Early on the morning of July 18, 1881, mail contractor Michael Cosgrove pulled into Las Vegas direct from Fort Sumner with the biggest news ever to hit New Mexico Territory: Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett had shot dead Billy the Kid.
Las Vegas, a town of roughly 6,000, had two daily newspapers, the Las Vegas Daily Optic and the Las Vegas Daily Gazette, and these were the first to publish the sensational details of how the West’s most elusive outlaw finally met his end. Unfortunately, copies of the Gazette from that date do not seem to have survived, leaving historians only the coverage provided by the Optic—until now.
Excerpts of the Las Vegas Daily Gazette’s July 19 story on the Kid’s demise—based in part on an interview with Sheriff Garrett himself—were published in various regional newspapers. One paper, however, copied the article in its entirety: the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette of July 23, 1881. The reprinted article was discovered through a recent search using the website NewspaperArchive.com.
As is to be expected, the article is not without factual errors, but it is interesting how some of these had already become cornerstones of Kid lore, such as the story that Billy’s first victim was a man who had insulted his mother. This article also refutes stories concocted by Billy the Kid pretenders Brushy Bill Roberts, John Miller and others claiming the Kid had somehow dodged death. Much more fascinating and historically valuable, though, are the article’s specifics about the Kid’s demise; his physical appearance, including the clothes he was wearing; the identification of the woman he was staying with in Fort Sumner; the inquest over his body; and the Kid’s burial place and simple headstone in the Fort Sumner cemetery.
The Las Vegas Daily Gazette’s account follows in full.
Mark Lee Gardner is the author of To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West. His most recent book is the award-winning Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape (William Morrow, 2013).