Strolling around town is one the most popular things to do while visiting Santa Fe New Mexico. Historic sites and landmarks are everywhere. For those interested in old west history, one must see landmark is located just a few blocks west of the plaza. Walk west down San Francisco Street and you’ll come upon a plaque on the side of a building on the south side of the street. This plaque marks the site of an old Santa Fe jail that at one time, and probably a few times, house the infamous Billy the Kid. His real name has been disputed for over a century. Depending on the source the Kid’s real name was either Henry McCarty or William Henry Bonney. What is somewhat agreed upon is that he was born in Brooklyn New York. The other agreed upon fact is that the Kid spent his teen years living in Santa Fe.
Billy the Kid was a well known outlaw during the 1870’s who gained a lasting reputation during what was called the Lincoln County Wars between 1876-1878. Lincoln County was at the time a vast area comprising what is now southeastern New Mexico. In fact, it comprised all of southeastern New Mexico. Today, the area comprises several different counties. The Lincoln County war was essentially a bloody feud between to factions operating in the town of Lincoln. One faction which were prosperous merchants had been entrenched for years and pretty much controlled politics. They also had lucrative contracts providing the military with supplies. This was the Murphy-Dolan group. The other was the McSween -Tunstall group who were also merchants and were trying to unseat the incumbents.
Sporadic gunfire and bloodshed between the two groups went on for a long time. Both sides had hired guns in their employ. Sheriff William Brady was shot and killed during this time and the shooter was said to be Billy the Kid who was aligned with the McSween group. The Lincoln County War was thought to be the event which turned the Kid into an outlaw. Also, a lawyer named Chapman, representing the McSween group was gunned down in the streets of Lincoln allegedly by gunmen of the Murphy faction.
Eventually the Lincoln County war ended in 1878 largely by the intervention of federal troops, many of which were the Buffalo Soldiers, stationed at nearby Fort Stanton. There were many arrests of which the most notable was the arrest of Billy the Kid by then Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett arrested the Kid for the murder of sheriff William Brady and brought him up to Santa Fe and jailed him in the old jail which reportedly in the building pictured left. This site is also near the historic Lensic Theater on San Francisco Street.
After Billy was transported to Santa Fe where he spent three months in jail in 1880 and then sent to a town in southern New Mexico to stand trial for the Brady killing. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. He was then transported over to Fort Sumner in Lincoln county and jailed. As the Kid had done numerous times he found a way to escape from the jail. He actually had quite a reputation for jail breaks. Once again sheriff Pat Garrett was on his trail. This culminated on July 14, 1881. on this date Billy the Kid was killed sheriff Pat Garret. There is dispute in how the Kid was killed. Was he shot in a fair fight or shot in the back? That question will probably never be answered with any certainty. What was ironic was that Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid were at one time good friends. Another ironic thing about the Kid was that while he was a hunted fugitive, many of the Mexicans in New Mexico held him in high regard and offered him assistance while on the run.
When you stroll around the adobe structured streets of Santa Fe New Mexico, you may want to see this historic site for yourself.