MGM+’s ‘Billy the Kid‘ takes place in the late 1870s in the Wild West, where the eponymous character becomes one of the most infamous outlaws of his time. The show traces his beginnings, from his immigrant parents leaving everything in New York hoping for the possibilities that the untamed West promises to Billy becomes a feared name. While his infamy might have earned him a place in the history books, he wasn’t the only outlaw to have earned such a reputation.
Around the same time, Jesse James also rose as a feared figure, but also revered by some, becoming one of the most wanted men in the country. Because Billy the Kid and Jesse James were both outlaws and operated in the same period, you might wonder if they ever crossed paths with each other. Is there a chance for the character of Jesse James to appear in the MGM+ TV series? Let’s find out. SPOILERS AHEAD
Did Outlaws Billy the Kid and Jesse James Ever Cross Paths?
While Billy the Kid and Jesse James were alive in the same time period, there is no recorded evidence to prove that they ever met or had any connection with each other. Billy was barely out of his teens when he became an outlaw, while Jesse was more than a decade older than him and committed his first robbery in 1866 when Billy would have been just six years old. Jesse had a lot of time to build a reputation for himself and was one of the most ruthless robbers of his time. He was known for robbing banks and trains. On the other hand, Billy worked in a completely different circle. He was a cattle rustler and later got involved in the Lincoln County war, which gained him the notoriety that persists even now.
Despite being such iconic figures of the Wild West now, Billy and Jesse are unlikely to have crossed paths because their territories never seemed to overlap. Billy was known to have been around New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. In contrast, Jesse James and his gang were known to operate in the Midwest, like the states of Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, among others. Billy’s infamy was more localized, while Jesse James and his gang’s reputation was much more spread out.
Jesse James’ story began in 1864 when he joined the Confederate guerrillas. When his side lost the Civil War, Jesse returned to civilian life and turned towards a career in robbery. Over the years, Jesse James gained a status as a feared robber, but he was also presented as a sort of Robin Hood, feeding into his mythology, which is alive even now. Jesse dedicated a lot of time and effort to becoming the infamous outlaw that he was, while Billy the Kid’s story suggests that he was thrust into a life of crime due to his circumstances.
Billy is said to have committed his first crime in 1875 and operated till 1881, until his death at 21 years of age in New Mexico. For most of this part, Jesse James was in hiding. In 1876, after a failed bank robbery, he went to Tennessee, where he assumed an alias. He later returned to the life of crime in 1879, looking for a new crew, and eventually died in 1882 at the age of 34, when Robert Ford shot him in his house in Missouri. This puts a very small window for them to have had any contact with each other.
While it is pretty unlikely that they were ever friends, there is a story that suggests they might have met. The said meeting is believed to have happened in 1879 and was accounted for by a man named Henry Hoyt, who knew Billy the Kid. Billy was in New Mexico then, and one day, Hoyt ran into him. The young outlaw was accompanied by a man he called “Mr. Howard from Tennessee.” Hoyt said that later Billy confided in him that Mr. Howard was actually Jesse James, visiting some friend of his. Apparently, he offered Billy to join his gang, but Billy decided not to. Robbing trains is not something Billy wanted to be involved in.
The little credibility that this story gets is from the fact that Hoyt mentions that the said Mr. Howard was missing a fingertip, which Jesse was known to have blown off while cleaning his pistol. But again, there is no concrete evidence to suggest this happened, and Hoyt’s account came years later when both Billy the Kid and Jesse James were dead. It is believed that Hoyt might have concocted the story or confused some facts with fiction.