Meet the Texas Man Who Claimed to be Billy the Kid

April 9, 2017 5:00 am
William "Billy the Kid" Bonney
"Billy the Kid, a copy from a very old tin-type." (Getty Images)
Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts
Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts claimed to be legendary outlaw Billy the Kid. (Getty Images/Wikipedia)
Bettmann Archive


Legend has it that William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, died at the tender age of 21. The infamous New Yorker, whose Wild West antics ranged from stealing food to killing at least eight men, was supposedly gunned down at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in July 1881.

But legends don’t die so easily. That’s why many people, perhaps seeking their 15 minutes of fame, have claimed to be Billy in the decades since, including one Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts.

In 1948, Roberts, who was living in Hico, Texas, made a startling claim. He told a paralegal that he was, in fact, the notorious outlaw. Some believe Roberts, who was then 90, was hoping to obtain the pardon that Billy the Kid never received. The pardon would have granted Billy amnesty for at least some of the murders he committed.

This tale might seem preposterous. But many in this tiny central Texas town, which looks like a relic of the Old West and is home to a Billy the Kid museum and a Billy the Kid statue, have embraced the idea.

“Brushy Bill was very well known around these parts,” Jane Klein, historian at the museum told Atlas Obscura. “He would tell people, ‘You know, I have a secret and one of these days you’re going to find out what it is.’”

In late 1950, a petition on behalf of Roberts was filed requesting the pardon that Billy the Kid never got. But Roberts died soon after and the petition was dropped.

To this day, debate continues over the gunman and if he did deserve the pardon. Despite calls for Billy’s clemency, in 2010 New Mexico’s governor denied Billy the Kid a posthumous pardon.

Regardless, the one thing that is not in question in Texas is Billy the Kid’s popularity.

“Outlaws have a romantic air about them,” said Jim Eidson, Hamilton Historical Commission chairman. “People really enjoy having this as part of the history.”




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