Brushy Bill Roberts

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Brushy Bill Roberts
old man with moustache, wide-brimmed hat and bandana around neck
Brushy Bill
Born c. 1860
Died December 27, 1950 (aged 90)[1]
Hico, Texas, USA
Nationality American
Other names William H. Bonney (alias
   Billy the Kid, allegedly)
Oliver Partridge Roberts
Oliver L. Roberts
Occupation Prospector

Brushy Bill Roberts (c. 1860 – December 27, 1950; claimed date of birth December 31, 1859) a.k.a. Ollie Partridge William Roberts, Ollie P. Roberts or Ollie L. Roberts, attracted attention by claiming to be the infamous western outlaw William H. Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid. Although Roberts' claim has been rejected by almost all historians (and even some of his relatives), there was evidence suggesting his claim may have had some substance. Brushy Bill's story is promoted by the "Billy the Kid Museum" in his hometown of Hico in Hamilton County, Texas.[2][3] His claim was further promoted by the 1990 film Young Guns II, as well as a 2011 episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded on the History Channel. Robert Stack did a segment on Brushy Bill in early 1990 on the NBC television series Unsolved Mysteries.

On October 31, 2014 some new information was published that claims to support certain aspects of Brushy Bill's story which included military and genealogical records and a new photographic comparison of a young Brushy Bill with the Billy the Kid ferrotype image.[4]

If Brushy Bill's story is true, then it would mean that the historical version of the Kid's death is incorrect, that Sheriff Pat Garrett may have shot a different person and allowed Billy the Kid to escape.


In 1948, a paralegal named William Morrison located an elderly man named Joe Hines requesting the lands of his deceased brother. Hines had confessed his real name was Jesse Evans, who had vanished from public view after getting released from a Texas prison in 1882. Hines told Morrison of his experiences in the Lincoln County War with Billy the Kid who was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, but he stunned Morrison by claiming that the Kid was still alive and living near Hamilton, Texas under the name Ollie P. Roberts (nicknamed "Brushy Bill").[5][6] Morrison began a correspondence with Roberts who eventually confessed to being the Kid and went into fine and intimate details of his exploits as an outlaw, filling in many details of the life of Billy the Kid. Furthermore, Roberts wanted Morrison's help in acquiring the full pardon he was promised by Governor Lew Wallace in 1879 but refused. He showed his ability to slip out of handcuffs, he also reported that Pat Garrett had actually shot and killed another gunslinger named Billy Barlow, passing his body off as the Kid, allowing him to vanish for Mexico. Five people who knew Billy signed affidavits that they identified Roberts and the Kid as one and the same.

Roberts told Morrison that he would agree to tell the "whole truth" in exchange for the full pardon he had been promised by the governor of New Mexico following the Lincoln County War, Lew Wallace. His sudden appearance and request for a pardon had a profound effect on Garrett's descendents.

Brushy Bill claimed to have been born on December 31, 1859, by the name of William Henry Roberts in Buffalo Gap, Texas near Abilene. Members of his family "calculate" that he was actually born in about 1868, while United States Census records indicate that Roberts was born in 1879. Oliver P. Roberts' niece, Geneva Pittmon, was able to show that her uncle's (Oliver P., not Oliver L.) date of birth had been recorded in the Family Bible. However, the problem with her statement regarding the unknown birth date of Ollie L. Roberts is that Brushy Bill had disclosed that Oliver P. Roberts had been his distant cousin. After Oliver P. died, Brushy Bill says that he had assumed his deceased cousin's identity.

Because Billy the Kid was about twenty-one at the time of his death in 1881, if either of the later two birth dates are true, then it would be impossible for Brushy Bill to have been the Kid. Brushy had been living under the alias of Ollie L. Roberts, and from the time Geneva Pittmon was a little girl, she was told that Brushy Bill was her uncle Ollie. She never knew the truth of his identity, because her father, Thomas U. Roberts, had helped to hide Billy/Brushy.[7]

Brushy Bill Roberts, could not convince his half-sister, Martha V. Roberts that he was indeed Billy the Kid. She was born September 3, 1873, and she always said that she knew the difference between a brother and a cousin. She said that Ollie was not her cousin but her brother. Ollie, aka "Brushy Bill" would come to her house in Jacksonville, Texas wearing his boots and cowboy hat, and he would tell everyone that he had a secret, that he was Billy the Kid, but they did not believe him.

