Little is known of his youth, but early on he entered a life of thievery, finally heading west and joining a violent gang. Billy was caught and sentenced to death for the murder of a sheriff, but escaped after killing guards. The legend of Billy the Kid is made by his killer, Sheriff Garrett. Little is known concerning the first life of William McCarty (also called Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney, an alias), but it’s considered that his dad died or left the family when Billy was quite youthful, and he was orphaned at 15 when his mom died of tuberculosis. Soon after, he along with his brother got involved in petty theft.
McCarty had a slender physique, sandy blonde hair and blue eyes and wore a trademark sugarloaf sombrero hat using a broad ornamental band. Based on legend, he killed 21 men during his days as an outlaw, one for each year of his life, though he probably killed much fewer than that amount. On the run in the authorities, McCarty moved to Arizona briefly before joining up having a gang of gunfighters called The Boys to fight in the Lincoln County War. Known as “The Kid,” McCarty changed to the resistance to fight with John Tunstall below the name “the Regulators.”
Barely escaping with his life, McCarty became an outlaw along with a fugitive. He snitched horse and cows until his arrest in 1880 for the killing of Sheriff Brady during the Lincoln County War. After being sentenced to death, he killed his two guards and escaped in 1881. Soon following the shooting, Sheriff Garrett wrote a biography of McCarty, the extremely sensationalized The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. The novel was the first of many accounts that would turn the young outlaw right into a legend of the American frontier.