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Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

Was Oliver Partridge
‘Brushy Bill’ Roberts really
Billy the Kid?

by C. F. Eckhardt

A recent episode of ‘Brad Metzger’s DECODED,’ shown on the History Channel, delved into—or appeared to delve into—the long-held myth that Brushy Bill Roberts was actually Billy the Kid. A good friend of mine, W. C. Jameson, a former president of Western Writers of America, is the only prominent historian who gives any credence to this. Some years ago he and the late Fred Beene tried to recruit me to support the ‘Brushy Bill was really Billy the Kid’ bandwagon they were trying to organize. I presented part of the evidence in this article as proof he wasn’t and W. C. never spoke to me about it again.

Sumner, NM - Billy The Kid Grave
Sumner, NM - Billy The Kid Tombstone
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley

W. C. was interviewed at some length on the program. The program also included a short bit taken from a story of mine, published in The National Tombstone Epitaph some years ago. I wasn’t interviewed.

Henry McCarty A.K.A. Billy the Kid—among other aliases, one of which was ‘William H. Bonney’--was shot and killed on the night of June 14, 1881, in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom in the old officers’ quarters building at Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. The shot, from a caliber .44 WCF Colt single-action Army revolver with a 7˝-inch barrel, was fired by Patrick Floyd Garrett, then sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory. Only a few people doubt this. Most of them are not serious historians.

There have been imposters. The most prominent over the years has been Oliver Partridge ‘Brushy Bill’ Roberts. The Roberts family has denied there is any possibility that ‘Brushy Bill’ could have been Billy the Kid. They base this on the fact that, according to the Roberts’ family records, Oliver Partridge Roberts was born in Coleman County, Texas, in 1879. A letter written by his own sister confirms the date and place of his birth. That makes him about two years old when the Kid was killed. As I have stated many times, if ‘Brushy Bill’ was the Kid, he did a helluva lot of gunslingin’ in his diapers.

That aside, there’s absolute physical proof that O. P. Roberts could not have been Billy the Kid, and it’s in every photograph ever taken of ‘Brushy Bill.’ That proof is ‘The Roberts Family Ear.’ This is a genetic deformity that appears in the Roberts family from Coleman County. Their ears are not the same size. Their right ears are about twice the size of their left ears. This shows up in every ‘Brushy Bill’ photo, and in a photo of his uncle, Walter N. ‘Brushy’ Roberts, who was a Dallas police officer in the 1880s. He got the nickname ‘Brushy’ from his handlebar moustache, which also is obvious in his photo. ‘The Ear’ continues to show up in the Roberts family from time to time.

Looking at the one absolutely authentic photo of the Kid—and at the many, many ‘maybe’ photos of the Kid—you don’t see the Roberts ear. Nowhere in any published description of him do you find it mentioned that he had one ear much larger than the other. If that distinguishing characteristic had been present, it would have been mentioned prominently in every description of the Kid put out to lawmen. Pat Garrett, who apparently knew the Kid fairly well, would certainly have told his deputies that night “The Kid’s got one great big ear and the other one’s normal size. If you see a man with a great big right ear, that’s the Kid.” If he did, John Poe certainly never mentioned it in his 1917 letter to Charlie Goodnight, recounting his experiences as Garrett’s deputy that night. If Garrett had told him to be on the lookout for somebody with a huge right ear, Poe—who was within six feet of the Kid on the porch of Maxwell’s house--would certainly have been aware he was in the Kid’s presence. He wasn’t aware of it until Garrett identified the Kid’s body to him.

The lack of the distinctive Roberts ear isn’t the only proof ‘Brushy Bill’ wasn’t Billy the Kid. The other is Paulita Maxwell’s reaction to the body. She was Pete Maxwell’s daughter, the Kid’s mistress, and possibly his legal wife though no proof of marriage has ever been produced. Upon seeing the Kid’s body she threw herself on it, screaming “Billito! Billito! No! No! No!” and sobbing uncontrollably. If the body wasn’t the Kid’s, she was a better actress than Sarah Bernhardt, Lynne Fontaine, Katherine Hepburn, and Dame Judy all rolled into one.

‘Brushy Bill’ Roberts was Billy the Kid? There’s simply no way he could have been. It’s time this myth was put away permanently. However, there will always be ‘true believers.’ There are those who still firmly believe, even in the face of DNA identification, that the body in Jesse James’ grave is that of an imposter and J. Frank Dalton was really Jesse James.

© C. F. Eckhardt January 7 , 2012 column
More "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

Billy The Kid Stolen Tombstone
"Billy The Kid's Tombstone was stolen in 1950. For 26 years it remained a mystery until 1976, when it was recovered in Granbury, Texas..."
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley

Sumner, NM - Billy The Kid Grave
Billy The Kid's Grave
Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley


Books by C. F. Eckhardt

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