Sunday, November 20, 2011
Billy Claiborne: Another Wild West Bad Boy
He was born William F. Claiborne on October 21, 1860 and was present at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral for which he survived. He was referred to as an outlaw, gunfighter, and murderer. After the death of William “Billy the Kid” Bonney, he insisted everyone call him “Billy the Kid”. Stories were told that whoever would not comply were shot dead. Billy had other titles which were more honorable such as miner, cattleman, and rancher. What lead Billy to end up at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone and how did he survive?
Billy was born in Yazoo County, Mississippi and when he was just a teen he worked for John Slaughter driving cattle from Texas to Arizona near Tombstone. There were stories told that Billy once saved John’s life from a charging bull. John praised the boy calling him a “top hand”.
By 1881, things turned bad for the 21 year old. He was arrested for killing John Hickey in Charleston. He became friends with Johnny Ringo who was rumored to have hired a pricey lawyer for Billy’s defense. He was acquitted of murder and totally dedicated to Ringo from then on. Billy was known to have exchanged words with the Earps and Doc Holliday. He was with Ike Clanton on the day of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Some stories say that he was not armed when all the shooting went down and others say he took a couple shots at Virgil Earp. During the battle, he either ran or was pulled into the C.S. Fly’s Photography Studio, and was not wounded. Afterwards, he was called to testify in the trial that followed.
Billy kept a low profile until the Earps left in April of 1882. He was looked at as a coward and condemned for not helping his friends during the gunfight. His friend Johnny Ringo was shot and killed on July 13, 1882 which caused him to spiral downward even more. His drinking became a huge problem getting him into many brawls. Billy picked a fight with “Buckskin” Frank Leslie because it was rumored he wouldn’t call him “Billy the Kid”. He wasn’t worth Leslie’s time and ignored the drunken kid. Pissed off, Billy returned to the Oriental Saloon later that evening, armed and drunk, and yelling for Leslie to come out. They met out in the dusty streets where Leslie got off a single shot to Billy’s chest knocking him down. On November 14, 1882, friends took him to a doctor where he died six hours later. Some reports are that just before he died he uttered these words, “Frank Leslie killed Johnny Ringo, I saw him do it”.