Brushy Bill Roberts: He claimed to be Billy the Kid and in 1950 sought a governor’s pardon

 
 
 
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Did the famed gunslinger Billy the Kid fake his own death? Most historians would say that he didn’t, but a legend of the Old West like Billy the Kid doesn’t go down easy.

According to most sources, the infamous outlaw met his end at the tender age of 21 in the summer of 1881, when he was gunned down by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. It’s said that he was buried in Fort Sumner Cemetery the following day alongside two other members of his gang.

The Kid’s fame definitely did not end in July 1881 and he fascinates the public up to this day. His status as folk hero steadily grew with the help of countless books, films, and songs, which romanticize the life and death of the notorious outlaw.

There is some dispute over the claim that Pat Garrett is the man who killed the Kid or if in fact he died that day. Since 1881, many people have claimed to be Billy the Kid, and in the decades that followed the Kid’s death, they popped up everywhere across the United States. Most were not taken seriously and just a few of them managed to convince anyone else that they were Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid

The story of a man named Ollie Roberts, a.k.a. Brushy Bill, was different.

Billy the Kid went by several other names, including Henry McCarty and William Henry Bonney, but in 1949 another name was added to the long list of his aliases: Brushy Bill Roberts.

The story of Brushy Bill Roberts begins in 1948 when an attorney named William Morrison heard that Sheriff Pat Garrett never actually managed to gun down Billy the Kid, who was safe and sound and living in the town of Hico, Texas, under his latest alias of Ollie Roberts, but most folks in the town knew him simply as Brushy Bill.

Brushy Bill Roberts, who claimed to be the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid–here wearing mustaches well as a wide-brimmed hat, neck scarf, and coat. Source: Fair use

After meeting some of the Kid’s contemporaries, ones who personally knew the gunslinger and told Morrison that they were positive that Brushy Bill was indeed Billy the Kid, Morrison decided to go to Hico to meet him in person and put an end to all the rumors.

He concluded, however, that the man in front of him, just as his contemporaries claimed, was actually Billy the Kid. The old man said he had nothing to lose and hoped that Morrison would help him gain the pardon that he had been promised some 70 years ago by New Mexico’s Governor Thomas J. Mabry.

Roberts’ grave site in Hamilton, Texas. Author: Caknuck

The stories told by Brushy Bill seemed quite convincing to the intrigued investigator. And if words weren’t enough, the old man had all the scars that the real Billy the Kid reportedly had. There was no doubt in Morrison’s mind that he was talking to arguably the most famous gunslinger of the Old West, and he was determined to help him gain his long-awaited pardon.

Morrison set up a meeting with Governor Mabry, who was not convinced that Brushy Bill was indeed Billy the Kid. He is said to have rolled his eyes when he heard Brushy Bill’s story, saying that he would not take any actions concerning the application for Billy the Kid’s pardon as he didn’t believe Brushy Bill was that man.

Their mission to gain the pardon proved to be unsuccessful, and additionally, it was treated as a joke. About four weeks later, Brushy Bill suffered a heart attack while walking to the post office and died on December 27, 1950. But up to the day of his death, Brushy Bill said that he was Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid’s headstone in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Author: Asagan CC BY-SA 3.0

Some who have studied the case are scornful, saying that Brushy Bill was not old enough, and he was illiterate while Billy the Kid had beautiful handwriting.

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Moreover, there is no DNA support. Still,  there are many people today who believe in the legitimacy of Brushy Bill’s claim.