garrett, if the Kid is indeed in town, he will surely stop at this house at some point. Just outside of town, they run into a man named Jacobs who happens to be a friend of Poe's from Texas and has a camp nearby. The lawmen leave their horses at Jacobs's camp and then proceed towards Sumner on foot. Arriving at the northern end of town around 9:00, they sneak into a large peach orchard, where they can remain hidden while watching the house Billy is supposed to visit. Shortly thereafter, the men hear two voices coming from somewhere else in the orchard. Suddenly, from the direction the voices are coming from, a man stands up, jumps over the wall separating the orchard from the rest of town, and disappears. Only later will the lawmen find out that this man was Billy the Kid himself. (NOTE: Poe's version makes no mention of this early encounter with the Kid in the orchard, and Garrett fails to elaborate on how he later discovered it was Billy in the orchard.)

By midnight, Garrett is ready to give up and return home. Poe, though, remains stern in his opinion of Billy's presence in Sumner, and tells Garrett they should first pay a visit to Pete Maxwell to try gaining some info from him about the Kid. Garrett demurs at first, but due to Poe's insistance, he begrudgingly agrees to go speak with Maxwell. The three men walk out of the orchard and across the old parade ground to the Maxwell house, located on the western end of town. As they head towards Pete's bedroom, the southeastern corner-room, and walk through the picket fence enclosing the yard, Garrett instructs Poe and McKinney to wait outside while he goes into Pete's bedroom to talk with him privately. Garrett then walks through the open bedroom door, while Poe stays on the porch and McKinney stands nearby.

Meanwhile, Billy is a hundred or so yards away at the house of Sabal and Celsa Gutierrez. Feeling like he could use a midnight snack, Billy grabs a small butcher knife and a pistol and begins walking towards the Maxwell house, where a freshly killed cow is supposed to be hanging. He walks without wearing boots and is fastening his belt as he goes. As he enters the fenced-in yard and walks up on the porch, Billy is startled to see Poe and McKinney for the first time. He says to them "¿Quien es?" (Who is it?), but neither Poe nor McKinney know how to answer. Receiving no response, Billy manages to get around the deputies and begins backing up towards the doorway to the Maxwell bedroom, repeatingly asking "¿Quien es?"

Inside the bedroom, Garrett is seated at the head of Pete's bed. He has just awoken the sleeping man and has only begun to question him. Suddenly, Garrett sees Billy spring into the room, pistol and knife at ready, his frame perfectly lit by the moonlight. (NOTE: According to Poe, Billy did not "spring" into the room, but rather slowly backed into it, his focus being centered on the two deputies on the porch.) However, with Maxwell's bed in the shadows, Garrett is completely hidden from Billy's view. Billy turns to face the head of the bed, leans in close and puts his hands on the bed (only inches away from Garrett), and whispers "Pedro, ¿quienes son estos hombres afuera?" (Pete, who are those men outside?) Just then, Pete whispers to Garrett "El es!" (It's him!). Billy jumps back, probably either finally seeing Garrett or just sensing his presence. However, he is still perfectly illuminated by the moonlight shining in through the doorway and yells out several times, almost in panic, "¿Quien es?" Garrett quickly pulls out his pistol, takes cursory aim, and pulls the trigger. Diving off the bed and to the ground, he fires another shot, stands up, and bolts out the door, just behind Pete who is already fleeing. Just as Pete brushes past Poe and McKinney, Poe raises his gun at him, but Garrett quickly slaps down Poe's hand, shouting "Don't shoot Maxwell!"

"What the hell happened in there?" Poe asks Garrett.

"That was the Kid that came in there onto me, and I think I have got him," responds Garrett.

"Pat, the Kid would not have come here; you have shot the wrong man," is Poe's doubting reply.

"I'm sure it was him. I know his voice too well to be mistaken," says Garrett as he shakes his head.

