Billy the Kid was one of the most notorious outlaws of the American West. Born William Bonney in New York City in 1859, Billy spent his childhood in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. At the age of 12, he is said to have committed his first murder when he stabbed a man who had insulted his mother. In his teen years, Billy turned to a life of robbery and violence. By age 18, he had committed perhaps a dozen more killings.
In 1877 Billy became a cowhand on a ranch in New Mexico. The following year, a "war" broke out between two cattle-ranching families. Billy became a leader of one of the rival gangs and played an active role in many bloody gun battles.
In April 1878, Billy was one of a group of men who gunned down the local sheriff, James Brady, and a deputy. The governor of the territory offered Billy a pardon if he surrendered. The outlaw refused and continued with his life of violence and lawlessness. He led a gang of cattle rustlers and committed more murders.
In 1880 Patrick Floyd Garrett, a one-time friend of Billy's, became a sheriff. Determined to put an end to Billy's life of violence, Garrett tracked Billy down and captured him in 1881. Billy stood trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Before the hanging could take place, Billy broke out of jail, killing two guards in the process. Sheriff Garrett went after him. Three months later, Garrett caught up with Billy in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. There, in a private home, the sheriff shot and killed the outlaw.
Billy the Kid was just 21 years old when he died. Even so, he had probably killed more than 20 people. In the years after his death, tales of Billy the Kid became part of western legend. Novels and movies sometimes glamorized his life. In truth, however, Billy was nothing more than a ruthless, cold-blooded killer.