Billy the Kid

NOTE:  To be clear, I do not claim that the conclusions expressed in the following essay are to be construed as facts.  Rather, they represent a theory, or hypothesis.  Essentially, I take a Popperian view of historical particulars: i.e., that while a thousand verifying facts cannot prove a hypothesis, a single falsification can cause it to fail.

In essence, I start by assuming that a particular piece of evidence is correct, then I follow through with that assumption.  Next, one of two things may happen: 1), the assumption contradicts some other known fact, in which case the assumption must be discarded; or 2), there are no contradictions, in which case the assumption still stands (though it may later be discarded), and any new information may, possibly, add further insights to the problem.

This methodology progresses, then, by discovering specific falsifying facts, but it is not advanced by generalized expressions of doubt or naysaying.  Examples will be evident in what follows.

Thus, this is a work in process – version 1.0, so to speak.  A few rabbit holes, a few blind alleys – but also some directions for further research.

(Still need to add a few more citations.)


The genealogical origins of William H. Bonney – Billy the Kid – are largely a mystery.  Although several theories about his ancestry have been advanced, none has proved conclusive.  In particular, the puzzle of Billy’s paternity remains unresolved.

Unfortunately, historical records concerning Billy’s family are sparse.  The few concrete facts we know have been hard-won, achieved through the meticulous research of Philip Rasch, Robert Mullin, Waldo Koop, Frederick Nolan, and others.1

Briefly, we know that Billy’s mother Catherine (Bonney?)/McCarty/Antrim and stepfather William Antrim, were married on March 1, 1873, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Before that, they had both resided in Wichita, Kansas, where there are several records of real estate transactions in which they had been involved. Earlier, both had lived in Indianapolis, Indiana, where several city directories document their presence in the late 1860s. Catherine’s last entry comes in the 1868 directory, while William remains until 1870, suggesting that Catherine may have moved in with William for a couple of years, a living arrangement that would not have been acknowledged at the time in a city directory.  Alternatively, Catherine could have moved elsewhere for a time before showing up in Wichita with William in 1870. Or maybe the directory’s canvasser simply missed Catherine in 1869-70.  In any case, there were other tenants living at her 1868 address by the time of the 1869 directory2

(There was also a Kate J McCarty listed in the 1865 Hawes’ Directory, a servant living on the south side of South Street between School and Noble Streets.  This seems not likely to be Catherine, but it’s a possibility that should be kept in mind.)

In the 1867 and 1868 directories Catherine’s name was recorded as Catherine McCarty, widow of a husband named Michael.  This would seem to be a good lead, but a search of earlier Indianapolis directories reveals no presence of a Michael McCarty (though there was a Michael McCarthy in Logan’s 1867 directory), thereby suggesting that Catherine and Michael had not lived together in Indianapolis during their marriage, or if they had, only for a short time. 3

Catherine’s Indianapolis address in the 1867 Edwards’ directory was 385 North New Jersey Street.  But it is no use looking for that address on a current map; the street numbering system in Indianapolis was dramatically changed in 1897.  Thus, to locate this address requires reference to a pre-1897 map.  Fortunately, such a source is available through the Sanborn Company’s insurance maps.  Looking at the 1887 map centered on this area of Indianapolis, we find that 385 North New Jersey was located on the east side of New Jersey between Walnut and St. Clair Streets.  The building that was there in 1867 is long gone (in fact it was gone by 1887); the site is now occupied by the Center for Inquiry School, 725 North New Jersey.4, 5

Going forward to the 1868 Logan’s Directory, Catherine McCarty is listed as living at 199 North East Street.  Again, a look at the Sanborn map for 1887 reveals that 199 North East was on the east side of East Street immediately south of the (unnamed) alley between Vermont and Lockerbie Streets.  Today the address of this location is 341 North East Street.6, 7

The legal description of this property (MC QUATS SUB 40FT N END L7 & L8 OL53) indicates that it was a part of McQuat’s subdivision, further suggesting that in order to pay her rent, Catherine might have needed to walk just a short distance, down East Street to the corner of New York Street, to the home of Janet McOuat, likely the owner of the property (n. b., McQuat and McOuat are variant spellings of the same name). 8

There is currently a residential building standing at this address.  Whether it is the same building that Catherine lived in is uncertain; at any rate the structure must have been remodeled at one or several points in history. But if you look at the backyard, it seems pristine. It may be the very spot that Billy played as a 7 or 8 year old child in 1867-8.

