In the Old West, killing a sheriff wasn’t always a bad thing. But, as Billy the Kid discovered, you had to do it in the right way.
The Lincoln County War was going full tilt. William Brady was the sheriff of Lincoln County. Brady was known to be in the pocket of the Murphy-Dolan faction. These were the bad guys as far as Billy the Kid was concerned.
During this time, Billy the Kid had formed his “regulators,” a semi-legal group to fight what he considered was the corruption in the county. And, for the most part, the average local looked favorably upon the regulators.
On the morning of April Fools day 1878, Sheriff William Brady was walking down the Main Street of Lincoln with four of his deputies.
Then, from behind an adobe wall, guns started barking. It’s obvious that Sheriff Brady was the main target, because in a matter of seconds, he had more than a dozen holes in him.
Brady and Billy the Kid had history. Billy blamed Brady for the death of his friend John Tunstall, and in February of that year, Billy had tried to arrest Brady. But, Brady turned the tables on the Kid, and the Kid ended up in jail.
It was revenge through and through. When the shooting died down, Billy the Kid walked up to the body of Sheriff Brady. Some say Billy was looking for arrest warrants for Billy and the regulators. Others say Billy was looking for the Winchester rifle Brady had taken from him back in February.
When a bullet shot from hiding nicked Billy’s hip, Billy wisely returned to cover and the regulators left town.
Although Billy was able to get his vengeance, the outcome of the event wasn’t good for him. Because of the way it happened, Billy started losing the sympathy of the locals, and they began questioning the legality of his regulators.
Dakota Livesay is the editor of the Chronicle of the Old West. For more information about the Old West, visit www.ChronicleoftheOldWest.com You can hear Dakota 10 a.m. each day on KZUZ 93.5 in Show Low and KZUA 92.1 in Holbrook.