Did Billy the Kid fake his own death?

Billy the Kid, Age 19

Brushy Bill, Age 17


Billy the Kid was easily the most notorious desperado of the Wild West. He reportedly killed 21 men, one for every year of his young life.  History tells us that “The Kid” was born William Bonney in New York City in 1859.  He later fought against rich ranchers in the Lincoln County Cattle War in New Mexico, and was given a death sentence for killing Sheriff William Brady.

Who is buried in Billy the Kid’s grave?

According to most sources, Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett was eager to collect the $500 dollar bounty on Billy the Kid.  In July of 1881, he tracked down Billy in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and killed him.

History also tells us that Billy was buried the following day in a simple grave.  But now some people say that history is wrong.  That Billy wasn’t the man in that grave. Sixty-eight years after Billy’s death, a man from Texas, named “Brushy Bill” Roberts, claimed he was Billy the Kid.

Research historian, William Tunstill, believed the public was misled about Billy the Kid:

“This whole legend of Bill the Kid… 90% of what we have heard and been taught as students in schools is not true.  There is no doubt… Brushy Bill and Billy the Kid was one and the same person.” 

Brushy Bill or Billy the Kid?

Most historians completely dismiss Brushy Bill’s story.  But there is evidence to support his claim.  It all started in 1948, when an attorney named William Morrison was told that Billy the Kid might not have died in 1881.  A client said he had actually fought Billy the Kid in the Lincoln County Wars and that the Kid was still alive.  Morrison was so intrigued that he decided to do some of his own investigating.  He traveled throughout the West talking to other old timers about Billy the Kid, and he discovered that many thought that Billy was still alive.  They said he was going by the name of “Brushy” Bill Roberts.  Finally, in 1949, Morrison made the trip to Hico, Texas, to confront Brushy Bill in person.  He wanted to ask Brushy if the rumors were true.  According to William Tunstill, Brushy was at first hesitant:

“We must keep in mind that this man did not seek publicity, he did not seek to come out from seclusion, he was drawn out.”

Plaque honoring Brushy Bill

Brushy Bill finally admitted that he was, in fact, Billy the Kid, and asked Morrison to help him get the official pardon that New Mexico’s governor had promised him back in 1879. But Morrison wanted proof that he was indeed speaking to the infamous outlaw.  It was then that Brushy Bill showed Morrison his scars, all of which matched the wounds received by the Kid during his time as an outlaw.  To further convince him, “Brushy Bill” took William Morrison on a guided tour of some of Billy’s former haunts in Lincoln County. Morrison died in 1976, but his daughter, Barbara Kuchler, remembered her father’s trip:

“Brushy Bill would give incidents that only someone that was actually involved in the Lincoln County War would have known. My father was convinced that this man was… Billy the Kid.”

Morrison then contacted five people who had known Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War.  Each of them, separately, met Brushy Bill in person.  All five witnesses signed sworn affidavits stating that Brushy Bill Roberts was indeed Billy the Kid.  If this is true, then one puzzling question remains … What really happened on the night the Kid was supposedly killed?

According to Brushy Bill, on the night of the shooting, he was with his girlfriend, Celsa, and his partner Billy Barlow, at Jesus Silva’s house.  Unknown to the Kid, Garrett and his posse were waiting for him across the yard.  When Garrett opened fire, one of the first shots struck Barlow.  The shots that followed struck the Kid in the head and shoulder.  He passed out from the pain and woke up the following morning under the care of Celsa.  She informed him that Barlow had been killed and was being buried in Billy’s place.

According to William Tunstill, Pat Garrett knew he killed the wrong man:

“In a normal procedure, the sheriff would have brought the corpse to a place for anyone to witness.  He would have demonstrated his guns, his clothing, his boots, his rifle.  Pat Garrett did not follow that procedure.  He took every precaution to conceal the identity of the corpse.”

By 1950, William Morrison felt he had gathered enough evidence to request a pardon from Governor Mabry of New Mexico.  The Governor agreed to meet both men in person.  But the meeting turned into a press circus.  Brushy Bill was 90 years old at the time.  He was confused and scared by the crowd of reporters.

According to Barbara Kuchler, Brushy Bill’s testimony was all for nothing:

“The governor never even gave him a chance to present the evidence, by just flat out telling him he wasn’t even going to consider it.”

Morrison’s legal arguments and affidavits were not even entered into evidence.  Brushy Bill felt he had been humiliated, his claims ridiculed.  His pardon was not granted. Shortly after the meeting with Governor Mabry, Brushy Bill suffered a heart attack and died on a street in Hico, Texas.