Or maybe not.  According to Charles Edward Vandever, Acting Chief of Police at Terre Haute, Indiana in 1881, Billy the Kid lived in Terre Haute when he was about 11 or 12 years old, and not with his mother in Indianapolis. Perhaps Vandever was off on Billy’s age by a year or two, but his statement is worthy of consideration.  One implication is that Billy may have been staying with relatives in Terre Haute in the late 1860s. (A quick check shows that there were several McCarty families in the area at the time; I could find no Bonneys, however.) 9

And what did Catherine do during her stay in Indianapolis?  Of course, we do not know.  But given that she later operated a laundry in Wichita, can we speculate that she may have worked in a laundry in Indianapolis?  In fact, Logan’s 1868 directory lists John L Spaulding’s City Laundry located at 22 and 24 South New Jersey Street, just a few blocks south of Catherine’s residence.  Is it a coincidence that Catherine also named her Wichita establishment the City Laundry? 10, 11, 12

Attempting to trace Catherine before 1867 is frustrating. (William Antrim’s background, in contrast, is reasonably well documented.)  With one exception, Catherine’s earlier life is a void – that exception being William Antrim’s declaration, in his Civil War pension application, that Catherine’s prior (first?) husband, named McCarty, had died in New York City. 13

Further supporting Antrim’s claim is that Billy’s place of origin was reported by many sources shortly after his death to have been New York. Granted, these assertions were hearsay, and largely repetitive, but they could have been correct, given that they were recorded at a time when many who knew Billy personally were alive and well.

So the question is, can we go beyond this point? Can we discover anything more about Billy the Kid’s mother, and in particular, his all-too-elusive father? Perhaps. Let us look at the evidence with fresh eyes. 

To start, let us estimate a birthdate for Billy the Kid.  Unfortunately, as with so much of Billy’s biography, there is much contradiction regarding this matter. The traditional date of November 23, 1859, from Pat Garrett and Ash Upson’s The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, suggests that Billy was 21 years and 7 months old at the time of his death.  But there are many alternative estimates — anywhere from 20 to 25 years old – occurring in various press articles of the time.

Perhaps the most interesting assertion – because of its unusual precision — was from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of July 19, 1881, issued only five days after Billy’s death, where it was tersely stated that “Billy was 20 years and 10 months old, good looking, and hailed from New York.” This exact phrase was repeated in dozens of other papers over the next several days, though the Globe-Democrat’s reportage was clearly the first.  But specifically, what was the source of this information? Was it reliable? 14

The article was headlined as a “Special Dispatch to the Globe-Democrat” from Las Vegas, New Mexico, dated July 18, 1881.  The article further references the Las Vegas Optic of July 18, but also contains information not found in that newspaper on that date.  Did the Globe-Democrat have its own correspondent in the Territory at that time, and was some of the information from the Globe-Democrat therefore independent of reportage in the Las Vegas Optic or Daily Gazette or other New Mexico newspapers? 

Unfortunately, the July 19 article does not cite a specific author.  However, only a few weeks later, on August 3, 1881, another dispatch dealing with Billy the Kid appeared in the Globe-Democrat.  This dispatch was headlined Lamy, New Mexico, July 29, 1881 – and it had an author, namely, P. Donan.  Further confirming the identity of this writer was an article in the Las Vegas Gazette of August 6, 1881, identifying him as Pat Donan the “fire-eater” journalist who reported to the Globe-Democrat from Lamy. 15, 16

But there was an even earlier national newspaper account that mentioned Billy the Kid’s age — and that occurred in the December 27, 1880 issue of The (New York) Sun, headlined “Las Vegas, New Mexico, Dec 20”.  Here, Billy was said to be “scarcely more than twenty years of age” (thereby roughly confirming the “20 years and 10 months” account of seven months later). 17

Now could this article also have been written by Pat Donan?  Was Donan perhaps a correspondent to The Sun as well as the Globe-Democrat?  Perhaps.  There is at least a clue from a surprising source: Pat Garrett’s The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, which quotes (and criticizes) the August 3 article, further stating that it was written by a correspondent of the New York Sun.

