Fun with Genealogy: Billy the Kid and the Mormons

Billy BonneySo here’s where I give you all a break from conference discussions to talk genealogy. I figured I’d try and join the trendy “Mormon history” posters and do an interesting story from history many of you might not know. The story of Billie the Kid and the Mormons. And, this being genealogy, how it relates to me. Now I should add this is how the genealogy has been related to me. There is a lot that still seems muddled though.

Our story starts with Helsina Bohne who was living in Denmark. She had been sent to the Royal Household in 1845 and became the mistress of the King shortly there after. According to the stories she bore a son who bore too close a resemblance to the King. So the King paid her off with a bit of money to immigrate to the United States. This included either a broach or a watch to remember the King. She gives birth in 1846 to Henry Magnus (Henrich Morten Bohna on the ship’s manifest I have a copy of) And sometime prior to their leaving (I’m not sure on this part) she joins the Church. Reportedly she uses the money she got from the King to bring several other Mormon converts to New York with her.

In New York she becomes destitute after a few years and shacks up with an Irish immigrant, Michael McCarty. (It’s not clear they were married formally – although they may have considered themselves married)

Now the illegitimate son of the King is my grandfather’s grandfather. She has two sons with McCarty. One is William Henry Bohne otherwise known as Billy the Kid. The other is Joseph Smith McCarty. William goes by Bohne rather than McCarty because McCarty is quite the . . . well add your own expletive. One story has him wanting to pay Tithing and breaking Helsina’s arm trying to get the broach or watch that the king had given her to pay for it.

Now my relative, Henry, leaves McCarty in New York to fend for himself. Probably because of McCarty’s nature. He then joins the Church in New York and migrates to Salt Lake City. He continues to keep in touch with his mother Helsina as she moves to Indianapolis and the New Mexico. In Utah he marries and has seventeen children. (Yeah – seventeen although several are twins and six die as infants) The second oldest is Joseph Bohne who plays a part in the Billy the Kid story.

Meanwhile back in New York McCarty is becoming more and more violent. One incident in 1872 leads Wlliam to stab his father. While McCarty is recuperating from the stabbing Helsina and her two sons flee to Indiana. Initially they use her maiden name but when they hear of McCarty’s unrelated death go back to using McCarty. (Which sounds weird to me, given his nature) Helsina also starts using her middle name, Katherine and the Americanizes it to Catherine. This is the name you usually read in the Billy the Kid biographies.

In Indianapolis she moves in will William Antrim and starts a very successful laundry business. However she discovers she has tuberculosis and, keeping with the theories of the time, moves to New Mexico to get better. In Sante Fe she and Antrim get married (in 1973) but dies only a year later.

There in New Mexico Billy ends up on the wrong side of the law, fights in the Lincoln County War, and eventually is shot down due to his actions in that war.

That part of the story is well known. (Come on, we all saw Young Guns) But the part my cousin dug up continues the story and the LDS connection.

As I mentioned my relative moved to Utah and was living in Mount Pleasant. He learns of his brother’s death at the hand of Pat Garrent the sheriff of Lincoln County. While he recognizes Billy is partially to blame for his circumstances he also thinks that the authorities were not fair to him. The Bohnes in Utah become more and more upset that Billy is being vilified by the press and by Garrett. (Garrett is using Billy’s shooting for his political ambitions)

Three of Henry’s sons are lawmen in Utah. Joe, the second son, is a particularly tough man. In 1891 while Sheriff at the age of 24 was tried for the murder or a prisoner in his custody. (He was found not guilty and continued as Sheriff) Well the family has become extremely incensed at how Billy is being talked about. So Joe decides to take care of the problem.

It’s thought by some in my family that Joe is the one who killed Pat Garrett. Pat Garrett, it is known, was found shot in the head while relieving himself on a stage line going to Los Cruces in July, 1908. The man who was thought to have killed him was charged with murder but posted bail disappearing until his trial in April 19, 1909.

