July 14, 1881

Billy the Kid vs. Pat Garrett

Bad Moon Rising

The Midnight Men
Convinced the Kid may still be around Fort Sumner, Pat Garrett leaves Roswell at night accompanied by John W. Poe (who has replaced Frank Stewart as Panhandle Stock Association detective) and “Kip” McKinney. They ride at night and stay off the main roads. Illustrations by Bob Boze Bell


Rising at dawn, Garrett, Poe and McKinney ride “up into the hills” and scan the landscape with field-glasses. After an hour or two, Garrett sends Poe into Sumner “to take observations” and arranges to meet him four miles north of Fort Sumner.

Poe noses around the plaza and gleans no news of the Kid’s whereabouts (although he later claims “there was a very tense situation in Fort Sumner that day, as the Kid was at that very time hiding in one of the native’s houses there”). He then rides on to Sunnyside, seven miles above Sumner, to interview Postmaster Milnor Rudolph. It was Rudolph’s son Charles who rode in the posse at Stinking Spring. Rudoph admits he has heard rumors of the Kid’s presence but doesn’t believe them. When Poe questions him further, Rudoph becomes “nervous and evasive.”

Poe leaves Sunnyside after dark and meets up with Garrett and McKinney at the proposed meeting place. The three decide to slip into Fort Sumner in the darkness and see what they can find. At about nine p.m. Sheriff Pat Garrett and two deputies, John Poe and Tom “Kip” McKinney, ensconce themselves within a peach orchard on the northern boundary of Fort Sumner. A full moon looms above.

As the lawmen creep toward the buildings, they hear voices. Stopping, they realize someone else is in the orchard. “Soon a man arose from the ground,” Garrett later remembers, “in full view, but too far away to recognize. He wore a broad-brimmed hat, a dark vest and pants, and was in his shirt sleeves.” 

The dark figure says something (indiscernible to the officers), jumps the fence and walks into the compound. (Garrett later learns that this was Billy the Kid; the inference is that Billy had just finished making love in the green grass.)

By now it is nearly midnight. Garrett and his deputies back out of the orchard and approach Pete Maxwell’s house. The three men slip silently onto Maxwell’s south porch.

Garrett posts his two deputies at the front gate and goes inside. Poe sits on the edge of the steps in the open gate, and McKinney squats just outside.



A full moon lights up the Cotton-wood trees along the Pecos River as a dark figure slips into the side yard of a long, low adobe. Once inside, he goes straight to her bedroom at the southeast corner. Opening the door just a crack, he sees the love of his life. He has risked everything for her, and she is as beautiful as he has remembered. As he quietly slips inside and starts to undress, he suddenly senses something moving out the window, on the parade ground. He freezes and instinctively ducks down to the floor and inches forward to the front window. As he carefully peers out, he spies two strangers crouched and conversing at the front gate. Staying low, he moves like a cat back across the room and out into the darkened hallway. He quietly slips into the corner bedroom across the hall.

¿“Quien es? ¿Quien es?, Pete”? (Who is it? Who is it, Pete?) 

There is no answer, but he senses someone besides Pete is also in the room. One more time he whispers, ¿“Quien es”?

There is a loud explosion, and it’s the last thing he remembers before the darkness takes him.


Stocking Feet Don’t Lie

Essentially, Sheriff Pat Garrett caught Billy the Kid with his pants down in a darkened bedroom. After the shooting, all the principals agreed on one thing: an explanation needed to be fashioned that would get Billy out of the house, but it needed to include him being in his stocking feet. Why they didn’t just lie about this part as well is kind of mystifying, but it was, after all, a Victorian time, and the proper thing to do was to protect Pete’s little sister (Paulita was 15!) from scandal. And so all of the ridiculous and strained details about walking across the parade ground in his stocking feet to get meat, was made up to protect the Maxwell name. 

In the “official” telling of the events leading up to the death of the Kid, deputies Poe and McKinney claim they noticed a lone figure approaching on the inside of the fence. He is hatless and in his stocking feet. And, most tellingly, he’s buttoning his pants. I don’t believe this, and I’m convinced it didn’t happen.


The Maxwell House
John Poe describes Pete Maxwell’s dwelling as being a “very long, one-story” building, consistent with many military post buildings at the time Pete’s father, Lucien, bought the property in 1870. Gregory Scott Smith, manager at the Fort Sumner Historic Site, found the 1863 U.S. Army floor plan in the National Archives. It shows the original layout of the officers’ quarters, one of which became the Maxwell house. With no doors on the outside of the Maxwell bedroom, this floor plan could change how we view the Kid’s final movements.


Kip McKinney confided to a mining partner named Frederick William Gray that Garrett knew the Kid would visit his “Mexican sweetheart” and that the lawmen arrived at the Maxwell house before Billy and “tied and gagged” the girl. Garrett hid behind the sofa and when Billy showed, Pat shot him down. The Kid’s worst fear had come true—he had been shot down like a dog.



“I am not afraid to die like a man fighting, but I would not like to be killed
like a dog unarmed.”

—Billy the Kid



Garrett claimed the Kid came in on him and was armed with a pistol and a knife. In my opinion, the Kid was unarmed and his worst-case scenario had come true: he was shot down like a dog.


Aftermath: Odds & Ends

Jesús Silva and several local women ask permission to move Billy’s body to the old carpenter shop on the eastern side of the fort and they laid him on a workbench (see page 19). The Kid’s fatal wound was plugged with a rag, while the Hispano women washed and cleaned the Kid’s body for the wake. Candles were soon lit and placed around his corpse.

News spread about the killing and soon enough almost everyone in the immediate vicinity showed up. On the morning of July 15,  a coffin was constructed by Jesús Silva with help from Vicente Otero and a few others. Pete Maxwell chipped in $25 to buy Billy some new clothes. A beige suit, shirt, undergarments and a pair of “stockings” were purchased, and the outlaw was dressed out for burial. Once in the casket, the Kid was moved to Beaver Smith’s saloon where it remained on display until the grave was dug and he was transported to his final resting place in the Fort Sumner cemetery. 

Recommended: The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid, Volume III and Final Word by Bob Boze Bell, and Billy the Kid: El Bandido Simpático by
James B. Mills.


“Practically every man, woman and child in town followed the body to the little cemetery,” remembered Paulita Maxwell. A sermon in Spanish followed. Although there was no church in Fort Sumner, I have portrayed the essence of the ceremony as it relates to all of New Mexico. The Kid today is the patron saint of Lincoln County.

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