Miss Catherine’s Boys

Some Background

Between 1620 and 1775, nearly two-thirds of all European immigrants to the American colonies arrived under indentures.  An indenture is a legal contract between two parties for either labor or an apprenticeship.  An individual interested in indenturing themselves for the cost of transportation to the Americas would in some cases make such an arrangement through a ship’s captain, who upon arrival in an American port, would sell the contract to someone looking for cheap labor, either in agricultural work, as apprentices, or as domestic servants.

In the British colonies, an immigrant contracted (agreed) to serve a period of specified labor in exchange for the cost of transportation to the colonies.  A period of indenture depended on the costs of transportation, generally ranging between 3 and 7 years.  Although indenture usually involved immigrant men, the number of female indentures increased after 1815.

Human immigration often involves what historians refer to as “push-pull” factors.  Something pushed people out of their homelands (war, famine, disease), and/or something pulled them toward the new land (freedom, economic opportunity/land acquisition).  Indentured servitude was one method immigrants used to pay the cost of transportation to the Americas, particularly during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852) when up to 85% of emigrating Irishmen and women went to the United States.

The Challenges of History

In the absence of concrete evidence — the written record, or overwhelming archeological data — then it is impossible to know with certitude what transpired, when it transpired, or the identities of those involved.  Written records by themselves are insufficient, because — as it is often said — whenever a lion writes history, it’s hunter is never the hero.  What written records give us is veracity about events and prominent actors in those events.  If we do not know what transpired in earlier times, it is either because there are no written records of people, places, or events, or because if such records do exist, they remain undiscovered.

It is impossible to complete a history puzzle when pieces are missing.  When pieces are missing, the best any historian can do is offer stipulated or tentative conclusions about  the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of events.  Under such circumstances, a historian may propose one or more possibilities about events, and persons — all of which are inconclusive.

In cases of inferred events and interconnected relationships, all we end up with is a broad brush of something we know did happen, without the capacity for stating unequivocally, this is what we know did happen.  I am looking for Catherine (Divine) (Bonney) McCarty and her offspring.

About Miss Catherine

Catherine was an Irish lady who migrated to the United States from Liverpool, England.  Seventeen-year-old Catherine McCarty arrived in New York on 9 April 1846 aboard the US ship Devonshire [Note 1].  Subsequent census records reflect that she was born in 1829, corroborated by her obituary in 1874 stating that at the time of her death, she was 45-years of age.  The census of 1860 identifies Catherine’s husband as Patrick McCarty [Note 2] and that this couple had two children.  Since there is no record in New York of a marriage between Patrick McCarty, or Michael Patrick Henry McCarty and Catherine (Devine/Bonney), it is plausible to assume that Patrick and Catherine (members of the Roman Catholic Church) were married in Ireland before immigration to the United States.

Ancestry records reflect that Catherine gave birth to three children.  Bridget McCarty was born in 1853 [Note 3]; William Henry [Note 4] was born in 1859; Joseph (no middle name) was born in 1863.

Some accounts of Catherine’s life suggest that Michael Patrick Henry McCarty either died or absented himself from his marriage with Catherine around 1872.  Either situation is plausible, of course, but even without a record of his death it is unlikely that he abandoned his wife and children [Note 5].

I leave it to the reader free to form his or her own conclusion; mine is that Catherine (Divine) (Bonney) (b. 1829) married Michael Patrick Henry McCarty (b. 1830) and that they produced three children: Bridget (1853), William (1859), and Joseph (1863).  Michael Patrick is likely to have passed away between 1864-1867.  As we hear no more about Bridget after 1860, I assume that she passed away some time between 1860-1867.

In 1867, 37-year old Catherine and her sons William and Joseph turned up in Indianapolis, Indiana.  She is said to have resided at 199 N. East Street.

One unhappy fact about early American society is that it has never been kind to the ladies.  Society’s expectation was that young ladies married, they had children, they stayed home to care for them, and they lived happily ever-after.  But in 1870 the median life expectancy for men and women was between 40-45 years.  Women always faced the possibility of losing their husbands (through death or abandonment), who earned the money to buy food and pay the rent.  On such occasions, the ladies had few options available to them.