Was Brushy Bill Roberts the notorious outlaw, Billy the Kid?  His friends and neighbors believe so and have even erected a memorial in his honor which reads, “…he spent the last days of his life trying to prove to the world his true identity.  We believe his story and pray to God for the forgiveness he solemnly asked for.”

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack and season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis FarinaVarious seasons available now on Hulu.



  1. Anonymous

    McDaniels, along with Severo Gallegos, Martile Able, Jose Montoya, and Bill and Sam Jones, all of whom had known Billy the Kid, signed affidavits claiming to verify that Roberts was in fact Billy the Kid.


    • william connally

      McDaniels has always intrigued me. Sort of a dead end. Supposedly as deadly as the Kid. At one time on the same side in the War but end up on opposing sides. Like I said intriguing.BtabK


  2. Anonymous

    Consider this, most people have no idea what eventually happened to Pat Garrett. After suposedly killing Billy the Kid, he was replaced as sheiff by no less than one of the deputies with him that night, William Poe. Poe also said in a signed affidated, “I think you shot the wrong guy Pat.” Not only did Pat Garrett loose the election for sheiff but his book about killing Billy was a complete flop. It would seem the people of the day doubted Garrett’s claim and showed it. Afterward, Garrett left New Mexico for Texas where several years later he was murdered by a proffessional killer known as “Killer Miller”. Its not known who hired Miller or why, there are several different therories but the truth went to the grave with Miller. Maybe it had something to do with keeping Billy the Kid dead? It would not be the first time the killer was killed in order to hide the truth. If it where discovered that Billy the Kid was indeed alive and well, the future of people such as Gov. Lou Wallace could suffer the same fate as Garrett’s? The truth isn’t as hard to find as people seem to think,more often than not a simple question tell’s it. Ask yourself, if Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid, in a time when taking photo’s of dead outlaw’s was so popular. Why didn’t Garrett? After killing the most famous outlaw of the day??


    • Good points

      You made a very good point about why didn’t Garrett take a photo of the “dead” Billy the kid


    • Angel

      Pat Garrett was killed in Las Cruces NM off Hwy 70 E, not in Texas. I live right around the corner from the marker. He was buried in the Masonic Cemetery close to Mesilla, NM.


  3. Anonymous

    Brush was the kid, I’m from Texas and my grandpa was friends with billy and heard first hand the story’s. Billy was truly a amazing man and not the monster that some say he was. Billy fought for good reason not to just kill. I would like to think we all have a little billy the kid in us. Remember history is not always what it seems with all the cover ups that has been going on in our country and still going on. The real Story’s I heard about billy will live on in My memmeries forever and will be passed on to my children. See billy didn’t need any pardon cause God forgave him a long time ago. Long live Billy the kid


    • Michelle Williams

      I have no doubt I know Bill Roberts was Billy the Kid there are just too many similarities and I believe wholeheartedly that he was Billy the Kid Garrett did not kill him sorry Garrett fans


    • taylor

      I have done about 5 years of research on billy the kid and I have no doubts the news papers had it all wrong about the kid better known as William H Bonney. I believe billy the kid was not shot that night by sherriff Garrott after all they were friends and no body that was living at the time really knew what the kid looked like up close and I think a gun slinger fitting the description and figure of billy was shot on purpose to cover for the kid so he could escape and start a new life under a new name. He had all of the right scares and knew how and where the shootings took place and why they did.


  4. Anonymous

    I believe it, but my question to those who don’t is … If Brushy wasn’t the Kid then who was he? Where did he get the matching scares why did people sign the affidavits?


  5. Anonymous

    I believe he wasn’t killed,…very well said… D piland


  6. Jim Johnson

    You all are dead wrong. Brushy Bill was really Oliver Pleasant Roberts born outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1879. If you have the guts, read my book. It contains all the evidence you need.


  7. TAZZ

    If you are life was under a law to be hung and you were 90 years old and were promised a pardon Years and years ago, WHY THE HELL NOT TRY AT 90!!!! No offence but hell I would feel lucky to get my second chance but also now I can try my luck at a pardon at 90. Well 90 years old is real old back then, now he knew going to the governor office and admitting he was billy the KID, he could have been arrested by all rights, the poor guy just wanted to right the ultimate wrong!! I believe brushy bill was BILLY THE KID!!! Cause I sure the hell would take a different name and wait and wait till I was 90 and try for a pardon then also!! Smart not stupid!! He sure did not want the fame or be in the spot light!


