Tom left his home in Texas when he was a teenager, seeking adventure and fortune in New Mexico. He became acquainted with a certain struggle happening in southern New Mexico, specifically Lincoln, where a man just a few years older than him known as Billy Bonney captivated his senses and drew him into his side of the fight.You can join Unsolved Mysteries and post your own mysteries or
The Lincoln County War raged from the conflict between a store owner named Tunstall and his lawyer McSween, and a store owner named Murphy and his lawyers from the Santa Fe Ring. Tom took the side of Billy, who fought on the Tunstall-McSween side. Both sides claimed they fought for the law, and both had been deputized.
After several battles had already taken place, Tom arrived on the scene to be with Billy when he, Billy, the lawyer McSween and several other hired gunmen were cornered in a house which was set on fire. Tom, fiercely loyal, ran out of the house behind Billy, firing into the opposing side, and escaped with him.
The incident with the burning house effectively ended the Lincoln County War, and the McSween side was the losing side. Because of that, the winning side claimed the law in the town, and declared everyone on the McSween side as outlaws.
"I can make a real warrior out of him," Billy the Kid once said to his fellow Regulators.
Tom proved to be more of a servant than warrior. He held the reigns of Billy's horse when Billy went to meet senioritas at dances and when he had meetings with other people. Yet he stayed loyal and a real "right-hand man."
They rode together after Pat Garrett won the election to become Sheriff of Lincoln, which spelled trouble since Pat won pretty much on the promise of ridding the territory of Billy the Kid.
Tom knew that experienced, older people were chasing him because of his association with the Kid, but he kept his loyalty. He learned a lot about how to ride and how to escape.
One day, Garrett and his men rode up on some of the Kid's gang, including Tom. They all took off. Tom was the last to leave, and Garrett and his men rode after him. Tom fired back at Garrett and took off on his horse, leaning forward, dodging rocks, boulders, and shrub, and firing back. Garrett and his deputies chased Tom for a long stretch, then had to back down. Later, Garrett is recorded as saying that Tom gave him a very impressive chase, and that he didn't know Tom had it in him.
In an effort to once and for all trap and possibly kill Billy the Kid, Garrett layed out a plan. He found out through informants that on Christmas Eve, 1880, Billy and his men would ride to the old abandoned hospital in Fort Sumner, which was currently occupied by the wife of a member of Billy's gang, Charlie Bowdrie. He and his men rode to the hospital that evening, made the wife, Manuela, sit in a corner, and occupied the hospital in a stake out, playing poker to kill the time.
The man outside on lookout came in at around 10:00 pm to announce the arrival of several horses. That would be the Kid and his gang. The men inside walked to the porch and crouched in hiding positions. They waited until the horses were near the porch, black against the falling snow. One horse came as close as nuzzling the porch roof.
"Halt!" Garrett shouted. The horses reared as the riders pulled back and retreated, firing wildly at the porch.
The men on the porch fired into the riders on the horses. Garrett fired at the rider on the closest horse.
All the horses bolted back. For a second, it seemed that all the horses would take off.
Then one horse walked toward the hospital porch. It walked slowly, with the rider hunched over.
"Don't shoot! I'm killed!"
The rider, a young man, apparently knew the extent of his wound. Garrett walked to the rider. It was Tom, who was shot through the chest. He could not raise his arms.
The men helped Tom off his horse and escorted him inside the hospital. Someone threw a blanket on the floor. Tom lay down.
Here is where legend creeps in. Books say that Tom said "Tell my mother what happened." Garrett said "We will do that." Then Tom said "My God, I'm really going to die!" Then Garrett said "Tom, your time was short." Then a deputy said "Take your medicine." Then Tom said "This is the best medicine I ever took." Then Tom produced a bloodied letter written to his grandmother and gave it to Pat who said he would see that she gets it.
Whether or not that happened, we can pick up the facts in saying that the men resumed their poker game with one watching Tom on the floor. As Tom lay in pain contemplating eternity, the men threw down cards calling out winners. A bit later, Tom asked for water. When given the cold water, he shivered violently, then lay back in relaxation and died.
He was buried in the Fort Sumner military cemetary. By morning, he had another friend join him, Charlie Bowdrie. By the summer of 1881, Billy the Kid joined those two, the three side by side. Today, inside a wrought iron fence, is the big famous tombstone that reads the names of the three outlaws under the engraved inscription of "PALS."
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