Thursday, May 1, 2014

Did Billy the Kid kill Frank Cahill?

Again dipping into the files of the now defunct National Association of Outlaw and Lawman History, we find some interesting facts about this 1877 killing.

On August 17 that year, a young man then called Henry McCarty (Antrim) shot a man named Frank P. Cahill dead. The shooting happened near the army outpost of Camp Grant.

Since then, few killers have been as romanticized or fictionalized as the one who became known as Billy the Kid. Many of the printed “facts” are theory, fantasy, or folklore. But, according to NOLA writer Don Cline, docments and records exist that untangle the legend from the truth.

First of all, the victim. Legend says it was Frank “Windy” Cahill, but in fact, it was someone else. Some say it was John Frank Cahill who was shot by the boy who would soon be known as William H. Bonney.

More legend. The man was black. He was the Camp Grant blacksmith, a member of the 5th Cavalry. Legend has it that Justice of the Peach M.L. Wood captured Antrim, that he was incarcerated in the Camp Grant guardhouse. Further, legend says Antrim escaped by throwing salt in the eyes of his guard. That same legend says Antrim was employed as a teamster at the camp. But the record begs to differ.

John G. Bourke
All right. John Cahill or Frank Cahill? Turn to the record of John G. Bourke as found in his On the Border with Crook. John Frank Cahill’s name is found on page 192. Bourke, a lieutenant at the time, also correctly lists John Frank Cahill in his field reports. The problem is, he’s not the man Antrim shot. Nor was he either a blacksmith or black.

The murder took place when Major Charles E. Compton commanded Camp Grant. So information should be available in the Retired Military Records Division in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Records of any service man or woman is housed there and available. (Our government is probably the world’s greatest record-keeping agency.)

Unfortunately, those records, according to Cline, who did two separate searches, contain no mention of John Frank Cahill. Cline searched the post returns, records of everyone entering or leaving a military camp. No John Frank Cahill. Further, no one killed in August 1877 was named Cahill. Cline also searched the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 1861-1865. Aha. Frank P. Cahill appeared . . . but he was a major in the Illinois cavalry and does not appear in any military records after the Civil War.

The search goes on, and two Cahills are unearthed, so to speak, in Arizona. The 1870 census has a Francis Cahill, soldier at Camp Crittenden, and Martin Cahill, who lived at Rio Verde.

No civilian blacksmith hired at Camp Grant was a Cahill. No wagon mechanic. No teammaster. Nor was there an Antrim listed. Actually, the post blacksmith in March 1876 was Henry Runte, and at the time Antrim supposedly shot Cahill, the blacksmith listed was T. Sulliven. We can conclude that whomever Antrim shot, he was neither a blacksmith nor a military man.

Here’s what was written in the Arizona Weekly Star of August 23, 1877: Frank P. Cahill was shot by Henry Antrim alias Kid at Camp Grant on the 17th, and died on the 18th. The following are the dying words of the deceased: I, Frank P. Cahill, being convinced that I am about to die, do made the following as my final statement: My name is Frank P. Cahill. I was born in the county and town of Galway, Ireland: yesterday, Aug. 17th, 1877, I had some trouble with Henry Antrim, otherwise known as Kid, during which he shot me. I had called him a pimp, and he called me a S____ of a b____, we then took hold of each other: I did not hit him, I think: saw him go for his pistol, and tried to get ahold of it, but could not and he shot me in the belly. I have a sister named Margaret Flannigan living at East Cambridge, Mass. And another named Kate Conden, living in San Francisco.

The Arizona (Weekly) Citizen printed that Henry Antrim alias Kid was tried before M.L.Wood, J.P., and the jurors were M. McDowell, Geo. Teague, T. McCleary, B.E. Norton, Jas. L. Hunt, and D.H. Smith.

So, the dead man was not the blacksmith John Frank Cahill, but Frank P. Cahill. He was not a soldier, nor a military blacksmith. The killing did not occur on military property, evinced by the fact that the trial was civilian. In fact, Major Compton sent this telegram, #594, L.R. 704 in the Camp Grant telegram record book: Cahill was not killed on the military reservation, His murderer, Antrim, alias Kid, was allowed to escape and I believe is still at large . . . .

The Kid
Antrim was only 17, and not hired as a teamster, but as a working cowboy at $25 a month.

So the legends, which said the Kid killed John Cahill, a black military blacksmith were wrong. As were the ones that say the Kid killed Cahill on the street, calmly walked into a hotel, and ordered breakfast. Newspapers say a Frank P. Cahill was killed, but no public record has his name. We only have his deathbed statement that is found in a newspaper (which are not all that well known for accuracy). Whether the Kid threw salt in his jailer’s eyes also cannot be corroborated.

Legends are often wrong.

Chuck Tyrell tale just out from Black Horse Westerns


  1. A lot of detective work, there, gumshoe. Fascinating, too. A story could be woven around a reporter trying to nail fact from myth, along these lines. Hmm... Thanks, Charlie!

  2. But legends are the most interesting, sometimes! LOL GREAT post. Love it--so interesting. So many things we'll never know in our history. That's one thing about the age we live in now--everything is pretty much recorded and KNOWN, through DNA or other proof that wasn't around back then. Thanks for another very interesting piece, Charlie.

  3. Bless you for taking the time to bring the 'facts' to light. I love legends and the stories attached, but when it mixes history with surmise...I'm not a fan.

    I read this with great interest and appreciate your time and effort at getting to the truth, as much as possible. Doris

  4. Did the ku-hid ku-hill Cahill? I still don't know.

  5. Looks like you did some work getting to the bottom of this Charlie. As always an interesting post. I like the cover of your new book Diablo.

  6. Excellent. Charlie. Thank you.

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  8. you're an idiot, first you say "First of all, the victim. Legend says it was Frank “Windy” Cahill, but in fact, it was someone else.", then in the end you say "So, the dead man was not the blacksmith John Frank Cahill, but Frank P. Cahill. "

  9. I am from New Mexico and married a local from the Fort Grant area. At the time Billy the Kid was near Camp Grant, there were a cluster of stores that served the area of ranchers, locals, travelers and Camp Grant. Among these buildings was a stage stop. The shooting took place in front of one of the stores. It did not happen at Camp Grant. Billy the Kid took off immediately. He was a ranch hand. The man he killed was working in the area, some say a ranch hand also, some do not recall the victim's name. Camp Grant is not that far from Silver City, New Mexico by today's modern transportation. It would take a few days to get to Silver City, New Mexico by horse, especially since Silver City is a mountainous region near the Gila Wilderness.

    Today there are two buildings still standing where the shooting took place. The shooting is common knowledge by the locals whose families have been in the area for over one hundred years.

    Thank You. J. Goodman

  10. My guess is Frank "Windy" Cahill was a blacksmith...not THE blacksmith at the fort, but he probably did blacksmith work as he could find it at the ranches and the military base. I also doubt he was black - I don't imagine just after the Civil War a black man would openly and continuously slap around, knock to the ground, mess up the hair and generally humiliate a much smaller, much younger, white teenager in a bar full of drunk white men with no consequences from those men.

    1. You are absolutely right! Frank Cahill was a white man and a blacksmith who was born in Ireland in 1845. Many people said he repeatedly bullied Henry Antrim aka Billy the kid and was shot while he was on top of and beating the kid. He was shot August 17,1877 and died the next day.