Now both Pat Garrett and Ash Upson must have known that the August 3 article was written by Pat Donan:  Garrett because he had been directly interviewed by Donan, and Upson, being a journalist himself, because he would have been familiar with one of the premier journalists of the day.  Why did the two reference Donan not by name, but rather as a mysterious “Lamy, N. M. correspondent of the N. Y. Sun”?  This is uncertain. 18

Regardless, it is clear that Donan’s sources for his article (or articles) included more than Pat Garrett.  He claimed to have interviewed “many men” who knew Billy the Kid, including George Taylor and Marion Turner.  To be sure, based on what we now know, the August 3 article contained much reliable information.  But one thing that might have been biased was the statement that Billy was “only about 22 years old.”  Perhaps Billy’s killers would have been reluctant to admit that they had shot a boy not yet in his maturity. 19

At any rate, the July 19 “20 years and 10 months” declaration of Billy’s age at the time of his death (July 14, 1881), is the most interesting.  Its enchantment lies exactly in its precision.  It is bold, falsifiable, but as yet unfalsified.  It is, perhaps, a snippet of truth escaped too soon, before it could be “corrected” by the pro-Santa Fe Ring propaganda mill.

And finally for the birthdate: if it is in fact true that Billy was 20 years and 10 months old on July 14, 1881, it logically follows that he was born between August 15, 1860, and September 14, 1860, both dates inclusive. 

This is, of course, a younger-than-generally-asserted birthdate estimate for Billy.  Nevertheless, it does correspond to some other historical particulars that can be gleaned from the record, notably: 1), the recollections of several of Billy’s acquaintances, who generally believed him to have been younger than the Garrett/Upton November 23, 1859 birthdate would suggest; 2), the statement of Sheriff Harvey Whitehill, who maintained that Billy was “scarcely over 15 years of age” at the time of his September 23, 1875 arrest; and 3), Frank and George Coe’s memory that Billy was seventeen years old at the time of the Blazer’s Mill fight on April, 4, 1878. 20, 21

Point number 2 implies a birth date of, say, August 23, 1860 to September 22, 1860; while point 3 implies April 4, 1860 to April 3, 1861.  Both estimates are in essential agreement with the “20 years and 10 months” declaration.

Now, if this estimated birth date for Billy is correct, it carries with it an enormously important implication:  i. e., that Billy was born after the 1860 census was compiled (since the census was taken from April to the early summer months of that year), and that thus, trying to find him in that source, by whatever name, is futile.

So let us look instead for his mother.  Let us begin with what we know – what was reported in the Silver City Mining Life of September 19, 1874 – that Catherine Antrim died on September 16, 1874 at the age of 45.22

Unfortunately, we are already faced with a problem. Usually, in genealogy, we have several data points available to determine someone’s age: birth records, successive census records, newspaper accounts, etc.  But here we have only a solitary statement.  If Catherine’s age was reported incorrectly, we have nothing to check it against.  She may, in fact, have been 35, or 40, or some other age. But so be it.  Let the report at least stand as a hypothesis, and let us see where it leads: to a contradiction, or not.

And so, under the assumption that this newspaper reportage was literally correct; that Catherine knew full well what her age was; that William Antrim, or Catherine’s children, or her friends, or whomever reported her death, knew what her age was; and that her age was accurately transcribed in the newspaper’s obituary — what is the conclusion? Simply that Catherine’s date of birth was between September 17, 1828 and September 16, 1829, both dates inclusive.

Now let us go back in time.  It has been suggested that Catherine was an Irish potato famine immigrant of the 1840s.  If this was so, might there be a record of her arrival?

Maybe.  But first, under what surname should we inquire? McCarty (or McCarthy or its variants)?  Possibly, but only if Catherine was married at the time of her arrival – McCarty being her married name.  In the late 1840s, however, our Catherine (if the birthdate estimated above is correct) would still have been a teenager, or at the most 20 years old, and probably not married.  Or if she was married, she would not have borne any children, or at least any that survived, for over a decade – not a likely proposition.

Further, let us recall that in William Antrim’s pension application he states that to his knowledge Catherine had had no other marriages prior to her marriage to [Michael] McCarty.  Thus, in all likelihood, Catherine would have arrived in America under her maiden name.

(Now, parenthetically, this bit of surmise leads to yet another tentative conclusion.  If it is true, as it was asserted in several contemporaneous sources, that Joseph McCarty/Antrim was not Billy’s full brother, but rather his half-brother, then given that Catherine had had no husband before Michael McCarty, it must follow that Billy, being the elder brother, was born out of wedlock – something that everyone in Silver City, it is reported, “knew”.) 23

But what was Catherine’s maiden name?  Two answers are possible: either “Bonney” or … something else.  Since the latter alternative lies beyond the scope of any reasonable means of research, let us at least try Bonney (or its variants Bonny, Boney, Bonnay and perhaps others), and see where it leads.  After all, this was the surname Billy began using by 1877, possibly out of respect for his mother, whom he greatly admired.

