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First, some background… Who was Billy the Kid?

Billy the Kid covered a lot of ground in his short 21 years of life. You can find traces of the outlaw and gunfighter all across the country. 

The man we know as Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty in New York City in 1859 and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, then Witchita, Kansas, in 1870.  At the age of 14, he was living in New Mexico when he became an orphan.  He spent the rest of his years between Arizona Territory and New Mexico Territory.

He went by several names including William H. Bonney though he was most famously and commonly known as Billy the Kid.

Life size replica of Billy the Kid photo
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One of the only photos of Billy the Kid has been enlarged to greet you as you enter the museum.

The Legend of Billy the Kid

Billy was first arrested for stealing horses. Rather than pressing charges, the rancher, John Tunstall, offered Billy a job and a second chance. 

Life was looking up for Billy but then things took a turn for the worse when the corrupt Sherriff Brady killed Tunstall during the Lincoln County War. 

In revenge, Billy killed Sherriff Brady.  He was sentenced to death but escaped by killing two guards.  Eventually, he was tracked down and killed by Sherriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. 

The legend of Billy the Kid as we know it today was created mostly by his killer, Sheriff Pat Garrett, who wrote an exaggerated and sensationalized biography of Billy, The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid.

10 mosaic panels depicting major life events of Billy the Kid
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One of my favorite parts was this timeline mosaic showing Billy’s life story.

Was Billy the Kid really as bad as they say?

The BBC series, The Wild West, has an excellent episode that tells the story of Billy the Kid.  It’s almost an hour long but covers the whole story from different angles. 

Although he was known as an outlaw, it may actually be more of a Robin Hood-type story.  You’ll have to decide for yourself!  (It really is a good show – I even stayed up past my bedtime to watch!)

Now let’s visit the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner…

Like most small-town museums I have been to, the presentation is not fancy but the heart is good. 

The Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, is run by the Sweet family.  Ed Sweet opened the museum with his wife in January 1953.  He has since passed away and the museum is now run by Ed’s son, Donald, and his family.

exterior of Billy the Kid museum in Fort Sumner New Mexico
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Fort Sumner, NM is a quiet little town but it’s worth a visit to the Billy the Kid Museum.

The museum started as a one-room collection and from the outside even now it appears deceptively small.  Once you go inside and start looking around, you will find that the museum is actually quite sizeable.  It currently holds around 60,000 relics. 

The most notable items on display are Billy the Kid’s rifle, chaps, and spurs as well as the door and curtains from the room where he was shot. 

The museum also has several historical vehicles on display and a large collection of household items and tools from life in the southwestern US.

Artifacts on display at Billy the Kid museum - a rifle that belonged to Billy the Kid, a door and curtains that hung in the room where he was killed
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The history that we came for… a rifle that belonged to Billy the Kid, a door and curtains that hung in the room where he was killed, and more!
A replica of Billy the Kid's grave inside the Billy the Kid museum
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Billy the Kid’s actual gravesite, located outside of town, has been vandalized many times over the years. The museum offers this convenient replica for photo opps!
artifacts on display at Billy the Kid museum depicting an old cabin exterior
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Billy the Kid museum has lots of other local history on display as well. This shows how the inside of a cabin may have looked.
antique cars on display at Billy the Kid museum
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Also on display… wagons and old cars
person posing for photo inside an old jail cell
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Is it even an Old West attraction if you haven’t posed in a jail cell?!

Follow in Billy’s footsteps – Other Billy the Kid Historical Sites

Besides the Billy the Kid Museum and Grave in Fort Sumner, there are a few other historic buildings and towns where Billy the Kid spent time. I have not personally been to any of these other sites yet so please check in advance to see if they look right for your itinerary.

Mesilla, NM (near Las Cruces) has a jail where he was held prior to his transfer to the Lincoln County Courthouse. Sherriff Pat Garrett is buried nearby.

Billy the Kid was said to use Fox Cave as a hideout.  Fox Cave is now a museum and gift shop with a variety of items including props from The X-Files and a large inventory of turquoise jewelry for sale.  Nearby Ruidoso is a mountain resort town with year-round activities available.

Billy washed dishes at the hotel in Lordstown, NM in what is now the Shakespeare Ghost Town.  The town is reportedly open for visits one weekend per month and occasionally hosts re-enactment events but looks like it may be permanently closed.  Research this option before you go!

Also, check Roadside America for more Billy the Kid itinerary ideas.

Billy the Kid in Pop Culture

Billy Joel Sings the Ballad of Billy the Kid

Did you know Billy Joel recorded a song about Billy the Kid?  It’s not historically accurate but it’s fun to listen to!

“His daring life of crime made him a legend in his time…”

The Kid in Theaters

Billy the Kid’s legend makes great material for movies and has been the subject of several over the years.  The Kid (2019) is the latest movie about Billy.   Check out the trailer.

“It doesn’t matter what’s true.  It matters the story they tell when you’re gone.”

Billy the Kid Podcast Episodes

Regular readers know I love to learn via podcasts! Here are a few Billy the Kid episodes to check out if you also enjoy podcasts.

Sharing is Caring

Pin this post to save for later or to inspire your friends to visit too!

Billy the Kid was a legendary Old West outlaw. Tell your friends about this great little museum where you can learn more about Billy and his history as well as history of the Fort Sumner, New Mexico area.
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Billy the Kid was a legendary Old West outlaw. Tell your friends about this great little museum where you can learn more about Billy and his history as well as history of the Fort Sumner, New Mexico area.

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Another New Mexico Attraction Worth Visiting –

As long as you’re in New Mexico, you should also stop to see the World’s Largest Pistachio!

big trip 13 stop in alamogordo, nm to see largest pistachio
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Hungry? We found the world’s largest pistachio at McGinn’s Pistachio Farm in Alamogordo, NM.

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