Byways Issue 03

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Pictured above is an old adobe Bonney abode, built in the 1800s, as it now looks at the beginning of the new millennium. It is on private property in northeastern New Mexico. The one who built it and lived there was married to the daughter of a blue-eyed Englishman named James Bonney. Could there be a family connection between James and Billy? Some say that might be possible.

Once upon a time — well, it was more than a century ago —
there was a boy called Billy in the Territory of New Mexico.
Now Billy wasn’t his name back at the beginning of his life;
they say that it was Henry and he was born to one then not a wife.
His mama’s name was Catherine, and he had a brother named Joe.
His mama’s last name was McCarty, so too was his and Joe’s.
Most historians say Henry McCarty was born without a dad
in New York to an Irish lassie and the way they lived was sad.
Our Henry had arrived there on his birthing day
in an Irish slum in 1859, so some historians say.
Still, little is known about him, back in his early years
except knowing how to feed him was his mama’s greatest fear.
They lived a while in Kansas, made a stopover in Denver too;
why they landed in New Mexico, historians have no clue.
What was it drove them onward? Why did they end up here?
Were they searching for a better life, or was it plain despair?

Some say their lives got better before arriving here
’cause Catherine took a partner to share her load with her.
At any rate, they came here, to live in this wild place,
Catherine, Joe, Henry — and Will, a guy historians trace
to Kansas on the plains, a place called Wichita.
Even then, young Henry called William Pa.
So, long before they got here, they’d ambled other places,
frustrating historians by leaving few traces.
Census, courts and archives, even churches cast
few if any clues upon our mysterious Billy’s past.
One thing they know for certain (at least they think they do) —
the Santa Fe Book of Marriages holds their first recorded clue.
The widow, Catherine McCarty, in Santa Fe, New Mexico,
stood with Henry and Josie (what they called her boy Joe) —
as she said her wedding vows, the boys stood up with them
at First Presbyterian with her and William Henry Antrim.
That was the first known record establishing when he —
our Bonney lad — was in New Mexico: that was in 1873.
Like his mom, Henry McCarty right then changed his name
to Antrim. “William or Will like my new pa, if it’s all the same.”
Confusing historians, he was Henry McCarty just the same,
but William Henry Antrim right then became his name.
In Santa Fe the Antrims’ days of wandering still weren’t done;
they traveled to Silver City to bask in its dry air and sun.

It was there the young William Antrim, called Will,
took yet another name. “Just call me The Kid or Bill.”
Then his beloved mother died of consumption or T.B.
It broke the heart of Billy; a boy he’d no longer be,
for there the young lad, Billy, began his criminality.
On a lark he stole some clothes from a Chinaman’s laundry.
It was only for the fun of it, but the sheriff did not laugh.
The Kid was thrown in jail but his lock-up did not last.
The Kid determined a little space with just a cot and pail
was not to be the end of this, our cunning Billy’s tale.
He conned the sheriff’s deputy, and knew well how to shimmy
so he made quick his escape right up that red brick chimney.
That proved to him and all the rest his wiles and slippery ways,
and that was just the beginning of his desperado days.
(Now what could you expect, since Billy’s home life wasn’t sound?
And his step-dad didn’t care much to have the boy around?)
He was a homely kid, buck-teeth and prominent ears,
so he relied upon his ways of charm and lack of boyish fears
to win him loyal friendships, cause girls to think him cute.
Still, his winning way was because … boy, could he shoot!

Continuation of A Bonney Ballad by Jan Girand

to be continued …


The origins and genealogy of Billy “The Kid” Bonney and his early life remain a mystery. So too is the mystery of why he, in the latter portion of his short life, adopted the name Bonney. Most published historians believe that: a.) He began life in New York as Henry McCarty; b.) He changed his name to William Henry Antrim to match his stepfather’s after his mother’s marriage in Santa Fe in 1873; and c.) He adopted the name William H. or Billy Bonney only in the last few years of his life. Historians don’t seem to know from where he acquired or why he adopted the Bonney name. Most admit they are uncertain, but think he might have been born in a New York City Irish slum in 1859. Both the place and the date of his birth could well be incorrect.


We will continue to explore the possibilities together in future issues.