So were there any Catherine Bonneys among the recorded Irish immigrants?

The answer is yes.  In fact there were several. But let us assume that “our” Catherine knew and reported her age correctly at the time of her arrival in America, just as she did when she lived in Silver City.  In that case there is but one result (that I can find): the Catherine Bonnay who arrived at New York from Liverpool aboard the “Liberty” on November 26, 1847, and was recorded as having been of Irish origin.   This Catherine Bonney – we will call her that – was 18 years old on that date,  and was thus born between November 27, 1828 and November 26, 1829 – a range that does not contradict the birth window of the Silver City Catherine.  In fact, if we consider the two women to be one and the same, her birth window narrows to between November 27, 1828, and September 16, 1829. 24

Next we shall ask if there are any other appearances of a Catharine Bonney in the historical record after 1847 and before, shall we say, 1865 (by which date Catherine was likely in Indianapolis).  The obvious places to look would be the censuses of 1850 and 1860.  So let us try those.

Again, we will assume the surname of Bonney or its variants (believing, as others have demonstrated, that Billy was Catherine’s oldest child, and that in both 1850 and 1860 – unless she had married in this period – she would have remained a Bonney)

For the 1850 census, no luck.  But for 1860, we have a hit.  We find a “Catharine Boney” (Boney, by the way, being a typical Irish spelling of the name), aged 30, enumerated at a home in the 18th ward of New York City, employed as a live-in nurse (or nanny) at that home.  Since the census was taken on June 12, 1860, it follows that this Catherine (assuming again that she reported her age exactly correctly) was born between June 13, 1829, and June 12, 1830.  Again, this birth range does not contradict that of the Silver City Catherine, nor the immigrant one.  In fact, if we assume that the three women are one and the same, our birth window narrows to between June 13, 1829, and September 16, 1829. Further suggesting that we have the right Catherine is the fact that she was noted to be “a person above the age of 20 who [could] not read or write.”  This comports well with the Wichita Catherine, who signed her name with a mark. 25, 26

Now here is where it starts to get interesting.

The family for whom Catherine worked in 1860 was that of the renowned actor and playwright Dion Boucicault (also spelled Bourcicault, Boursiquot) and his wife, the actress Agnes Robertson (neither of whom is well known today, though both were famous in their time.)  Originally from Ireland (his last name deriving from his Huguenot ancestry), Boucicault began his career in London, but by 1853 had moved to New York, where he continued writing and acting in such well-received plays as “The Octoroon”, “The Poor of New York”, “The Colleen Bawn”, and many others.  Dion and Agnes also associated with noted actors and actresses such as Joseph Jefferson and Laura Keene. 27, 28

Before settling in New York City, at 39 East 15th Street (note, not the current 39 East 15th, but rather, a location just to the east of Union Square), and even while they lived there, the Boucicaults traveled a good deal, appearing along with their acting troupe in various cities. It is not unreasonable to think that Catherine may have accompanied them.  One location where the Boucicaults stayed for a time was New Orleans, where Dion attempted to establish a theater.  In fact, the Boucicaults’ eldest child, William, was born in New Orleans in 1855.  Given that Agnes definitely continued her acting career after her child’s birth, it follows that she would first have needed a nanny at this time, so one likely scenario is that Catherine was hired (and resident) in New Orleans in 1855, and that she followed the family from that point on, ending up in New York City in the summer of 1860.

(Adding some evidence to the theory that Catherine was at some point a New Orleanian is the testimony of Henry Cook of Wichita, Kansas, purchaser of a tract of land from Catherine, who stated that Catherine was a resident of New Orleans in about 1872. Of course, this is a later period than the one about which we are concerned, but Cook certainly knew Catherine, and the fact that he associated her with New Orleans is significant.) 29

As it turns out, the Boucicault family did not stay in New York much past the census of 1860.  They placed their home for sale (it did not sell for some time) and departed for England, ostensibly so that Dion and Agnes could reestablish their careers in London, and in particular produce and perform Dion’s enormously popular “The Colleen Bawn.”  The date of the Boucicaults’ departure was July 20, 1860.  Sailing aboard the steamship “Persia”, they were accompanied by their children and a “nurse.”  This nurse may have been Catherine, but was probably not; at any rate, the 1861 census of England shows no Catherine Bonney or any name reasonably close residing in any Boucicault household at the time. So it would appear that Catherine did not remain with the Boucicault family past mid-1860. 30

Now, it should be remarked that Dion Boucicault was a noted theatrical figure who lived a lifestyle commensurate with many of that profession. He was handsome, popular, and had many admirers. He was not faithful to his wife Agnes, who, in her divorce proceedings against him claimed that Dion had engaged in numerous affairs – a fact that is amply confirmed by Boucicault’s biographers. 31

So the question may be reasonably asked, did Boucicault also have an affair with his servant, Catherine Bonney?  And did this affair result in issue?  And was the name of the pair’s child William H. Bonney?