A few seconds later, Pete returns to the lawmen with a lit candle. Nothing but silence is coming from the bedroom and no one wants to re-enter it, fearing the Kid is only wounded and laying in wait for a clear shot at them. The four men walk onto the porch and Pete holds the candle to the window of the bedroom. Looking in, they see the body of the Kid laying on the ground, completely motionless. All four men then enter the room and examine the body, which has the butcher knife in one hand, and a .41 caliber pistol in the other. (NOTE: While Poe initially concurs with Garrett on the pistol being a .41, he later claims it was a .38, and that he only saw it after Garrett entered the room first and returned with it. FURTHER NOTE: It is debatable who was the first in the room following the shooting. While Garrett claimed it to be he and his deputies, Jesus Silva claimed he was the first, whereas Paco Anaya claimed Deluvina Maxwell was the first one brave enough to venture in. Also, while Garrett and Poe maintained Billy could be seen through the window lying on his back, Silva claimed upon entering the room, Billy was face-down and had to be rolled over.) One of Garrett's bullets has struck the Kid in the chest, near the heart, killing him instantly, while the other shot went wild. By now, the townsfolk, awakened by the gunshots, are coming onto the scene to see what's happened. Word quickly spreads throughout the growing crowd that the Kid has just been killed. Deluvina Maxwell, the Navajo servant for the Maxwell family who is a good friend of Billy's, runs up to Garrett and begins pounding his chest with her fists, shouting through her tears, "You pisspot! You son-of-a-bitch!" (NOTE: The Deluvina incident is something of a tradition; in later interviews, Deluvina denied any such spectacle from ever happening, claiming she did not see the body at all that evening, blatantly contradicting the accounts of both Garrett and Paco Anaya who place her at the scene.) Fearing that they may be assassinated by a mob of Billy's vengeful friends, Garrett and his men quickly decide to remain in the Maxwell bedroom (with the corpse) throughout the night. (NOTE: This is the version of Garrett and his spurious coroner's verdict that says the body remained on Maxwell's floor throughout the night. Poe's version states the body was taken by friends to a carpenter's shop "a very short time after the shooting." The body was cleaned, dressed, and a candle-light wake held. This version is corroborated by Sumner residents interviewed later in life.)

Come morning, neither Garrett, nor his deputies, are met with violence. Two coroner's juries are formed for some reason, both of which write verdicts, but they are both lost and never filed. The body is eventually buried in the old military cemetery alongside the graves of Tom Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. Finally, Billy the Kid is dead, or at least so says Pat Garrett.

NOTE: The following account is Brushy Bill Roberts's version of events.

Riding from a nearby dance, Billy the Kid and his new friend, a young man new to the area known as Billy Barlow, ride into Fort Sumner shortly before midnight. Hearing rumors that Garrett is in town with a posse, the Kid and Barlow go to the house of Jesus Silva, a good friend of the Kid's. When the Kid starts asking Silva what he knows about Garrett's presence in town, Silva gets excited and tells him he should leave town immediately, so as not to be spotted by Garrett. The Kid shrugs this warning off, however, believing he will be safe as long as he stays at Silva's and doesn't venture out to the house of Celsa and Sabal Gutierrez, which he suspects Garrett will be watching. Silva begins to cook a meal of beans for the Kid and Barlow when Barlow asks for fresh meat. Silva says that he has no beef, but that there is a freshly slaughtered cow at the Maxwell house and if one of them will go cut some beef and bring it back, he will cook it. The Kid is content to go without the meat, but Barlow is not. Grabbing a knife, Barlow walks out the door, although the Kid, sensing a trap, tries to talk him out of it.

A few moments later, the Kid and Silva hear a couple shots from the direction of the Maxwell house. The Kid grabs two pistols and runs out of Silva's towards the Maxwell house. Rushing through the gate of the Maxwells' yard, he begins firing his guns at the lawmens' shadows. Suddenly, a bullet hits Billy in the lower left jaw, knocking out a tooth as it strikes him. Turning around, another bullet hits him in the back of the left shoulder. Jumping back over the fence, a third bullet creases his forehead. Despite his wounds, Billy manages to make it back over the fence and crawls to the house of a Mexican woman who takes him in and bandages his wounds. Later that evening, Celsa Gutierrez enters the Mexican woman's house and tells Billy that Garrett has killed Barlow and that the body is being passed off as the Kid's. Garrett undoubtedly knows he killed the wrong man, and he also knows that he can't admit to it, since Barlow is not a wanted outlaw. Whereas the killings of Tom Folliard and Charlie Bowdre were also cases of mistaken identity, both of those men were wanted outlaws anyway, but Barlow was just an innocent civilian. With this situation, Billy knows that he must leave Sumner for good and let the authorities think him dead. So, at about 3:00 AM, Billy and friend Francisco Lobato saddle up and ride out of Sumner to a nearby sheep camp. For the next few days, Billy will stay at various friends' sheep camps as he heads south towards Mexico. With the law and his enemies believing him dead, Billy takes many aliases over the following years and leads a life as adventurous as the one he just left behind.

There are many more theories and versions of what occurred on the night of July 14, 1881, and no matter which theory you believe in, there are several unanswered questions for each. To read about the inconsistencies surrounding each version of events, click here. Also, to read a more detailed account of Brushy Bill Roberts, as well as the account of another claimant, John Miller, click here.