4/28/1881 - One of the most famous incidents in Wild West history takes place in Lincoln, New Mexico, when William Henry McCarty, Jr., but better known to the locals as Billy the Kid (Billy during his brief time on the planet, also goes by William Bonney and William Antrim) decides he's had enough of the town jail and escapes, killing both of his guards in the process.
On the run for over a year after territory governor Lew Wallace (the Civil War general appointed by his friend, President Grant, who writes Ben Hur in his spare time) reneges on an amnesty offer made to the outlaw for his testimony about the Lincoln County War ... a period of time during which the gunman is thought to have killed Joe Grant in a Fort Sumner saloon (after placing an empty chamber in position on the bounty hunter's pistol) and James Carlye near the town of White Oaks (as the posse man is trying to negotiate Billy's surrender), the Kid finds he has a new nemesis on his tail, a former bartender, buffalo hunter, cowboy and acquaintance named Pat Garrett, the newly elected sheriff of Lincoln County.
The Killing of Grant
In his first encounter with Garrett and his posse in December of 1880, Billy barely escapes with his life and loses his good friend, rustler Tom O'Folliard to the guns of Garrett. Then a week later, Garrett and his men locate their prey again, hiding in an abandoned stone building in a remote New Mexican location called Stinking Springs (near present-day Taiban, New Mexico). Quietly surrounding the building as the outlaw and his friends sleep, at dawn the bullets begin flying (a horse and outlaw Charles Bowdre are killed) and the bandits finally surrender when they are overcome with hunger pangs from the smells wafting their way as the posse cooks its breakfast ... and yes, the outlaws do get to sample the fried eggs, bacon, and coffee of the posse before being taken back to Fort Sumner.
Bowdre & O'Folliard
Brought to the town of Mesilla to stand trial for the 1878 ambush killing of 48-year-old Sheriff William J. Brady and Deputy George W. Hindman on the main street of Lincoln (two of the men the Kid believes are responsible for the murder of his friend and mentor, English rancher John Tunstall), on April 9th, Billy is found guilty after two days of testimony and sentenced by Judge Warren Bristol to be hung by the neck on May 13th (the only conviction to be won against any of the many combatants that participated in the Lincoln County War). Not happy with the drop verdict he's received, brought back to Lincoln to await execution, the Kid begins planning his escape, watching and waiting for just the right opportunity to leave for greener pastures.
Escape seemingly impossible, the Kid is kept on the second floor of the two-story adobe building which formerly housed the Murphy-Dolan Store, in a make-shift cell on the northeast corner, wearing leg shackles and handcuffs at all times, and watched by two guards, 27-year-old James W. Bell and Robert "Pecos Bob" Olinger. A former gold miner from Georgia, 27-year-old Bell is well liked, even by Billy, and by the residents of Lincoln ... the complete opposite of what lots of folks think about 40-year-old Olinger. A large man and a notorious bully, killer of at least three men (all after poker games go bad for Olinger), he will be described as the "... meanest man in New Mexico ..." and as hating "...anyone he couldn't bluff ...," and his own boss, Garrett, says Olinger, "... was born a murderer." On opposite sides in the Lincoln County War, Billy and Olinger hate each other (Olinger was a member of the posse that killed Tunstall) and make no attempts to pretend otherwise in their day-to-day interactions. Trying to goad Billy into an action that will allow Olinger to kill him, daily the deputy tells the outlaw what it will feel like to choke to death at the end of a hangman's rope, and accidentally on purpose, leaves a pistol on a table where it can be grabbed ... but the Kid doesn't take the bait and is content to wait for a better opportunity, and on 4/28, it arrives.
Lincoln, New Mexico - Courthouse & Jail
With Garrett in the town of White Oaks to collect taxes and local business fees, the Kid has only the two deputies to deal with ... and at around 6:00 in the evening, when the five local men in jail on petty crimes are taken across the street by Olinger to have their normal meal at the hotel restaurant of Sam Wortley, the number is down to one (too dangerous to be let out on to the streets of Lincoln, all of Billy's meals are brought to him at the jail). Waiting a few minutes for the men to make their way across the street and settle down to their dinner, Billy suddenly develops a case of bladder woes and asks Bell to take him to the nearby outhouse the prisoners use. No problem, Bell herds the Kid to the privy, waits while business is attended to, and then walks Billy back to the jail. All is fine until the pair reach the top of the stairs leading to the second floor. There, Billy suddenly whirls and delivers a heavy blow to Bell's head with his handcuffed hands (after the escape, one report will state that Bell is hit so hard it cracks his skull) and the two fight grimly for the deputy's weapon. With Billy the winner, Bell runs down the stairs for the door to warn of the escape ... and is stopped there, without uttering a word, by the outlaw firing a fatal round through his back. One deputy down ... with one more to go!
Knowing the sound of his killing Bell will draw Olinger back to the jail to investigate, the Kid breaks into the upstairs armory and takes a heavier weapon for himself ... Olinger's double-barrel shotgun loaded with .18 gauge shells. His usual self, that morning Olinger had teased Billy as he loaded the gun with buckshot ... "The man that gets one of those loads will feel it," Olinger tells the Kid with a smile. A poorly veiled threat that Billy responds to by saying, "I expect he will, but be careful Bob, or you might shoot yourself accidentally." Now the Kid is holding that very weapon in a second floor window of the jail, waiting for his tormentor.
The Billy Window and Marker Where Olinger Dropped
Hearing the shot that kills Bell, Olinger leaps up from the table where he has begun his dinner, and says, "They are having a fight over there," as he bolts out of the restaurant. Running towards the northeast corner of the building, Billy watches Olinger coming the whole way, and when the deputy is just below him and about to enter the building he calls out to his enemy. "Hello Bob!" Billy shouts out, then as Olinger looks up, with a belch of white smoke, unloads both barrels of the shot gun in the deputy's face. Dead before he hits the ground, Olinger is blasted by 36 pellets of buckshot that turn his head, face, and chest into a fatally bloody mess.
Free to flee, Billy instead spends a bizarre hour ranting at Olinger's corpse, enlisting various citizens in breaking him free of his shackles and handcuffs, lecturing the town on his innocence in various crimes, justifying his murder of Bell, celebrating his freedom by dancing about the second floor balcony, cursing and threatening enemies about the state, buying a length of rope from a local Hispanic resident, and having 11-year-old Severo Gallegos and part-time county employee Gottfried Gauss, saddle up a suitable mount for an escape (he is given a troublesome horse that belongs to a deputy probate clerk named William Burt ... the pony almost throws Billy when he tries to mount, and later that night the horse runs off, and for a brief time leaves the Kid afoot). Finally, as the evening's dark comes on he rides out of town at a walk ... roads to Texas, Mexico, Colorado, and California are all open to him ... youthfully stupid though, believing in his own growing legend, and listening to his privates, he decides to remain in New Mexico so he can be close to his girlfriend, Paulita Maxwell.
He has exactly 77 more days to live before he encounters Pat Garrett at the Maxwell Ranch ... he is 21-years-old.