This is, of course, a bold, perhaps outrageous, speculation. But then it is also — is it not? — very Popperian (“Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her.”).  Further, there are reasons to think that the speculation may not be so wild as it may appear. 32

First, as noted, the Boucicaults got out of town fast, only about a month after the 1860 census. Note further that date of their departure, July 20, 1860, was only a month or two before Billy’s birth, if we accept the above presumed estimate of his birthdate. Was their departure solely for reasons of the pair’s careers, or could there have been a scandal brewing? Of course, Catherine was of a lower social status than the Boucicaults, and typically a pregnant servant did not have much recourse against a much wealthier employer.  But the Catherine of Wichita and Silver City seems to have been an intelligent and determined woman. If our New York Catherine was one and the same with this Catherine, maybe she would have pressed the issue. 

The Boucicaults remained in England for many years, but returned to America by 1872, resuming their acting careers and traveling extensively across the country.  Curiously, during this period Dion seems to have developed an affinity for the city of Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis Sentinel of April 21, 1875 reported that Boucicault was an investor in Indianapolis real estate, and contemplated living in the city.  To be sure, this was several years after Catherine McCarty and Billy had lived in Indianapolis (and even after Catherine’s death), so Dion’s interest in the city may have been simple coincidence.  Still, it is remarkable that Boucicault owned property only about a half mile from Catherine’s known addresses near the city center.  Was there some common factor that drew both Catherine and Dion to Indianapolis? 33

So, could Dion Boucicault have been Billy the Kid’s natural father?  There was certainly a personality match.  Both men were charismatic, dynamic, popular, theatrical, witty. Both liked to dress well (Billy as much as one could expect in the Southwestern desert).  Both enjoyed dancing and music.  Not to disparage Billy’s mother, who also appears also to have been particularly talented, but could not Billy have inherited some of his personality traits from a similarly endowed father? We somehow know that there was something special about Billy — that had the circumstances of his life been different he would have become a notable personality in some positive sense or another.  He just didn’t have a chance.

But be that as it may, we have yet to consider what happened to Catherine and her family between 1860 and their appearance in Indianapolis in about 1865 or 66. Surely, if the preceding analysis is correct, it must have been during this period that Catherine married Michael McCarty.  But when? And who was Michael exactly?  Alas, there are a number of possibilities:  city directories and newspaper accounts of the period provide many prospects, some of whom may be eliminated, but others not.  A couple of interesting candidates include a Confederate prisoner of war, and a practicing blacksmith.

The Confederate, dying in a prisoner of war camp, seems an unlikely prospect (though he can’t be eliminated entirely); while the blacksmith, of 138 Leroy Street, drowning, on July 31, 1863, “in a pond of water at the foot of Twelfth Street”, had the right name, was in the right place, and died at the right time to be a candidate – except that he was married to a woman not named Catherine. 34 

A few other Michael McCartys of reasonable age were those who died on January 10, 1864; June 26, 1863; June 20, 1864; and about August 4, 1863. These are all possibilities, and need further research.

Another interesting possibility – but with a problem — is the Michael McCarty of 312 Avenue A, who was admitted to Bellevue Hospital on or about July 16, 1863, having been “injured by blow of club – injury to head” in the midst of the draft riots engulfing New York streets at the time. This was at the tail end of the riots – no longer pure draft protests, but generalized confrontations between rioters, the Army, and police. 35

The problem with this Michael McCarty is that he was still living – and residing at 312 Avenue A – in 1868.  Thus he would have been alive at the same time Catherine McCarty was declaring herself a widow in Indianapolis.  I still regard this Michael to be a candidate because of a similar situation I have run across – of a woman living in Chicago in 1880 who declared herself a widow in a city directory, while I know that the abusive husband she was escaping was still alive in a different place. 36

And what of Catherine herself?  Is there any existing record of a Catherine McCarty having resided in New York City from, say, 1861 to 1865?