The reason family think it was Joe is that in 1907 Joe disappears from Utah for nearly a year. He then returns in 1908, disappearing again in 1909 for one month in April. The same time as the trial for the killer of Pat Garrett. It appears that he adopted the alias of Jessie Wayne Brazel going undercover as a forgettable cowhand in northeastern New Mexico. He took the same stage as Garrett when he found out Garrett was going to Los Cruces to investigate a murder. His defense was that it was self defense which was enough to convince the locals, for whatever reason.

Whenever family members were asked about Billy the Kid they always answers, “we don’t talk about that.”

Joe continued his career in law and eventually retired in 1920 to Idaho Falls. In 1927 his visited some family members who had immigrated to the Cardston, Alberta area in the 1890s. (My relatives) My grandfather was the son of his youngest sister. He has a pretty good story about this visit.

Uncle Joe drove up from Idaho in his big Packard touring car. He stopped to see the family in Aetna and then came to Waterton where mother and dad had moved that summer for dad to work on the Prince of Wales Hotel. He stayed with us for several days and the thing I remember most is that he had two Colt .45 semi-automatic pistols strapped to the steering column of his car. He said that there were people who wanted to kill him and he wasn’t going to make it easy for them. He spent lots of time with his niece and nephews, telling them stories about the old west.

He took time to look up Charlie and said he had known him in Arizona when Charlie was running his father’s horse ranch.

Uncle Joe returned to Idaho and lived into his eighties, so I guess it paid him to have those .45’s. We did hear that he had a few shoot-outs after he went home.”

(Charlie is Charlie Wise, a gunfighter and friend of the family who used to trap with my grandfather. We have a slew of interesting stories about him as well)

An other interesting connection to Mormons in the story of Billy the Kid is that Billy is also related to to Orson and Parley P. Pratt. They are first cousins once removed. (I’ll not bore you with the actual genealogy)

Anyway, I only heard parts of this story recently. My cousin, Karin Goble, has up an interesting website on all this from which I’ve borrowed liberally.

19 thoughts on “Fun with Genealogy: Billy the Kid and the Mormons

  1. Clark, I bet all of us have horse thieves and kings in our genealogy somewhere. But you have actually looked into it. Great story.

  2. Wow! What a story!

    My grandmother used to claim that she was related to Confederate General Robert E. Lee and John D. Lee (Lee’s Ferry, Mountain Meadows massacre), but my mom has been unable to find any link.

  3. Oh, go ahead and give us the genealogical connection to the Pratts. One of my rules of thumb for initial evaluation of unfamiliar family history is to see how well genealogical claims are pinned down.

    Henry Bohne is the grandfather of some of my Piute County people, so I’m interested on a couple of levels.

  4. It’s kind of funny as the genealogy is pretty messed up. For instance none of the LDS family sealed Helsina to her last husband William Antrim. I can understand not sealing her to McCarty. She was sealed posthumously (presumably by the Bohnes in Mt. Pleasand) to her original husband. That was in 1894.

    I didn’t mention the original husband in the above because, once again, the stories are a bit messed up. If she was 15 when she became the mistress of the King then something is odd since she already had a son (Jens Carl). So I think my cousin’s dating might be a tad off. But she was 38 when she came to America and already had Joseph Smith Bohne as a son. (He was 2 when she came to New York) So I think what happened is the king got rid of her by marrying her to one of his guards in the royal household. That or she was already married when the king took her as a mistress. Her original husband’s name was Magnus Carl Frederick Bohne. He dies in a sailing accident when on duty with the Navy in the Balkin Sea. I think it was his death that prompts her trip to New York and not the King. (Despite the family story)

    So presumably after she leaves the King she joins the Church.

