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Brushy Bill Roberts and Billy the Kid---The Complete Facts

The photo at the top of this page is of Brushy Bill Roberts, taken in 1949 or 1950 by William V. Morrison.

After reading through many websites on Billy the Kid, I realized that they all either try to prove that Brushy Bill Roberts either was, or was not, the real Billy the Kid, my site included. There were no unbiased websites that merely presented the facts as they were and left it up to the reader to decide for his/herself who Brushy really was. Rather, there were even some websites that ridiculed those who have a differing opinion on this matter than the site’s creator. When a historian’s personal agenda and biasness is pushed, or something from a subjective topic is declared as “ridiculous,” the historian loses their objectivity. This got me thinking: why can’t just one website show both sides of the argument equally, without letting personal beliefs affect the matter? Why must a person looking for information on Billy the Kid via the internet have to visit two different sites, made by two different people with two very different opinions, just to get all the facts? Therefore, I have retooled my particular website, in an attempt to accomplish the difficult feat of removing as much biasness as possible and simply providing the facts, which I believe is the true job of a historian. So, here is the new Brushy Bill Roberts section of my website. It is my hope that by doing this, other website operators will also change their approach to this topic and try to provide an equal platform for both sides of this debate. Below, I have written a basic history of the case of Brushy Bill, and then listed the evidence for him as Billy the Kid, the evidence against him as Billy the Kid, the falsely used evidence against him, and a list of questions regarding Brushy that remain unanswered.

In 1948, William V. Morrison, a probate investigator working in St. Louis, Missouri, was sent to Florida to work on the case of an elderly man named Joe Hines. Hines was claiming that the land of his recently deceased brother now belonged entirely to him, since he was the only surviving heir. While Morrison and Hines talked, Hines admitted that he was Jessie Evans, who, after he had been released from prison in Texas in 1882, had by all accounts disappeared. Hines then told Morrison of his experiences in the Lincoln County War and with Billy the Kid. This held a special interest for Morrison, since he was related to the Maxwell family of Fort Sumner. When he proclaimed to Hines that the Kid had met his death at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett in the house of one of his relatives, he was shocked to have Hines reply that the Kid was not killed by Garrett, or by anyone else for that matter and was still living. Hines went on to say that besides himself and Billy, there was only one other surviving veteran of the Lincoln County War, namely Jim McDaniels, a member of the Jessie Evans Gang. Further intrigued, Morrison probed Hines for “the Kid’s” name and address and the old man finally consented. He gave Billy’s current name as Ollie L. “Brushy Bill” Roberts and his address as Hamilton, Texas.

Several months later, after completing the Hines case (in which Hines was given his brother’s land), Morrison struck up a written correspondence with Brushy Bill. Throughout this early correspondence, Morrison was careful not to reveal what exactly Hines had told him about his true identity. At the same time, Morrison attempted to track down Jim McDaniels, yet this proved an impossible feat. He managed to track him as far as Round Rock, Texas, but townsfolk there said that he had moved in 1945 to live out the rest of his days with his daughter in California. Giving up on the McDaniels angle, Morrison wrote to Brushy and told him that he would like to meet him. Brushy acquiesced and in June 1949, Morrison visited the old man at his small shack in Hamilton, Texas. In his journal, Morrison noted Brushy as being about 5’8” tall and weighing about 165 pounds, with blue eyes, small hands, large wrists, heavy shoulders, thinning grey hair, high forehead, prominent nose, and large ears. Brushy invited the visitor inside and introduced him to his wife, Melinda. Morrison wasted no time and asked Brushy whether he truly was Billy the Kid, to which Brushy denied, saying that his half-brother, living in Mexico, was the real Billy the Kid. Somewhat disappointed, Morrison decided to leave, but asked Brushy if it might be possible to take a trip to Mexico some day soon to interview his brother. On the way out the door, Brushy stopped Morrison and told him to come back in the afternoon of the next day, when his wife would be out visiting a friend and they would have the house to themselves.