Yes.  In fact, in November/December, 1863, we find a Catherine McCarty living at 269 East 12th Street in New York. Could this have been our Catherine? This address was only several blocks from the Boucicaults’ old residence on 15th Street, so it is plausible that Catherine may have moved there after the termination of her employment as Boucicault’s nanny. Or maybe it was her home away from the Boucicaults on her days off. 37

But there is something quite remarkable about Catherine’s 269 East 12th Street address at the time — and that is the name of a resident listed in the New York City Directory of 1862 as living right next door, at 271 East 12th Street 38

And the name of that individual?  Why, nothing other than William Bonny (sic).  And so, in a city of some 800,000, we have a William Bonney and a Catherine McCarty living only a few paces from each other.  Further, this William Bonney was the only William Bonney listed in New York City at the time.  To be sure, we are talking 1862 versus 1863, but it is at least likely that the two lived at these addresses contemporaneously.

However, looking more deeply, this Catherine was not likely “our” Catherine.  First of all, city directories state that she was the widow of a Daniel McCarty; and further, the 1860 census lists her along with two children, Anne and Eugene. Thus, we are left with a tempting, bold, falsifiable, hypothesis that dies falsified: a Popperian flop (and therefore a victory).

So let us try again.  Let us look at the Catharine (sic) McCarty of 207 East 21st Street who was reported in a March 9, 1864 New York Times article to have been “arrested and committed to the Tombs to await the action of the Grand Jury”, on the charge of murdering her 13-day-old infant child by suffocation.  This Catharine was unmarried and claimed not to have known where the father of the child was.39

On March 22, 1864, the Grand Jury presented an indictment against this Catharine for the murder of William McCarty, presumably the child mentioned in the New York Times article.  I have, however, been unable to find further information about this case.  (My guess, for what it is worth, is that the child may have died from sudden infant death syndrome, a possibility that the coroner or examining doctors may not have been familiar with at the time.)40

At any rate, was this Catharine McCarty the same person as Catherine McCarty, mother of Billy the Kid?  In my opinion, no.  First of all this William McCarty must have been born sometime in February, 1864.  If Joseph McCarty/Antrim was born in April, 1863 (q.v. below), then there would have been only about a 10 month period between the births of these two children.  Further, if Billy the Kid was in fact named William at birth, then this would have been the second William born to Catherine – possible, but very unlikely.

Thus, I believe that this Catharine McCarty was not the mother of Billy.  But I make note of her because she matches some of the characteristics of the Catherine we seek, and we should at least keep her open as a possible match. It’s not quite a Popperian disproof.

Next, let us look at Billy’s half-brother, Joseph Antrim, to see if he can shed some light concerning the Bonney/McCarty genealogy.  Unfortunately, as with so much else about the family, information dealing with Joseph is elusive and full of contradictions. 41

Nevertheless, let us see what we can learn.  The date and place of Joseph’s death is certain: November 25, 1930, in Denver, Colorado.  His age at that time was noted as 76 years (implying a birth year of 1853 or 1854) – and already we have a problem, inasmuch as other sources suggest a birth year of about 1863. 42

But let us start earlier, with the Colorado census of 1880, where we find Joseph Antrim, age 17, enumerated as a miner in Silverton, San Juan County, Colorado.   Given the census date of June 1, 1880, we can estimate a birth window for Joseph of between June 2, 1862 and June 1, 1863. 43

Importantly, Joseph is recorded as having been born in New York – which is exactly what we would have expected – but his father and mother’s birthplaces are somewhat of a surprise.  His father is stated to have been born in New York as well, which might be true, though it is antithetical to the idea that he was an Irish immigrant.  Of course, Joseph’s father apparently died when he was an infant, so he probably did not know much about his sire.

But it is Joseph’s mother’s place of birth – England — that is the bigger surprise.  This is in contradiction to the generally advanced idea that Catherine was Irish — the “jolly Irish lady” that Louis Abraham so fondly recalled. 44

But we must also ask ourselves what did “England” actually imply in 1880?  In fact, at the time, and until 1922, Ireland and England were united as a single sovereign entity: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  It was to this entity that the Irish (theoretically) owed their allegiance, and the state whose citizenship they would have to abjure upon naturalization as a US citizen. 

However, for census purposes the census taker was instructed to differentiate between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales when recording someone’s place of birth.  So, strictly speaking, “England” should have meant “England”, and not Ireland or Scotland or Wales.  Still, one does not know how diligent census takers were at following instructions.  Probably not very.

At any rate, the designation of Catherine’s birthplace is problematic.  Let us look at other sources to see if Joseph’s assertions are consistent.

