Old Times and Old Timers

Billy The Kid’s Pals: Charlie Bowdre & Tom O’Folliard.  

Everyone who has been in New Mexico for more than fifteen minutes knows about Billy the Kid (William H. Bonney); knows that Pat Garrett killed him on July 14, 1881 at Fort Sumner, where he was buried alongside two of his cohorts under a tombstone that reads, “PALS.”

Not many folks, though, know who those “pals” were. Fame for Charlie Bowdre and Tom O’Folliard did not survive their deaths, in the way that Billy’s did.

In many ways, Charlie Bowdre was an unlikely partner for Bonney. For one thing, Bowdre was more than ten years older than Bonney, born in 1848 in Mississippi. Some historians, but not all, believe that Billy was born in New York City, probably in 1859. Bowdre drifted around the west as a young man, and is known to have spent some time in Dodge City, Kansas and Fort Griffin, Texas, before he arrived in New Mexico in the company of Josiah “Doc” Scurlock around 1875 (Scurlock was another of Billy’s pals, but he survived his association with the outlaw and lived to old age). Not long after that, Charlie married Manuela Herrera and purchased a farm on the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County.

His farming days didn’t last long even though some who have written of him indicate that he preferred farming as a way of life. By 1878 he was managing a ranch northeast of Fort Sumner where he became acquainted with Billy Bonney, Tom O’Folliard and others of the same ilk. The three of them became fast friends.

Bowdre was involved in some of the most stirring events of the Lincoln County War including the early fight at Blazer’s Mill in April 1878. He was one of an estimated 14 outlaws (or possemen, depending on point of view) that was set upon by Andrew “Buckshot” Roberts. Some say that Roberts was after the bounty on some of the outlaws while others believe that he stumbled upon the gang accidentally; which certainly makes the most sense. Roberts was able to wound two or three of the outlaws before he was himself shot. Bowdre usually gets credit for shooting Roberts, although Billy Bonney also claimed credit. After the wounded Roberts took cover, he shot and killed Dick Brewer who many described as the leader of the group. That ended the fight. Roberts died the next day and he and Brewer were buried side by side on a hill near Blazer’s Mill.

The Five Day’s Battle in Lincoln took place the following July, and Bowdre was there, too. Some say, in fact, that he held a leadership position. He escaped from that melee alive and while he remained with Bonney over the next few years, he made a couple of tentative efforts at making peace between the warring factions in the Lincoln County war, none of which succeeded. Bowdre was present at Fort Sumner on December 19, 1880 when a posse led by Sheriff Pat Garrett ambushed the gang and killed Tom O’Folliard.

His own death was to come only two days later when Garrett’s posse surrounded a stone shack at Stinking Springs, near present-day Taiban in eastern New Mexico. When Bowdre stepped outside just after sunrise to feed his horse, the posse opened fire and he was mortally wounded. He is said to have opened his arms toward the posse and to have said, “I wish, I wish . . .” before he died. Pat Garrett is usually credited with killing Bowdre, but there is no proof of that. Garrett paid for the suit in which Bowdre was buried.

O’Folliard* was born near Uvalde, Texas, and was very close to Billy Bonney in age. He was orphaned as a youngster and raised by a Mexican family at Monclave in the state of Coahuila. He arrived in Lincoln County in the spring of 1878, in time to get tangled up in the Lincoln County War. He and Bonney became close friends. He, too, was present at the Five Day’s Battle, and survived it, although he was wounded in the shoulder as he fled.

Tom also stayed with Bonney in the intervening years before Pat Garrett was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County. On December 19, 1880, Garrett’s posse holed-up in Fort Sumner in the hope that Bonney and his bunch would ride in, and they did just that. O’Folliard rode in the front with another outlaw, Tom Pickett, when Garrett ordered them to halt. O’Folliard reached for his pistol as two or three of the possemen opened fire with rifles. A bullet took him in the chest, near the heart. He tried to flee along with the others, but could not.

He remained alive as Garrett and some others carried him inside, out of the cold, and laid him out on the floor.

“Oh my God,” he cried, “is it possible I must die?”

“Tom, your time is short,” Garrett replied

“The sooner the better. I will be out of pain.” O’Folliard died soon after saying it.

Billy Bonney would be dead, too, less than seven months later, also at the hand of Pat Garrett.

Readers who choose to visit the “PALS” tombstone in the old military cemetery at Fort Sumner should not suppose as they look at it that the bones of the three outlaws rest beneath it. A flood washed away the grave markers more than 100 years ago. No one knows exactly where in the cemetery the three bodies repose, and there are some that don’t believe that Billy’s body is there at all.

* Mark Lee Gardner in To Hell on a Fast Horse refers to O’Folliard as simply Folliard.

Questions or comments? Contact Don Bullis at donbullis@msn.com