Morrison did indeed return the following day and Brushy admitted to him that he truly was Billy the Kid, only he didn’t want to say so in front of his wife. Brushy then went on to say that he knew he didn’t have many years left in him and wanted to die with the full pardon he had been promised by Gov. Lew Wallace back in 1879. Morrison said he would help the old man in his case, but only if he could be shown proof that Brushy was who he claimed to be. At this request, Brushy took off his clothes, exposing twenty-six bullet and knife scars on his body, several matching known locations of wounds Billy the Kid allegedly had. Brushy also demonstrated the ability to, in a kind of double-jointed move, make his hands smaller than his wrists, which the real Billy was known to do in order to slide handcuffs off. Believing that Brushy could be the real deal, Morrison promised him he would do all he could to help obtain a pardon, provided Brushy would allow him to investigate further into his history to find more proof that he was authentic. Brushy agreed, and the two parted company for the day.

Over the next several months, Morrison met with Brushy several times and recorded his story in his journal and with a tape recorder. All the while, the pair were careful to make sure that Mrs. Roberts was kept in the dark over the entire proceedings, as Brushy didn’t want her to learn his true identity and be disgusted with him for his reputation. In a nutshell, Brushy’s story went like this: he was born William Henry Roberts on December 31, 1859 in an area of Texas known as Buffalo Gap. His parents were James H. and Mary Adeline Roberts. Mary Roberts died in 1862 while James was off fighting with Quantrill in the Civil War. He said that Catherine McCarty was not his mother, but his maternal half-aunt. After his mother died, Brushy went to live with Catherine and her son, Joe. Since Brushy was so young and Catherine moved around so much, everyone just assumed that Brushy was her son. Fearing that Brushy's father might try to take him back, she covered her tracks and gave the name Henry McCarty to Brushy as an alias. When Brushy told of his days as Billy the Kid from 1877 to 1881, Morrison determined that Brushy knew way too much about the history of the Kid and the Lincoln County War to have read all about it. Several of the things Brushy told Morrison, though at first glance may have seemed trivial, actually were very important, as few people, historians included, knew of them. When it came to the events of the night of July 14, 1881, Brushy said that a man named Billy Barlow was killed by Pat Garrett. Barlow, he said, was partially Mexican, had a beard, looked like the Kid, was a little younger than the Kid, and was possibly related to the Clements family, the cousins of John Wesley Hardin. Brushy also said that he doubted that Billy Barlow was the man's real name. After Barlow was killed, Brushy continued, he fled Fort Sumner. After fleeing Sumner, his story went, he lived in Mexico with a tribe of Yaqui Indians for two years; returned to the U.S. and worked in Carlton, Texas; was arrested in Kansas City because he recognized as the Kid, but was released; worked for Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West Show; worked for the Anti-Horse Thief Association from 1885-1889; worked for Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas; joined the Pinkerton Detective Agency; worked as a U.S. Marshal investigating train robberies; joined the Rough Riders and went to Cuba; briefly operated his own Wild West Show; fought for Villa and Carranza in the Mexican Revolution; worked as a plainclothes policeman in Gladewater, Texas; married four times; and used a dozen aliases.

In the fall of 1949, Morrison took Brushy with him to New Mexico for the purpose of having Brushy meet with some surviving acquaintances of Billy the Kid, to see if they could verify or deny his claim. Earlier, Morrison had been given the names Billy’s remaining acquaintances by other respected historians such as Maurice Fulton and William Keleher. While in New Mexico, the pair stopped at sites such as Fort Sumner and Lincoln. In the courthouse in Lincoln, Brushy detailed to Morrison how he, as Billy the Kid, made his famous escape and killed deputies Bob Olinger and James Bell. By the time they had completed their trip and returned to Brushy’s home in Hico, Texas (he had moved from Hamilton in the summer of ‘49), they had managed to meet with Severo Gallegos, Martile Able, Jose Montoya, and Bill and Sam Jones. The first three all signed legal affidavits attesting to the fact that Brushy Bill and Billy the Kid were one and the same and the Jones brothers, although they did not sign affidavits (claiming they didn’t want to get involved in the proceedings) also stated their agreement with this.