In 1867, if a young widow could find a man of means who was willing to take in her children, then she might remarry, but there were not many men of means in the mid-1800s, and fewer still who were willing to saddle themselves with someone else’s children.  To make ends meet, a widow might find domestic work and struggle in raising her children as a single parent [Note 6].  A widow might also drop her children off at an orphanage and be done with them.  Without children, a widow’s future prospects improved — or she migrated toward one of the unseemly vocations of the time. 

Catherine kept her children.  For whatever reason, she moved them to the mid-west, where she met William Henry Harrison Antrim (1842-1922) [Note 7].  Mr. Antrim was a day laborer and a gambler.  At the time, William Henry would have been about 8 or 9 years old, and Joseph around 4 or 5.  After taking up with Mr. Antrim, who called himself Billy, Catherine began referring to her son Billy by his middle name, Henry.

In 1870, Catherine, William, and the boys relocated to Wichita, Kansas — which tends to support the proposition that William was a gambler.  Because Wichita was a rough and dangerous town and not at all suitable for raising two young boys, Catherine and William moved again a short time later to Colorado where, apparently, Catherine became aware of her illness, diagnosed as consumption.  On medical advice, the family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where they were married in 1873.  In search of an even dryer climate, they moved again — this time to Silver City, where William Antrim engaged in prospecting and Catherine supported the family once more by doing laundry and  baking bread and pies.

Some sources describe Catherine as a jolly Irishwoman who always maintained a bright outlook on life.  According to Ash Upson [Note 8], Catherine Antrim was courteous, kind, and benevolent.  William Antrim called her Kathleen.  She was of medium height, held a straight posture, and had a graceful form.  She had light blue eyes, luxuriant bolden hair, but was no real beauty — simply a handsome woman well-known for her charity and good heart.  She was most of all, Upson said, a real lady.  Her sons were “normal boys,” no more of a problem than most.

After Catherine’s death, her neighbors remembered her with fondness.  They described her as having an outgoing personality and a love for dancing, which she passed along to her eldest son William Henry.  Catherine maintained an orderly home and, when compared to other families in and around Silver City, many of whom lived in tents and mining camps outside of town, the Antrim residence was a real home to Catherine and her children.

In her final days, Catherine was bed-ridden.  When Mr. Antrim wasn’t out prospecting, he was gambling in local saloons.  Antrim’s detachment from the family and his inability to produce a worthwhile income required that Catherine double her efforts.  Eventually, with the stress of keeping the family’s finance in order, her illness began taking its toll.  As she grew weaker, a neighbor and friend named Clara Truesdell, a trained nurse and the mother of one of William Henry’s friends, helped to care for Catherine and watch over the children.  Antrim was steadfast in his failure to support his wife or the boys.  Concerned about what would happen to her sons when she passed on — as she knew she soon would — Clara gave comfort by promising to look after the two boys.  For his part, William Henry sat with his dying mother in the evenings, for hours at a time, and did what he could to comfort her.  After four months of worsening sickness, Catherine (Devine) (Bonney) McCarty Antrim passed away on 16 September 1874.  William Henry was 15 years old — Joe was 11.

No one could find William Antrim to notify him about the death of his wife.  Clara Truesdell prepared Catherine’s body for internment.  Neighbor David Abraham made her a coffin; David’s son dug her grave, and the people who knew her best attended her funeral service at the Antrim cabin.  Still, William Antrim was no where to be found.

When Antrim did finally appear, it was only long enough to sell the cabin, place the boys in the care of guardians, and leave town.  When Catherine died, Clara became William Henry’s guardian of sorts — as William (once more calling himself Billy) found work at Sara Brown’s boarding house.  Before leaving town, Antrim placed Joseph with Mr. John Dryer, the owner of the Orleans Club.  Joe worked for his keep as an errand boy.  The ironic part of this story is that before William Antrim gave up his favorite of the two boys to John Dryer, Joe had begun calling himself Joseph Antrim.