  8. Pat

    I believe brushy bill was the kid same scars look closely same features such as long fingers nose ears it matches!


  9. Michael mullinix

    I believe it no doubt billy the kid had so much good luck i could see it and billy the kid and pat garrett were friend’s if u watch the first young guns movie it will show pat and billy chating and then in the second one where pat and the girl are talking about all the good times they and billy had together so it only makes sense that pat could have killed the wrong guy and covered it up to give his friend a second chance and get the bounty


  10. Broad Ripple Jeff

    How much do you want for the photo of Billy The Kid, Jesse James, Hitler, and Bigfoot? I heard a rumor Elvis was there.


  11. James C

    I believe Billy the kid was in fact brushy bill because one of my uncles was a
    friend of Billy the kid, ( PALS )


  12. pat garrett

    hi. I have a picture I took of billy the kid, jesse james, hitler, and bigfoot playing poker. anyone want to buy it?


  13. Gary L.

    A couple of things stand out to me on this whole conspiracy thing regarding “Brushy Bill”.

    1) The man never sought public attention or recognition from anyone prior to his meeting with Mr. Morrison.

    2) “Brushy” knew things only “the kid” would know, and had the same marks on his body (bullet wounds) as well.

    3) Signed affidavids from those who knew “The Kid” swore “Brushy Bill” and “Billy the Kid” were one in the same person.

    4) In a time when “outlaws” frequently used alias’, it’s not uncommon to forget key details when a person is trying to conceal their identity…………..especially for such a long period of time.

    5) When the hearing took place for the pardon, it was treated as a joke………..and caused “Brushy” to have a stroke…………….which explains the possible lapse in key details about his past.

    Just sayin’………


  14. Anonymous

    May be an odd question. The night Pat Garrett allegedly shot Billy, what happened to the items Billy would have had or brought with him to that house? If he was barefoot or in sox, what happened to the boots that the person had? What happened to anything else that the person might have had?


  15. BBR Historian

    There are five sworn affidavits from individuals who believed Brushy Bill was Billy the Kid. There is proof that 3 had never seen William Bonney, who was killed in 1881. Robert E. Lee, in his affidavit, said he first saw William Bonney in the summer of 1889. DeWitt Travis was born in 1890. Martile Able (née Martelia Bilberry) was born in 1873. She was living in her parents’ household in Lampasas County, Texas, in 1880. Tunstill, in “Billy the Kid and me Are The Same”‘ said Martile and her husband John Able, hosted Brushy Bill in El Paso when he returned from Mexico in 1884. Not possible. Martile was only 11; Martile and John Able married in 18989; and did not move to El Paso until 1902.


    • kgb

      you were drunk when you wrote the memo 18189 keep the faith


    • Mary L Grayson

      Your all mixed up, what are you doing just making up date’s and where there from to get your point across you really don’t make sense what you know these people personally do you


  16. A McCarty

    There are still McCarty ‘s that claim to be cousins to Billy the Kid. A good genealogist and a simple cheek swab will tell you who’s in what grave. The answer is really easy to aquire; seems no surviving Brushy relatives truly want to prove anything.


  17. Anonymous

    I believe Brushy Bill was Billy the Kid. The only part that confuses me is about his mother, her name.


  18. It's possible

    Most things we know about Billy the Kid are not set in stone, so Brushy may well have been the kid. So for now, I think it’s definitely a possibility.


  19. Billy"the kid"Webster

    I believe brushy bill WAS the kid! He could have cared less weather anyone else believed it.


  20. Bowdre band

    I also believe that “Killer Miller” was also friends with brushy Billy the kid and worked as a regulator earlier on under another name which I have yet to find but I believe that killer Miller is none other than John Miller a previous claimant to be the kid.


  21. Bowdre band

    I believe billy Barlow and Billy the kid were close friends and both present at maxwell house. I believe the kid and Barlow both were shot in the ambush but Barlow escaped. I believe Billy Barlow was Wait for it. Brushy Bill Roberts, I also have another possibility that being two Billy’s in the maxwell house and sumner that it’s possible brushy was actually Billy Barlow aka the real billy the kid and billy “kid Antrim” William h Bonney mcarty was killed but the real Billy the kid aka Barlow now known as brushy bill escaped with injuries.


  22. Bowdre band

    I believe billy Barlow and Billy the kid were close friends and both present at maxwell house. I believe the kid and Barlow both were shot in the ambush but Barlow escaped. I believe Billy Barlow was Wait for it. Brushy Bill Roberts, I also have another possibility that being two Billy’s in the maxwell house and sumner that it’s possible brushy was actually Billy Barlow aka the real billy the kid and billy “kid Antrim” William h Bonney mcarty was killed but the real Billy the kid aka Barlow now known as brushy bill escaped with injuries.


