Billy the Kid visited San Elizario in 1876 to break a friend out of jail. Re-enactments of that event, guided tours, historic talks and arts and crafts with highlight the Billy the Kid Festival this weekend. billythekidfestival.com
This is Grant
County Sheriff Harvey Whitehill's recollection of his first jail break was in Silver City, NM followed by links to a couple of articles I have posted in the past.
March 24, 1987
By Sandra Grifin
El Paso Times
SILVER CITY – The most dramatic escape from jail by the romanticized outlaw Billy the Kid was from the Lincoln County Courthouse jail, where he shot and killed two deputies.
But early newspaper accounts and a document in the Pinos Altos Museum show Billy the Kid first practiced his jail-breaking sills in Silver City when he was only 16.
The escape was not nearly as exciting as the later Lincoln County episode and never made any of the history books.
According to a document entitled “The Old Butterfield Trail and the Mowry Swindle” as told by Mrs. Robert Bell, the granddaughter of former Grant County Sheriff Harvey Whitehill, her father first arrested Billy for rather petty and uninteresting crimes – stealing 2 pounds of butter and “taking $70 from a Chinaman in Georgetown.”
The document was given to George Schafer, owner of the Pinos Altos Museum, and is dated June 28, 1951.
Bell died in Silver City in the 1960s.
The document tells of her father’s account of arresting Billy the Kid, who, she said, complained of mistreatment at the jail, and so was given more freedom.
He used that freedom, Bell said, to go up the chimney where an assistant had a rope ready to help with the escape.
Sheriff Whitehill’s own account, as told in the Silver City Enterprise of Jan. 3, 1902, gives a somewhat different version of the story. The story was told to a reporter long after the actual incident, which occurred in 1875.
“I believe I was the first officer who ever arrested him (Billy the Kid),” the sheriff’s story began.
At that time, of course, Billy had not acquired his nickname and was still just Henry McCarty.
Whitehill said Billy the Kid’s first offense was to steal butter from a ranchman living near Silver City. The lad was released, Whitehill said, on the promise of good behavior.
Then, the former sheriff said, the Kid stole $70 from Charlie Sun in Georgetown and was placed in the adobe jail.
One day, Whitehill said the Kid complained that the jailer was treating him roughly, keeping him in solitary confinement in a cell and allowing him no exercise.
So Whitehill allowed him to walk about the corridor one day. And, left alone for a half-hour, the Kid made his escape.
“I ran outside and around the jail and a Mexican standing on a ridge at the rear asked whom I was hunting. I replied in Spanish, a prisoner. ‘He came out of the chimney,’ answered the Mexican. I ran into the jail, looked up the big old-fashioned chimney and sure enough, I could se where in an effort to obtain a hold, his hands had clawed into the thick layer of soot which lined the chimney. The chimney hole itself did not appears large as my arm and yet that lad squeezed his frail slender body through it and gained his liberty,” the Enterprise quoted Whitehill in its interview.
It was not long afterward, Whitehill said, that Billy the Kid “commenced his career of lawlessness in earnest.”
Less than two years later, while still a teen-ager, Henry took on the name of Billy Antrim, after his stepfather William Antrim, and went on to Arizona, where he killed a blacksmith. He also was known by the alias William Bonney.
A chamber of Commerce sign in Silver City marks the homesite of Billy the Kid at the corner of College and Hudson Streets. But as the sign admits in smaller print, the actual building where his mother, Catherine Antrim, lived was torn down long ago. The sign, in a parking lot, points to only a ghost of his former home and childhood days.