William Henry McCarty/William H. Bonney

Our information about what it was like inside the Antrim household is at best sketchy.  We know Catherine earned money by washing clothes and baking and selling pies, and it is likely she did these things until she was no longer able — when she became very ill — and when she did, it was Billy who took care of her.

At age 12, Billy had sandy blond hair, clear blue eyes, a light complexion, and a baby face.  He was of average size, lanky, and had unusually small hands.  Although his mother and step-father called him Henry, he preferred the name Billy, which is also what his friends called him.

After moving to Silver City, Billy became the target of bullies in school.  This is what bullies do — they pick on the new kids.  While Billy was a gangly lad, he was also feisty and never backed down from a school-yard fight.  If he couldn’t best a bully, he would always find a way to even the score.  Billy could read and write, displayed an interest in art and music, and he was known for his politeness when around adults.  Of her two sons, Catherine showed a preference for Billy.  Antrim favored Joe and had little use for Billy — and the feeling was mutual.  It was a situation that may have contributed to Billy and Joe’s estrangement.

The boy who grew up to become the outlaw Billy the Kid was, by every account, a normal young man whose life was shaped and then twisted by the tragedy of his mother’s death.  In the face of such adversity, Billy had few options.

Henry’s first brush with the law (that we know about) was when he was caught stealing food — a pound of butter, which he then tried to sell.  No one knows why Henry took the butter.  It didn’t make any sense; he was a polite young man.  But then few adults understand why youngsters do foolish things.  Did he need the money?  Could Billy have found a job around town?  Was he acting out the pain and the anger associated with his mother’s loss?  We can’t know the answers to these questions.  We do not know what he could do to earn money, or if even anyone was in the market for a scruffy-looking kid.  All teenagers are scruffy-looking.  Two things are needed to learn a worthy trade: the desire to learn, and a willingness of someone to teach.  Neither of these were present in the case of William Henry McCarty.

Billy escaped serious trouble for stealing butter because of the efforts of Clara Truesdell; boys will be boys, after all, and she promised the town marshal she’d have a talk with Billy.  I’m sure she did — but a short time later he was caught stealing clothes and a pistol from a Chinese laundry — a far more serious offense.  Maybe Billy needed the clothes — and it may have been why he stole the butter. The pistol was simply a bonus discovery taken advantage of — but whatever the circumstances, Billy was arrested and placed in jail “pending trial.”  Still, there remained some sympathy for the lad in Silver City.  The sheriff only intended to keep Billy locked up for a few days — as an object lesson.  But before the lesson could be learned, young, rash Billy McCarty made things worse by breaking out of jail.

The thing was, Billy didn’t enjoy being locked up in small places — and he certainly wasn’t aware of the marshal’s intention to release him with another warning.  Early on, Billy discovered that he had at least one unique skill: he had the knack for getting out of tight places.  When Billy escaped from jail, he fled to Arizona.  The jail break — along with the theft, made him a fugitive from justice — and not just a fugitive, a federal fugitive.  New Mexico was a federal territory.  A “wanted poster” in 1875 offered a reward for the arrest of William Wright, also known as Billy the Kid.  No one was quite sure where the name Wright came from.

In 1876, Billy went to work for famed New Mexico rancher Henry Hooker [Note 9] — who would also play a role in a future dust up referred to in history as Wyatt Earp’s vengeance ride.  It was at the Sierra Bonita Ranch that Billy met a 27-year old ex-soldier named John R. Mackie.  Mackie taught the boy ten years his younger how to steal horses from the Army at Fort Grant.

Working at Fort Grant was a blacksmith by the name of Frank Cahill.  Folks called him “Windy,” perhaps because by working with bellows, he created wind.  Or perhaps he was just rude, crude, and socially unacceptable — and if that, he was also muscular, ill-tempered, and a bully.  For whatever reason, Cahill took a disliking for Billy and harassed him at every opportunity — often, it is said, humiliating him in front of his friends.  In 1877, Billy was working at the H. F. Smith Hay Camp.  After being paid, Henry bought a new set of clothes and a revolver. 