It is worthy of note that if Brushy Bill had been born in 1859, he would have been ninety at the time of his death from a massive heart attack in Hico, Texas. Had he been born in 1879, he would have been only seventy-one at the time of his death.[1] In addition, Roberts had allegedly claimed to be a member of Jesse James' gang,[8] before deciding to come out as the "true" Billy the Kid.

In support of his story, Brushy Bill had every scar that Billy the Kid had sported (and more).[9] It should be noted that Billy the Kid had spoken Spanish fluently and could read and write (his letters to Governor Lew Wallace seeking a pardon still survive), but historians still argue over whether Brushy Bill was even literate. When Morrison took Brushy to visit with Severo Gallegos, Brushy spoke with Severo's Mexican neighbor, Josephine Sanchez, in perfect Spanish. Jim Tully signed an affidavit that Brushy could speak Spanish as well as a native. Bob Young, Alton Thorton, W. F. Hafer, Jimmy Ramage, Ablo Norman, Tom Turner, and L. L. Gamble also said Brushy was fluent in Spanish.

On November 29, 1950, at a meeting with then New Mexico governor, Thomas J. Mabry, Brushy Bill was unable to convince the governor that he was Billy the Kid. Brushy, who had apparently suffered a mild stroke, could not even remember Pat Garrett's name. Gov. Mabry did not believe Brushy Bill to be the Kid, and so he did not issue a pardon.[5] Disappointed, Morrison took Brushy to a local doctor, Stan Lloyd, and when he was well enough, he took him home to Hico.

In Hico, Brushy was reexamined by Dr. W. F. Hafer and told to get as much rest as possible. In the meantime, Morrison was to continue working on his case.

On December 27, 1950, when his wife said she needed to mail a package, Brushy said he would walk it down to the post-office. As he walked down the street, Brushy suffered a heart attack. He fell to the ground and died shortly afterwards.


In 1989 the Lincoln County Heritage Trust commissioned a computer study by forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow. Scanned photographs of Billy and Roberts, along with those of 150 other people, were fed into a computer utilising a "similarity index" to match 25 facial "landmarks". This resulted in Roberts' photo ranking 42nd (i.e.: 41 other people more closely resembled the tintype than Roberts). Snow indicated that if the two were the same person, then Roberts should have ranked at least 2nd. It was noted that the accuracy of facial comparisons are dependent on the position of the face in the photographs being the same.[10]

In 1990, a study utilizing photo comparison equipment in the Advanced Graphic Laboratory in the University of Texas was conducted by image-experts Scott Acton and Alan Bovik. The study corrected for the facial positioning and used the same face recognition techniques used by the FBI, CIA and Interpol which are claimed to provide a "significant level of statistical validity". Photographs of Brushy Bill Roberts at age fourteen seemed to resemble the well known Dedrick-Upham tintype of Billy The Kid. A photograph of Brushy Bill at age 90 was a 93% match. Both Acton and Bovik concluded that their result proved "beyond the shadow of a doubt" that Billy the Kid and Brushy Bill were the same person. In 1996 the results of the study were presented to Andre McNiel, chancery judge of the 12th judicial district, and a prominent Arkansas attorney Helen Grinder, who stated that based on the study and other evidence the case for Roberts being Billy The Kid was "strong and substantial".[11]


large stone grave marker with several names on it
Billy the Kid's headstone in Fort Sumner, New Mexico

In 2003 Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan, Capitan, New Mexico Mayor Steve Sederwall, and De Baca County, New Mexico Sheriff Gary Graves began a campaign to exhume the remains of Billy the Kid and his mother, Catherine Antrim, to prove it was in fact Billy the Kid buried in Fort Sumner through DNA. The initiative hit snags from the beginning. First, there is no confirmation as to where the remains are located. Second were the legalities, with both pro-Brushy Bill Roberts and anti-Brushy Bill Roberts experts protesting the exhumation. The exhumation of both sets of remains was blocked in court in September 2004.