The next census in which Joseph is said to have appeared is the Colorado state census of 1885, in Arapahoe County.  (I have not been able to find him there, which is not to say he is not there – just that I cannot find him).  At any rate Joseph is said to have been 21 at the time (implying an 1863-64 birth), and born in Indiana (for yet another contradiction – although he most likely did live in Indiana as a youth).

We next run into Joseph Antrim in the public record on December 19, 1891, when he married Jennie Stone at Pueblo, Colorado.  Jennie was possibly the divorced ex-wife of Leadville mining magnate John B. Stone. 45

At any rate, the marriage was not a successful one, and on February 25, 1894, Joseph and Jennie were involved in a serious confrontation, which led to Joseph’s arrest for kidnapping.

According to the Rocky Mountain News of April 5, 1894, Joseph, concerned about the “disreputable surroundings” in which his stepson “Claudie” (Claude?) Stone was being kept by his mother, went to Pueblo from Denver, and abducted the child.  Then he went back to Denver and enrolled the child in a private school. Jennie Antrim, in turn, swore out a warrant charging Joseph with kidnapping her child.  Joseph, in response, said that his wife had “refused to reform” and was “not a proper person to have custody of the boy.” 46

No newspaper that I can find has information about how this case was adjudicated.  A review of Colorado court records would be interesting (although it is unlikely that the case would reveal anything about Joseph’s parentage).

So let us go on to the 1900 census.  Again, there are problems – but also perhaps a ray of light.

Here we find – in Pueblo again – Michael J. Antrim, a stockman, born in New York in April, 1863.  He is single, and both parents were born in Ireland.  The only question is, can we equate him with Joseph Antrim?  In favor of doing so we must include the matching birth year, birth state, and the fact that he resided in Pueblo, where we have found him before. 47

Of course the name – Michael – is itself problematic (though the middle initial “J” is weakly confirmatory).  But I would argue that assuming Michael to be a separate person from Joseph is even more problematic, inasmuch as we are now tasked with finding independent confirmation of a Michael J Antrim, born in New York in 1863, in some other record, which I cannot do.  (On the other hand, if such a person were to be found, the hypothesis that this Michael and Joseph were one and the same person would be immediately invalidated – a Popperian slam-dunk.)

At any rate, this census record reflects further evidence that both Michael McCarty and Catherine Bonney?/McCarty/Antrim were born in Ireland.  And further, there may be a bonus: perhaps when seeking the father of Joseph Antrim we should be looking not for a Joseph McCarty, son of Michael McCarty, but rather a Michael McCarty, son of Michael McCarty.

But let us go on.  For the 1910 census I am not able to find either a Joseph or Michael Antrim who meets the required parameters.  For 1920, however, there is a Joseph – although as usual, there are problems.

For 1920 we find a Joseph Autrius – at least that is how the last name is transcribed – in Denver.  But I think that this is really Joseph Antrim. The problem is that the census taker writes in a very Germanic script; and to English/American eyes, a Germanic “n” is often interpreted as a “u”.  Then there is a terminal flourish that the transcriber has interpreted as an “s”.  That may or may not be, but at any rate we should at least have a Joseph Antrin or Antrins or, as I believe, Antrim. 48

Now for the next problem.  Joseph, his father, and his mother are all listed as having been born in New York.  For Joseph, all right, but for his parents, problematic.  And yet, let us look carefully at the census page in question.  Are there not a lot of lines for which the prospectus, his or her father and his or her mother were all born in the same place?  Maybe we can do a mental chi-square test, asking whether the observed incidence of this triple match is statistically different from some expected value – say the average value across all entries in the census.  I won’t go through the math – I think that the mental exercise is enough to conclude that the census taker was just lazy, and that in far too many cases repeated the columns for mother and father with the same value as that of the prospectus.  So, I discount this “evidence” for Joseph’s parents’ birth entirely.

In summary, I think an investigation of Joseph Antrim’s census data suggests 1) that he was born in 1863 – probably in April; 2) that he was born in New York; and 3) that his parents (and thus Billy the Kid’s mother) were born in Ireland.  That, at least my hypothesis.

It would certainly be desirable to find out more about Joseph Antrim.  One overlooked source might be the work of Allen Erwin, the “Calgary Kid”, who seems to have been in correspondence with persons who knew Joe directly.  An interesting article on this topic appeared in the El Paso Herald-Post of August 24, 1962 – but it appears that Erwin’s research was far from complete.  Perhaps Erwin’s papers at the Arizona Historical Society might provide further information.49

More to come:
Further research on the identity of Michael McCarty.
The Bonney family of Manhattan, Natchez, and County Westmeath, Ireland.

