Was Jesse Evans a Real Outlaw? Who was He to Billy the Kid?

Image Credit: Chris Large/MGM+

MGM+’s ‘Billy the Kid’ reimagines the life of the titular notorious outlaw. In bringing the mostly unknown facets of his life to the audience, the show adds some well-known characters in his life to keep the story grounded. One such person is Jesse Evans. In the show, Billy and Jesse cross paths when the young outlaw is trying to find a way to provide for his family after his stepfather proves to be utterly incompetent. Jesse and Billy become friends, but over the years, their relationship evolves into rivalry and ends with a bloodbath. If you want to know more about Billy and Jesse’s relationship in real life, we’ve got you covered. SPOILERS AHEAD

How was Billy the Kid Related to Jesse Evans?

Image Credit: Chris Large/MGM+

Billy and Jesse were not related to each other by blood, but they were close acquaintances who found themselves at odds when their interests aligned with the parties at war with each other in Lincoln County. The show builds up on this tension between the characters by giving us more insight into their characters and how the seeds of strife are sown between them. However, there is next to nothing about Jesse’s origins and how he ended up becoming an outlaw himself.

Many things about Jesse Evans are speculations based on things written about him more than 150 years ago. The only commonality is that they all recognize Jesse as a feared outlaw, considered even more dangerous than Billy the Kid. It is believed that he was born in the early 50s in Missouri or Texas and was first arrested in 1871 for counterfeit money. After a lot of moving around, Jesse landed in New Mexico.

Jesse started riding with gangs until he eventually formed his own, called the Jesse Evans Gang, later referred to as The Boys. His crimes mainly involved robbery and cattle rustling, but he did earn a reputation for himself. It is not confirmed when he first crossed paths with Billy the Kid, but the latter is said to have joined his gang in 1877. This is where Billy is said to have taken the alias of William Bonney while riding with The Boys for about a month.

Around the same time, tensions had been rising in Lincoln County as John Tunstall found himself against Jimmy Dolan and Lawrence Murphy. Both parties wanted control over the area and eventually hired guns to hold their fort. Jesse was hired by Dolan prior to the Lincoln County war, reportedly for supplying stolen beef. Around the same time, Billy the Kid was riding with another group and landed himself in Tunstall’s employment. By this time, Billy had earned a reputation for himself. He was a feared outlaw who had multiple murders under his belt, but some historians suggest that Billy might have been intimated by Jesse, and vice versa, to some extent.

Image Credit: Chris Large/MGM+

Things got out of hand in February 1878 when Jesse and his gang members gunned down Tunstall. Jesse was arrested for the murder but was let go, probably because his employers had friends in high places. With Tunstall gone, Billy took over the reins of the group, which called itself the Regulators. With two feared outlaws on both sides, it is believed that an informal truce developed between Billy and Jesse, perhaps because neither wanted to confront the other and face the consequences or maybe because their friendship ran deeper than people knew about.

Whatever the sentiment might have been between the two, things turned bloody for both sides, with neither being a clear winner and both sides sustaining heavy losses. After the war, Billy’s notoriety peaked, turning him into the legendary figure he is today. Meanwhile, Jesse returned to cattle rustling and crimes that didn’t involve as much bloodshed and problems as the County war. As far as is known, he and Billy went their separate ways, with the latter getting killed in 1881. Jesse was also eventually captured and sent to prison, ready to serve the punishment for his crimes. However, in 1882, he broke out of prison and was never heard from again. No one knows what happened to Jesse after this, if he died, or if he led a quiet life away from all the trouble that had followed him all these years.

Read More: Where is Billy the Kid Filmed?