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American Experience: Billy The Kid

Airs Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid with wanted dead or alive poster.

On April 28, 1881, 21-year-old Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid, just days from being hanged for murder, outfoxed his jailors and electrified the nation with the latest in a long line of daring escapes.

Billy the Kid Wanted Poster
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Above: Billy the Kid Wanted Poster

The Life and Legend

View a timeline of Billy the Kid's life.

The Golden Age of the American Cowboy

View a photo gallery of images taken across the American West between the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

Just a few weeks later, the notorious young outlaw was gunned down by an ambitious sheriff. Demonized by the lawman who killed him, the Kid was soon mythologized by a never-ending stream of dime-store romances and later, big-screen dramas.

But in all the narratives, Billy the Kid’s real story has been obscured. Born to impoverished Irish immigrants, the Kid led a hardscrabble, itinerant life that became harder still when his mother died of tuberculosis.

He came of age in a lawless corner of New Mexico, where an Irish immigrant ring held a vise-like grip on all money-making endeavors and the Mexican population was frequently cheated out of their property without recourse to the courts.

Caught in the middle of a many-centuries-old Irish-English conflict playing out on the plains of the Southwest, the Kid captured national attention with his reckless violence.

His fascination with Mexican culture, his flair for Spanish and his disdain for the Anglo authorities made him a hero of sorts to the Hispanic community, who hid him when the law came looking and mourned him when he was gone.

A fascinating look at the boy behind the myth, "Billy The Kid," features interviews with a wide variety of Western historians and writers, and puts a human face on the legend who in just a few short years transformed himself from a skinny orphan boy to the most feared man in the West to an enduring icon.

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Video

Preview: American Experience: Billy The Kid

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Watch Billy the Kid Chapter 1 on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Above: A fascinating look at the myth and the man behind it, who, in just a few short years transformed himself from a skinny orphan boy to the most feared man in the West and an enduring western icon.

Video

Billy the Kid Ballad

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/2181241931

Watch Billy the Kid Ballad on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Above: Mark Lee Gardner performs a ballad about Billy the Kid during his interview for the film.

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