Billy The Kid: American Experience

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Saturday, January 18 • 8 p.m. 


On April 28, 1881, twenty-one-year-old Henry McCarty, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, just days from being hanged for murder, outfoxed his jailors and electrified the nation with the latest in a long line of miraculous escapes. An outlaw with a deadly reputation, the young man was finally gunned down by the ambitious sheriff Pat Garrett just a few weeks later. The felling of one of the most notorious criminals of the age made front-page news and marked the end of Henry — but it was the beginning of one of the West’s most enduring legends.


Demonized by the lawman that killed him, the Kid was soon mythologized by a never-ending stream of dime store novels and big-screen dramas, portrayed by everyone from Paul Newman to Roy Rogers to Emilio Estevez. But in all the tellings, Billy the Kid’s real story has been obscured. 


Born to impoverished Irish immigrants, Henry McCarty left the slums of New York City with his mother, Catherine, to join the wave of humanity heading west following the end of the Civil War. Lured by the promise of silver, they settled in a remote outpost in southeastern New Mexico, a place on the edge of civilization where Latino, Native American and Anglo cultures mixed freely. Henry embraced this mestiza culture and within a few months was speaking Spanish fluently, wearing sombreros and moccasins, and courting señoritas in the evening. When Catherine remarried, the family fortunes improved.