When we think of the baby-faced outlaw Billy the Kid, we recall romantic images of the Wild West, desperate shootouts at corrals that are just OK, daring train robberies in tumbleweeded territories destined to become fly-over states.
We don’t think of Brooklyn.
Yet long before Billy became THE kid he was just A kid pitching papers on a Brooklyn street corner.
Billy’s mother, Catherine McCarty, fled Ireland when her immediate family fell to famine and disease. She landed in New York and headed for Brooklyn, seeking the safety of extended family members.
Upon arriving, Catherine was shocked to learn her New York relatives had also died from disease.
Homeless, alone, desperate to survive, to even eat, Katherine resorted to prostitution. Many historians suspect Catherine may have become pregnant from selling herself in the bars and taverns of 19th century Brooklyn, as she was not married when Billy was born. Others claim Catherine knew Billy’s father and he passed away before the boy was four years old.
In any event, before he became the notorious outlaw “Billy the Kid,” in fact before he was William Bonney, Henry McCarty was born right here in Brooklyn at 210 Greene Street on September 1859.
Henry the kid was christened on September 28, 1859, in the Church of St. Peter at 16 Barclay Street. Old St. Peter’s is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York State.
Catherine soon took up with William Atrim, and followed him west with her son, arriving in Kansas by 1870.
By 1875, Billy, still a kid at 16 years old, cut the first of many notches on his gun handle. “The Fastest Gun in the West” was a suspect in 21 murders. On July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was killed in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, shot in the back by the cowardly Sheriff Pat Garret.
Billy never lived to see his 22nd birthday. And buried in Fort Sumner, he never did return to Brooklyn.