  23. Pwilliamson

    I believe Brushy Bill was “The Kid”. Pat Garrett supposedly kills the most wanted man in the state maybe the country and does not do what was common for the day to put his remains on display and have pictures taken with people standing around the body like it was a trophy Whitetail. Also all Brushy Bill (The Kid) wanted was the pardon he was promised. I believe he wanted that pardon so he could finally live in peace, not having to look over his shoulder.


  24. Fjames

    I believe it ho


  25. Aaron Wilson

    Always loved reading books on Billy the Kid


  26. jennifer page

    i wonder if elvis presley will will make a confession?


  27. AL

    My granddad knew Brushy Bill personally when he was a teenager. He said that Bill would tell stories of Billy the Kid in the third person, but would slip up from time to time and say, “then ‘I’ went….”, being caught up in the story. He said that Bill told him that Billy’s mother was a single mother (I don’t know what happened to his dad) and people would say things about his mother. He felt the need to protect her honor and became very fast at drawing his gun. Gun slingers heard this rumor and wanted to see for themselves. They would come up behind him and call him out. He was a very quick draw and it was “kill or be killed”. Pat Garrett WAS his friend and was glad to help him fake his death and start a new life.


  28. It's true think about it -.-

    There’s to much supported evidence and whenever you seen the end of the film the old rusty gun adds to it but the man was the same in every way an all he wanted was a pardon before he passed Billy the kid id say spent his young years gettin into unreasonable trouble and later years trying to make up for it but he didn’t have to have that pardon he had to have God on his side because he lived til 90 that’s not all luck truly would have been an honorable man to meet if you ask me


  29. EJ

    I Believe he was billy the kid. There needs to be a movie made called “The Legend of Billy” showing life of Brushy Bill after the Garrett killing. Supposedly led an crazy life. He rode with the Rosevelts Rough Riders , Rode with the nortorious Poncho Villa, and even worked the Wild West show under Bill Cody. All under different allias to protect him from getting hung or hunted down by the Pinkertons.


  30. Russell Brown

    I believe young guns 2 had told the real story of Billy the kid and brushy bill roberts one of the same person a person never lies about who they really are


  31. Daniel Hill

    I full heartedly believe brushy Bill was Billy the kid. (When a person tells you who they are…Believe them)


  32. Wanda Stevens

    I also believe Billy was not killed.


  33. Thomas

    it is possible he is Billy the kid. But his eyes tell a different story. Watching the show later on though, he IS Billy the kid, no doubt


  34. Noonen

    I believe it.


  35. Anonymous

    I believe it. Strange how many people can’t stand changes in history, or how it has been handed down regardless of evidence.


  36. D. Piland

    What many people don’t know is that the supposed Billy the Kid was ambushed by Garrett, who was waiting in a dark bedroom, and shot as soon as “Billy” entered the room, giving him no chance to defend himself. So, it seems very possible to me that Garrett could have killed the wrong man under those circumstances. Bad lighting and a shooting that happened very quickly. I have also read that, at one time, Billy the Kid and Garrett had been friends. If Garrett killed the wrong man, he might well have tried to cover up his failed attempt to kill Billy, covered for himself and his one time friend. Garrett tried to make his fortune from a book about his killing Billy, so it would have served his purpose to both cover up his mistake, while also giving Billy a chance at starting a new life. As for forgiveness, the people killed by Billy were involved in a very dirty range war, and those men killed by Billy were probably either killed in acts of revenge, or in self defense. Two were killed when Billy escaped from jail, to avoid being hung. Billy the Kid was said to have had amazingly good luck, this could have been one more case of “The Kid’s” good fortune. It all seems very possible to me that he took the second chance given him and led a quite life after he was supposed to have been killed. I like to think that was the case, Billy was not the evil outlaw he is so often played out to be in movies. More of a very
    young kid who got into a very bad situation, and fought for those he was loyal to. Those he fought against were the ones who needed the forgiveness, IMO.


    • Robert Brown Jr.

      I’m with you in that there’s so much evidence stating that he wasn’t killed by Garrett that night. You know how the media does anything for readers and money including lying. I’ve always been a big fan of Billy The Kid. Not that he was a murderer(I’m sure he never killed anyone that didn’t need it) but that he stood and took on corruption, especially when they were SUPPOSEDLY the law!!