Billy the Kid: Unraveling the Real Story Behind the TV Show

Created by Michael Hirst, MGM+’s ‘Billy the Kid‘ is a moving Western drama show that features Tom Blyth in the shoes of the adult Billy, whose story is the beating heart of the show. Depicted in flashes and throwbacks to the time when he was younger, Billy’s life initially revolves around his loving and humble Irish mother, Kathleen, but destiny has never been kind to their family. As Billy’s mother struggles to provide for her two kids, Billy learns very early on in life that things don’t come easy to people like them. He wants to be humble, but life has other plans.

Other significant players in this adventure drama include Daniel Webber and Eileen O’Higgins, who provide weight to the narrative with their thrilling performances. Premiered in 2022, this series is set in the mid-19th century and explores how life for poor immigrants like Billy’s family was at that point. Billy soon enters the dark world of crime and stirs our curiosity about the origins of the story.

The True Legend of Billy the Kid

‘Billy the Kid’ is based on a true story. Interestingly, popular culture has been obsessed with the real Billy the Kid, and there have been plenty of movies, plays, and other adaptations with Billy as a central character. Hirst is one such person who grew up watching cowboy movies and developed a fascination for the Old Wild West. Having listened to the legend of Billy the Kid, he wanted to do justice to his story, which has been romanticized for decades. For this purpose, aware that people either viewed Billy as a complete Wild West outlaw or a hero fighting a cruel administration, Hirst wrote his own version with as much factual accuracy as possible while also highlighting the circumstances that made Billy so infamous.

As explained in the show, the real Billy also grew up as Henry McCarty and over time, was known by different names, including Billy the Kid, Henry Antrim, and finally William H. Bonney. The real Billy claimed to have killed 21 people before he died at the age of 21, even if some accounts feel he didn’t kill more than nine people in his life. While official records state he was killed in 1881 by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, stories kept circulating about Billy being alive even after that, with the most convincing one being of Brushy Bill Roberts, who eventually died in 1950 but managed to convince a lot of people that he was the real Billy the Kid.

Hirst has taken care of all of these inconsistencies in the narrative to retell a story that has been told too many times, in a different way. Having the liberty to explore this narrative over the course of multiple episodes, Hirst decided to dig deeper into all accounts before coming up with something he felt justified the story. While most reports solely cover Billy’s crimes and how he was orphaned at the age of 15 when his mother Catherine (called Kathleen in the series) died of tuberculosis, Hirst has ensured that the show examines Billy’s roots and explores his relationship with his mother in detail.

Similar to the real versions of the story, Billy’s birth father died much earlier, forcing his mother to move around and finally marry William Antrim just to survive as a single woman with kids in that society. Billy’s relationship with Antrim in the series is off to a rocky start, just like it was in real life when Antrim reportedly abandoned Billy to find his own path after his mother’s death. Not much is mentioned in real accounts about Billy’s brother Joe, except that they most likely parted ways while they were still kids and that Joe went on to become a professional gambler in Colorado.

Another important relationship that the series explores is that of Pat Garrett and Billy. While Garrett is famous for being the man who killed Billy, he was also Billy’s friend. Pat was a buffalo hunter, rancher, and bartender before he became Lincoln County’s sheriff. In real life, he met Billy while he was bartending and formed an acquittance, but later started hunting him down as a sheriff when Billy was declared an outlaw. In the series, Pat meets Billy in a bar, too, but the former is riding with another crucial character from season 1, outlaw Jesse Evans, who has his own gang.

Pat and Billy then form an acquittance where Pat also warns him about his activities. The real-life Billy is known for stealing clothes and pistols, being an excellent gunslinger, and joining many gangs, but he’s also famous for his involvement in the Lincoln County War in 1978. It was a conflict between the Lincoln County Regulators, of which Billy was a part, and the Jesse Evans gang, bringing the two friends on opposite sides again.

When Evans’ gang killed one of Billy’s, the Regulators killed Sheriff Brady, which started a chain of events that eventually led to Billy being arrested again, escaping, and finally getting killed at the hands of Pat Garett. Ultimately, there are plenty of versions and accounts of what happened to him, and the makers of ‘Billy the Kid’ explore all these points with added details from reality and a raw emotional depth that might seem more relevant than fiction.

Read More: Where is Billy the Kid Filmed?