On 18 August, Billy entered Atkins’ Cantina in Fort Grant.  Cahill was known to frequent the cantina, so we aren’t sure why McCarty went there — unless he wanted to gamble or have a confrontation with Cahill.  Whatever the reason, Cahill initiated a fight by walking over to Billy, mussing up his hair, and calling him a pimp.  Billy responded by calling into question Cahill’s parentage.  Cahill jumped on Billy, threw him to the floor, pinned him, and began slapping him in the face.  While this was going on, Billy struggled to unholster his pistol and when he did, shot Cahill in the stomach.  Cahill didn’t survive the gut shot.  It was William H. McCarty’s first shooting and it scared him.  He ran out of the saloon and made good his escape on a stolen horse — which, much to the surprise of the horse’s owner, John Murphy, Billy later returned.

One might question why McCarty was charged with murder.  He was certainly in a position of having to defend himself against a much larger man — who possibly outweighed Billy by a hundred pounds — and it was Cahill, after all, who initiated the assault.  The answer to the question may be that local folks liked Cahill, or that Billy was known as a horse thief, a man who escaped confinement, and was now a cold-blooded killer — or possibly all of those things.  It was after this unhappy scrape with Frank Cahill that William Henry McCarty began calling himself William H. Bonney.

After killing Cahill, William Bonney joined a band of cattle rustlers associated with the Seven Rivers Warriors gang.  There was plenty of work because the vast herds of John Chisum in Lincoln County were ripe for the picking.  The Seven Rivers Warriors Gang was one of several such outlaw gangs loosely affiliated with the Kinney Gang [Note 10], including the Jesse Evans Gang (referred to as simply “The Boys.”).  Among these men, primarily because of his youth, William Bonney became known as simply “The Kid.”  At the time, the Jesse Evans Gang was one of the more dangerous groups of outlaws in New Mexico, its leader being only 23-years old and an utterly ruthless murderer. 

For an account of William Bonney’s next and final adventures, see Lincoln County War.

Joseph McCarty-Antrim 

The information available about Joseph, called Josie as a child, is quite sparse and leaves us with many unanswered questions, and yet if what we know is only partially true, it does help us to discover who the man was.  There are suggestions that Joseph and William Henry had different fathers, but the only basis for this assertion is that the two boys look dissimilar.  To begin with, we aren’t sure this picture is actually William and Joseph.  We don’t know what Michael Patrick Henry McCarty looked like, so to argue that these two men (a) were Joseph and William, or (b) that they look sufficiently dissimilar to call into question their mother’s fidelity to her husband … well, it just isn’t very scientific, or fair.  And in any case, I fail to see how physical appearances by themselves support such a conclusion.

According to Upson, after Billy escaped jail in Silver City and hightailed it to Arizona, eleven-year-old Joe went to work at the New Orleans Club.  He ran errands, cleaned out spittoons, served liquor, and had little in the way of adult supervision.  The young boy began to gamble, drink whiskey, and when he could afford it, spent time in local opium dens.  When the town experienced a breakout of smallpox, Joe Antrim and his friend Chauncey Truesdell were sent to work on Charley Nicolla’s nearby ranch along Mimbres creek.  Chauncey later said that one day, while he and Joe worked milking cows, they spotted three men riding toward them and it looked to them as if the riders were Indians.  Joe grabbed a nearby rifle and aimed in on the approaching men.  One of these men was his brother, Billy.

According to Upson, Chauncey reported that at that time Billy was still youthful looking but he had matured; he was no longer carefree — he was tougher, well-heeled, and proficient with firearm and horses.  Chauncey said that Billy spent the night with he and Joe, and then left the next morning.  It was the last time Chauncey or Joe ever saw Billy McCarty.

Eventually, Joseph moved to Trinidad, Colorado, where he spent his time gambling and drinking.  When he learned of Billy’s death at the hands of Pat Garrett, Joe vowed to kill Garrett.   Joe finally met up with Pat Garrett in August 1882 at the Armijo House.  They spoke together for two hours, shook hands, and parted company.  Apparently, Joe was satisfied about what Garrett  had to say about Billy’s death and the matter was closed.

