William H. Bonney (born William Henry McCarty, Jr. c. November 23, 1859 – c. July 14, 1881)
Just about anything and everything about Billy the Kid seems to be bizarre, surrounded by questions, lost in lies, or mired in myth.
Then there’s this:
Left-handed or right-handed?
It is very common – and confusing – to find the famous photo of Billy the Kid reversed – with the rifle on the left side – or the right. Which has caused many people to believe the ‘The Kid’ was left-handed.
But the confusion is justified:
“It was widely assumed throughout much of the 20th century that Billy the Kid was left-handed. This perception was encouraged by the above mentioned photograph of McCarty (Billy the Kid’s real name is not William H. Bonney) , in which he appears to be wearing a gun belt with a holster on his left side, but further examination revealed that as all Winchester Model 1873 rifles were made with the loading gate on the right side of the receiver, the “left-handed” photograph is in fact a mirror image. Indeed, the notion of a left-handed Billy became so entrenched that, in 1958, a film biography of “the Kid” (starring Paul Newman) was titled The Left Handed Gun.
In 1954, western historians James D. Horan and Paul Sann announced the disclosure that McCarty (The Kid) was “right-handed and carried his pistol on his right hip”. More recently, in response to a story from The Guardian that used an uncorrected McCarty ferrotype, Clyde Jeavons, a former curator of the National Film and Television Archive, cited their work and added:
You can see by the waistcoat buttons and the belt buckle. This is a common error which has continued to reinforce the myth that Billy the Kid was left-handed. He was not. He was right-handed and carried his gun on his right hip. This particular reproduction error has occurred so often in books and other publications over the years that it has led to the myth that Billy the Kid was left-handed, for which there is no evidence. On the contrary, the evidence (from viewing his photo correctly) is that he was right-handed: he wears his pistol on his right hip with the butt pointing backwards in a conventional right-handed draw position.
A second look at the ferrotype confirms what Jeavons wrote. The prong on the belt buckle points the wrong way, and the buttons on the Kid’s vest are on the left side, the side reserved for ladies’ blouses. The convention for men’s wear is that buttons go down the right side.
Wallis wrote in 2007 that McCarty was ambidextrous. This observation seems to be supported by contemporaneous newspaper accounts reporting that Billy the Kid could shoot handguns “with his left hand as accurately as he does with his right” and that “his aim with a revolver in each hand, shooting simultaneously, is unerring.”
Thus – typically for ‘the Kid’ – both photos are legitimate.
The amount of strange myths, legends and disinformation surrounding Billy the Kid would fill several books. And 23 movies.
And it has.