Problems with DNA testing
  • The Fort Sumner Cemetery where Billy the Kid was said to have been buried was washed out by the Great Pecos River Flood in 1904. The damage was so great that exposed remains had to be reburied with most being unidentified. Billy's headstone had been washed away and his grave remained unmarked for 28 years. Although a headstone was erected in 1932 it is unknown where the original grave was.
  • The Silver City cemetery where Catherine Antrim was buried was sold in 1882 with the new owner required to relocate the graves outside the city limits. There is no record to indicate whether the bodies were moved or just the headstones. It is possible that other people had been buried in the same grave. It is possible that she had been originally buried in an unmarked grave with the headstone placed by guesswork later.
  • Considering the length of time since burial it is likely any remains have decomposed completely and there is a negligible chance of positively identifying remains if any are found.
  • Roberts claimed Catherine Antrim was not his mother but an aunt related by marriage so a DNA test would be meaningless in any scenario other than Catherine and Billy's remains both being identified, tested and shown to be mother and son.

Hico, Texas[edit]

At the time of his death, Brushy Bill lived on West 2nd Street in Hico. He was buried in the county seat of Hamilton, twenty miles south of Hico. Despite the discrepancies noted above, the Hico Chamber of Commerce has capitalized on his claim by opening the "Billy the Kid Museum" in the historic Western section of Hico.[2][3] In the downtown is a marker devoted to Brushy Bill: "Ollie L. 'Brushy Bill' Roberts, alias Billy the Kid, died in Hico, Texas, December 27, 1950. He spent the last days of his life trying to prove to the world his true identity and obtain the pardon promised him by the governor of the state of New Mexico (Lew Wallace). We believe his story and pray to God for the forgiveness he solemnly asked for [sic]."[12]

Billy the Kid in Hico
Hico, Texas: "Where Everybody Is Somebody" 
Photo-op mockup of Billy the Kid in the Chamber of Commerce, Hico, Texas, April 1, 2010 
Photo of Hico's "hometown newspaper", the Hico News Review (founded 1895) 
Historic district in Hico with Billy the Kid Museum (click image to enlarge) 
See also: Hico gallery, more images of Hico, Texas

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Real Billy the Kid?, page 97
  2. ^ a b Texas Department of Transportation, Texas State Travel Guide, 2008, pp. 200-201
  3. ^ a b L. B. Kesner (24 July 2006). "Hico Travel Guide – Hico Things to Do". Virtual Tourist. Retrieved 2011-01-16. 
  4. ^ Billy the Kid: An Autobiography by Daniel A. Edwards, Creative Texts Publishers
  5. ^ a b Westcoast Sign Guy (31 May 2006). "Brushy Bill Roberts and Billy the Kid — The Complete Facts". 
  6. ^ "The Real Kid". 
  7. ^ The Real Billy the Kid?, page 33
  8. ^ (27 September 2010). "J. Frank Dalton". Outlaws and Gunslingers. – The photograph shows that Roberts knew Dalton, who had also claimed to be an infamous outlaw, Jesse James, who had escaped his historical death. 
  9. ^ The Real Billy the Kid?, page 8
  10. ^ Joe Nickell Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation Kentucky University Press 2005 Pg 89-90 ISBN 0-8131-9124-6
  11. ^ Jameson, W. C. (2005). Billy the Kid: beyond the grave. Pg 103-106: Taylor Trade Publications. ISBN 1-58979-148-7. Retrieved 2013-04-12. 
  12. ^ Roberts historical marker, Hico, Texas

External links[edit]