Between 1882 and 1885, Joe moved back and forth between Trinidad and Silver City, Las Vegas, and Tombstone.  Eventually, Joe ended up in Denver where he spent the remainder of his life — friendless and alone.  Joseph McCarty Antrim had become exactly like his step-father, William Antrim.  When Joe died on 25 November 1930, aged 66 years, there was no one to claim his body, so the county made his remains available to the Colorado Medical School.  Thus ended the line of Catherine and Michael Patrick Henry McCarty.


  1. Alexander, B.  Bad Company and Burnt Powder: Justice and Injustice in the Old Southwest.  University of North Texas, 2014. 
  2. Bell, B. B.  The Illustrated Life and Times of Billy the Kid.  Tri-Star/Boze Productions, 1996.
  3. Fulton, M. G.  History of the Lincoln County War: A Classic Account of Billy the Kid.  Robert Mullin, ed., University of Arizona Press, 1997.
  4. Nolan, F.  The West of Billy the Kid.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
  5. Weddle, J.  Antrim is my Stepfather’s Name: The Boyhood of Billy the Kid.  Arizona Historical Society, 1993.
  6. Wiser, K.  John Selman — Wicked Lawman and Vicious Outlaw.  Legends of America, November 2019.


[1] Record of ship arrivals, port of New York, 9 April 1846, Palmer’s List of Merchant Vessels 1800-1900, OOCities.Org online.

[2] In 1860, census takers simply wrote down the information provided by the adult who responded to survey questions.  They did not (and still do not) ask respondents for proof of their identity.  Patrick McCarty is the name her husband went by, but there is also a belief that his full name was Michael Patrick Henry McCarty.   

[3] There is no record of Bridget McCarty after 1860.

[4] As a child, William Henry was called Billy.

[5] There are two men identified as Michael Patrick Henry McCarty associated with Catherine.  The first of these men was born in 1812.  This man would have been 60 years old in 1872, which exceeds the average life span of males in the United States by 20 years.  The second man was born in 1830 — in 1872, he would have been 42 years old, which placed him at the age limit of average mortality for males living in the United States.

[6] While single-parent homes continue to challenge modern societies, in 1870 there were no publicly funded social programs to stabilize families, either financially or emotionally and the ladies had to either sink or swim on their own merit.

[7] Antrim was born on 1 December 1842 in Huntsville, Indiana.  Antrim was a day-laborer with few prospects in Indianapolis, but Catherine was industrious.  She supported the family by doing laundry, baking bread and pies, and taking in borders.

[8] Ash Upson was co-author with Pat Garret in the book titled The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. 

[9] Henry Clay Hooker (1828-1907) was a prominent, wealthy, and influential rancher who formed the first and largest American ranch in Arizona Territory.  He made his money by supplying cattle to the US Army and various Indian agencies.  His spread was known as the Sierra bonita Ranch.

[10] We frequently come across stories of thoroughly bad men in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arizona, but it is entirely possible that all of these accounts pale in comparison to the corruption and lawlessness of the New Mexico Territory.  The Kinney Gang was organized and controlled by John Kinney, who after leaving army service in 1873 settled in New Mexico and established an outlaw gang responsible for horse stealing, cattle rustling, robberies, and the murder of innocent civilians/settlers.  This, in-and-of-itself is unexceptional in certain parts of the old  west.  What made the Kinney Gang exceptional is that it became part of the Santa Fe Ring, a group of powerful attorneys and land speculators that amassed a fortune through political corruption, fraudulent land deals, cattle rustling, and murder throughout the New Mexico Territory which included Stephen Benton Elkins, Samuel B. Axtell, Thomas Benton Catron, and others, who figured prominently in the Lincoln County War and Colfax County War.  Kinney, on behalf of the Santa Fe ring controlled the Jesse Evans Gang and the John Selman Gang.

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in HISTORY, THE LADIES. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Miss Catherine’s Boys

  1. Pingback: Henry Newton Brown | Old West Tales

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