Billy the Kid was one of several aliases, but he was born Henry McCarty in1859. McCarty’s trouble with the law started in New Mexico when he was about 16. Committing petty crimes got him arrested and jailed several times early on, and on one of these occasions he escaped, and fled to Arizona which made him a fugitive. Soon after, he murdered a man in Arizona which made him a wanted man there, so back to New Mexico he went.
Back in New Mexico he laid low for a time to avoid being arrested again. But then in 1876, he received a telegram about his friend Meliquiades Segura, who was jailed in San Elizario, El Paso County, Texas. McCarty (then going by William H. Bonney) was known for his jail breaking skills, so he set a plan to help his buddy. Rumor has it that it was ultimately his (alleged) girlfriend Abrana Segura, that pressured him to go. McCarty and another man, John Mackey, travelled on horseback from Mesilla, New Mexico through the night, arriving in San Elizario in the wee hours of the morning.
When they arrived at the jail, McCarty banged on the door claiming to be a Texas Ranger with a prisoner to turn over. The jailer opened the door to find McCarty and Mackey, guns drawn, ordering him to release Segura. They locked the jailer in a cell and escaped without a scratch.
The three outlaws hightailed it to the Rio Grande (about a mile away) and hid out across the border for a time, then Segura headed to interior Mexico and McCarty returned to New Mexico.
McCarty earned the name of Billy the Kid, the infamous outlaw and gunslinger by murdering many men (histories differ on exactly how many – possibly over 20), fighting in the Lincoln County War, and breaking out of jail multiple times. After being tried and convicted of one of the murders, “The Kid”, was meant to be hanged, but escaped once again. He was later shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garret in Fort Sumner, NM in 1881, at the age of 21.
Billy the Kid broke out of jail many times, but there’s only this one account of him breaking into jail, and according to legend, the Kid freed the only man to ever escape from the old El Paso County Jail. One hundred forty years after his death, you can see a re-enactment of this event at the old El Paso County Jail, in San Elizario, performed every 3rd Sunday by the local group “The Pistoleros de San Elizario.”
Al Borrego, President of the Cultural Heritage Society of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, who has been the host and narrator of the show for 11 years, says “we want to be true to the history so we give a historical account at the beginning, but the actual event lasted maybe only 2 minutes, and that wouldn’t be much fun for the crowd. After the factual presentation, I tell the actors to rewind, and they walk backwards to the start. We then do what I call the Hollywood version complete with audience participation as witnesses, girls from the local brothel, and a Matrix style shoot out where the gunfighters are in slow motion and catch bullets with their hands. In reality there were never any shots fired”.
Borrego says about the Billy the Kid Breakout Show, “of all of the notorious crimes that he committed, this event was actually pretty boring, so we make it fun for the audience. We have a lot of families with kids that come, and everyone has a great time. I like to add humor, so we all have a good laugh”.
The first El Paso County Jail in San Elizario, Texas, was constructed ca. 1850. It was designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1970. The old jail was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 as part of the San Elizario Historic District, and it is located on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail.
Billy the Kid Breakout Shows
Held every 3rd Sunday at 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. at the Old El Paso County Jail Museum in the San Elizario Historic District
1551 Main St., San Elizario.
Visit El Paso
San Elizario Historic Distric
Cultural Heritage Society of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
More about The Pistorleros