In the summer of 1950, Morrison moved, along with his family, to El Paso, Texas, in order to be closer to anything he may need in his investigation. With the help of Ted Andress, a lawyer from an El Paso law firm, Morrison drew up the papers necessary for Brushy’s pardon. Afterwards, Morrison wrote a report entitled “A Statement of Facts,” which stated that Billy Bonney was promised a pardon in 1879 by Gov. Wallace and that Billy was not killed in 1881 and still deserved his pardon. Included with the report were various documents related to Billy’s life and the affidavits from Gallegos, Able, and Montoya, along with affidavits from two of Brushy’s friends, DeWitt Travis and Robert Lee, detailing other aspects of his life. Again with the help of Andress, Morrison filed for the petition for the pardon on Nov. 15, 1950. Thomas J. Mabry, governor of New Mexico, agreed to a private hearing with Morrison and Brushy, along with one or two historians of Mabry‘s choosing, to be held on Nov. 29.

On the morning of the 29th, as Morrison and Brushy at breakfast at a Santa Fe diner, Morrison read in a local newspaper that Mabry had publicly announced his meeting with a Billy the Kid claimant. Morrison immediately telephoned Mabry, who apologized for making the announcement, but reassured him that the meeting would still be kept private. A few hours later, Brushy and Morrison arrived at Mabry’s mansion. Upon entering the conference room, they were shocked at what they saw. Present in the room were several photographers and reporters, armed policemen, Oscar and Jarvis Garrett (Pat’s sons), Cliff McKinney (Kip McKinney’s son), Arcadio Brady (William Brady’s grandson), and historians William Keleher, E. B. Mann, and Will Robinson. In short, the private meeting had developed into a media circus. Badly frightened, Brushy apparently suffered a small stroke, and when the questioning began, he failed miserably. However, the men asking the questions seemed to treat the affair as something as a joke, and asked primarily only meaningless questions (i.e. how many girlfriends he had, did he enjoy stealing livestock, etc.). He completely forgot basic information about himself , and, when he was asked a serious question regarding the past of Billy the Kid, he forgot that as well. Stating he felt ill, he was eventually taken to another room to lie down. Shortly thereafter, Gov. Mabry made an announcement that he was not going to pardon Brushy, because he did not believe him to be Billy the Kid. Disappointed, Morrison took Brushy to a local doctor, Stan Lloyd, and when he was well enough, he took him home to Hico.

In Hico, Brushy was reexamined by Dr. W. F. Hafer and told to get as much rest as possible. In the meantime, Morrison was to continue working on his case. On Dec. 27, 1950, Brushy left his bed and told his wife he was feeling better. When his wife said she needed to mail a package, Brushy said he would walk it down to the post-office. As he walked down the street, Brushy suffered a sudden heart attack. He fell to the ground and died instantly. Five years later, in 1955, noted historian C. L. Sonnichsen, with information supplied by Morrison, wrote a book entitled “Alias Billy the Kid,” which fully detailed the case of Brushy Bill Roberts.

In order to first read the detailed accounts of Pat Garrett and Brushy Bill Roberts in regards to the night of July 14, 1881, click here. Also, read the various discrepancies and questions surrounding all the accounts of the shooting by clicking here.

Lastly, to see more photos of Brushy Bill, click here.

NOTE: I welcome and encourage all e-mails regarding this topic. I would love to hear any questions, thoughts or suggestions on this.

In conclusion, I would just like to state that I hope I have accomplished my goal of providing all the facts as they are and checking my own biasness. Now you can examine the facts, and make of them what you will.

Also of note: there have been six books written on the Brushy Bill controversy. They are as follows:

  • "Alias Billy the Kid," by C. L. Sonnichsen & W. V Morrison, 1955
  • "Billy the Kid & Me Were the Same," by Dr. William A. Tunstill, 1988
  • "The Trial of Billy the Kid," by Judge Bobby E. Hefner, 1990
  • "Billy the Kid: Killed in New Mexico---Died in Texas," by Dr. Jannay Valdez & Judge Bobby E. Hefner, 1995
  • "The Return of the Outlaw Billy the Kid," by W. C. Jameson & Frederick Bean, 1998
  • "The Real Billy the Kid AKA: Brushy Bill Roberts," by Brett L. Hall, 2004