Henry Antrim at the age of fourteen, and not yet known as Billy the Kid, has been described as follows:
He was unfailingly courteous, especially to the ladies. Like his mother, he was a spirited singer and dancer. He had an alert mind and could come up with a snappy proverb for every occasion. He read well and wrote better than most adults. note59
Antrim was the name of the man his mother, Catherine McCarty, married in a Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe on March 1, 1873, after eight years of courtship and cohabitation. Antrim was 31. Catherine was 43, a lively woman with a sense of humor, the kind of woman who could attract a much younger man. The newlyweds with Henry and his older brother, by one year or so, moved to Silver City New Mexico, hoping it would be better for Catherine's lungs and a better environment for her sons. She worked taking in laundry, baking and selling pies. She died of tuberculosis on September 16, 1874.
Henry Antrim, or Billy the Kid, at age twenty in late 1879 or early 1880. Of the photo his friend Paulita said, many years after his death, that the photo didn't do him "justice." Neither did the reigning politics in New Mexico.
Henry had been close to his mother. From her he had learned to appreciate singing and dancing. A song that had become popular in the United States was "Silver Threads among the Gold," and for the rest of his life, according to Michael Wallis, Henry "reportedly often whistled the song as he rode horseback across the high plains and ranchlands." note60
Henry's stepfather left for Arizona after a Silver City family, the Hudsons, agreed to look after Henry and his brother, Joe, for a while. Henry and Joe attended school. Henry had a crush on his teacher, who would later describe him as "a scrawny little fellow with delicate hands and an artistic nature ... always quite willing to help with the chores around the school-house. He was no more of a problem than any other boy growing up in a mining camp." note61
Within weeks the Antrim boys were living as boarders in the home of the Knight family, with Henry doing part-time work at Knight's butcher shop. Brother Joe moved in with the Dyer family and worked for Joe Dyer at his infamous Orleans Club. There he served hard liquor, "ran numbers" (lottery?) and took bets.
Billy became a boarder at the Brown residence and followed his brother's direction, becoming interested in gambling at the Orleans Club and other saloons around town. A fellow boarder who had been binge drinking stole from a Chinese laundry a pair of revolvers, a bundle of blankets and clothing. Billy accepted a share of the loot. His landlady discovered it in Billy's room and called the sheriff.
On September 24, 1875 (a little more than one year after his mother's death), Henry was put in jail. After two days he escaped up the jail's sooty chimney. He thought it best to get out of Silver City and made his way to neighboring Arizona territory where he found his stepfather and described his situation. The stepfather is reported to have told Henry if that was the kind of boy he was to "Get out." Henry is described as responding to his isolation by stealing his stepfather's six-shooter and some clothes and leaving again for the open road. It was the last time he saw his stepfather.
Henry tried to become a cowboy, but considered too small and frail he worked with cowboys for a little while doing field-kitchen work. He became acquainted with John R. Mackie, a Scottish-born ex-cavalry private with a criminal bent, and the two are described as involved in the risky business of horse thievery. Henry moved to the Camp Grant area (named after then President Ulysses Grant). Around Camp Grant was a saloon and brothel town. Henry made money there gambling with soldiers. He worked briefly as an army beef contractor. Being small, beardless, seventeen and having an appealing personality, he picked up the name Kid Antrim. On August 17, 1877, in a saloon where he hung out, "the Kid" had a verbal exchange with a civilian blacksmith, Frank "Windy" Cahill. Cahill threw Henry to the ground and began pummeling him. Henry managed to draw his gun and shot Cahill, who died the next day. A coroner's inquest concluded that the shooting was criminal and unjustifiable.
Henry thought it best to leave Arizona territory, and after two years there it was back to the Territory of New Mexico, to a ranch south of Silver City owned by old friends. He told them what he had done and stayed there a couple of weeks. He wanted to get farther from Arizona. His friends gave him food to continue his run, and Henry headed farther east in New Mexico territory.
Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.