The Cosgrove connection.


1 See, for example, Philip J. Rasch, Trailing Billy the Kid (Stillwater, Oklahoma: Western Publications, 1995); Robert N. Mullin, The Boyhood of Billy the Kid (El Paso, Texas: Texas Western Press, 1967); and Waldo Koop, “Billy the Kid, The Trail of a Kansas Legend”, in Frederick Nolan, The Billy the Kid Reader (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007).

2 An excellent online source for Indianapolis city directories, with full search capabilities, is:

3 Logan’s Indianapolis Directory, 1867 (Indianapolis, Indiana: Logan & Co, 1868), p. 151.

4 Edwards’ Annual Directory for Indianapolis, 1867 (Indianapolis, Indiana: Edwards & Boyd, 1867), p. 308.


6 Logan’s Indianapolis Directory, 1868 (Indianapolis, Indiana: Logan & Co, 1868), p. 130.


8Logan’s Indianapolis Directory, 1868 (Indianapolis, Indiana: Logan & Co, 1868), p. 135.

9 Indianapolis Journal, August 1, 1881, p.2.

10 Logan’s Indianapolis Directory, 1868 (Indianapolis, Indiana: Logan & Co, 1868), p. 197.

11 Indianapolis Daily Herald, March 22, 1866, p. 1.

12 Wichita Tribune, March 15, 1871, p. 2.

13 U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Pensions, Pension Application of William H. Antrim, April 2, 1915, El Paso Texas.

14 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 19, 1881, p.5.

15 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 3, 1881, p.5.

16 Las Vegas (NM) Daily Gazette, Aug 6, 1881, p. 4.

17 The Sun (New York, New York) Dec 27, 1880, p.3.  Note that the Sun was essentially an anti-Ring newspaper, having published several Ring oppositional letters and exposes during the late 70s and early 80s.  For excellent historical background on this issue see Cooper, Gale, The Santa Fe Ring Versus Billy the Kid, Albuquerque, NM, Gelcour Books, 2018.


19 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 3, 1881, p.5.

20 Silver City Enterprise, Jan 3, 1902.  Quoted in Alexander, Bob, Six-Guns and Single-Jacks, Silver City, New Mexico, High-Lonesome Books, 2005, p. 94.

21 Nolan, Frederick, The West of Billy the Kid, Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998, p. 6.

22 Silver City Mining Life, September 19, 1874.

23 Nolan, p. 302.

24 Ship “Liberty” arriving at New York from Liverpool on November 26, 1847; available at or

25 1860 United States Census, New York, New York, Ward 18, District 2, p.16.

26 Nolan, p. 11.

27 Fawkes, Richard, Dion Boucicault: A Biography, Quartet Books, 1979.


29 Nolan, p.16.

30 New York Daily Herald, July 18, 1860, p. 4.

31 England & Wales, Civil Divorce Records, 1886: 00861: Boucicault, p. 27. (at


33 Indianapolis Sentinel, April 21, 1875, p. 7.

34 New York Evening Post, July 29, 1863, p. 4.

35 New York World, July 17, 1863, p. 1.

36 U. S. Naturalization Index, New York, October 12, 1868, M-263.

37 The Sun (New York, New York) Dec 10, 1863, p.4. 


39 New York Times, March 9, 1864, p.8.

40 Minutes of the Court of General Sessions, Part I, MN #10029, roll #29, volume 102, March 1864–December 1864, 32, New York City Municipal Archives.

41 For an excellent summary of known information concerning Joseph Antrim see Mills, William A., “Kid Brother”, Wild West History Association Journal, Vol. 9, Number 1, March, 2019, pp. 26-40.

42 Nolan, p. 29.

43 1880 United States Census, Colorado, San Juan, Silverton, p. 367.

44 Nolan, p. 23.

45 Colorado County Marriage Records and State Index, Pueblo County, # 2479, December 19, 1891. (Note, Antrim’s name is mis-transcribed as “Autrim”)

46 Rocky Mountain News (Denver), April 5, 1894, p. 3.

47 1900 United States Census, Colorado, Pueblo, Pueblo, District 101, sheet 16.

48 1920 United States Census, Colorado, Denver, Denver, District 171, sheet 6.

49 El Paso Herald-Post, August 24, 1962, p. 14.