On April 28, 1881, 21-year-old Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid, just days from being hanged for murder, outfoxed his jailors and electrified the nation with the latest in a long line of daring escapes. Just a few weeks later, the notorious young outlaw was gunned down by an ambitious sheriff. Demonized by the lawman who killed him, the Kid was soon mythologized by a never-ending stream of dime-store romances and later, big-screen dramas. But in all the narratives, Billy the Kid’s real story has been obscured. Born to impoverished Irish immigrants, the Kid led a hardscrabble, itinerant life that became harder still when his mother died of tuberculosis. He came of age in a lawless corner of New Mexico, where an Irish immigrant ring held a vise-like grip on all money-making endeavors and the Mexican population was frequently cheated out of their property without recourse to the courts. Caught in the middle of a many-centuries-old Irish-English conflict playing out on the plains of the Southwest, the Kid captured national attention with his reckless violence. His fascination with Mexican culture, his flair for Spanish and his disdain for the Anglo authorities made him a hero of sorts to the Hispanic community, who hid him when the law came looking and mourned him when he was gone.
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