    I suspect her shacking up with various men – even abusive men – is primarily out of desperation. As to why she didn’t go to Utah I just don’t know. I also am a bit dubious about the baptismal information on her son Henrich. If he was 11 when they came to America then one would have thought he’d already been baptized. Unfortunately as I said the genealogical and temple work is a mess. (Someone baptized Helsina in 1921 when obviously she was baptized while alive and she had her endowment done in 1859 in the endowment house)

    So there’s still a lot of mystery to the story. I may try and clean up that genealogy as it really is a mess despite there being so many members related to these folks.

  5. Regarding the Pratts. The Wiki for Billy the Kid says that. Now that I check out the Wiki’s claims in more depth I’m pretty sure they are wrong. Part of the problem is that Hendrick Bohne was the first to switch over from patronymics. (It was around this time that most of the Scandanavian countries were switching to using last names) So his father was Heinrich Mortensen. I just don’t see the Pratts in the lines I see. Maybe via the McMarty’s? I don’t know.

    Part of the problem is that the Church for years just let everyone submit their genealogy nilly willy and let anyone do temple work based on this. This means that often you get lots of folks who weren’t careful about genealogy submitting bad information. (The commonest error is confusing birth dates and christening dates – but there are lots of other errors, such as work being done for Helsina she didn’t need)

  6. I suspect that the genealogical claim is only the tip of a mountain of suspect details in the story, Clark. Parley and Orson Pratt’s genealogy is anchored on the American continent since colonial days, making it a little hard for there to be shared ancestry with a Danish immigrant of the mid-19th century.

    Tell you what, though — your cousin, as imaginative as he or she is, gets props for not proposing this picture of Billy the Kid as a heretofore unknown Joseph Smith image.

  7. A lot of it I can verify. For instance I have the ship manifest here for Helsina Bohne. (That’s what led me to decide to post the above) And the claims about the Bohne’s in Utah are established. They also appear to have done the work for Helsina and so forth.

    Whether Joe killed Pat Garret is more debatable but the evidence sure fits.

    As I said, the Orson Pratt bit I’d never heard before until I saw the wiki. I spent about a half hour at the Church’s genealogical site and I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. Although the claim was a common grandfather as I recall.

  8. OK, some things I think I’ve falsified. I might do a followup post later this week after a visit to SLC and the archives there.

  9. OK, I did some more checking and I’m pretty sure my cousin’s genealogy is bogus. Mea culpa. Family was down and I thought it was a cool bit of genealogy I didn’t know. It is a family tradition but my person feeling is that there’s not much truth to it.

    Good call Ardis.

  10. Oops. C’est la vie.

    On the bright side this got me into the Church’s genealogical programs to try and check out the details of my cousin’s claims.

  11. Question: “He dies in a sailing accident when on duty with the Navy in the Balkin Sea.”

    Hmmm…Danish Navy…are you sure he didn’t die on the Baltic Sea? …which makes sense if we’re talking about the Danish Navy.

    Can’t find the Balkin Sea on a map.

    BTW, my great-grandfather, Captain Ole Christian Hansen, was a graduate of the Kristiania Navigasjons Skole (Kristiania, now Oslo, School of Navigation). He was a harbot pilot and navigator for the Port of San Francisco after he emigrated to the US in 1890.

  12. In the late 1980’s Richard Bohne of Raymond, Alberta was one of the deadliest shooters I have ever seen….he was money from the three point line. Never connected him with Billy the Kid, but must be a relative of some sort….very interesting.

  13. Talon, doing more research I’ve become pretty skeptical that her story of Billy the Kid and the Bohnes is correct. The history of Billy the Kid’s mom just doesn’t line up with what I can see in the history of Helsina. Unfortunately no one has much beyond the geneology. So just because some of the names and dates line up I’m not convinced there’s fact to it.

    It is true this is a family tradition going back to at least the early 20th century if not earlier. But I’m a bit dubious at this stage.

  14. This woman is my 4th great Grandmother and there is a lot of incorrect info. in your post. Hendrick was actually the eldest of 6 children all of which were born before leaving Denmark on the Westmorland in 1857. She never went around with a bunch of men after arriving here in the US. She remarried within a short time to Svend Larsen, and they went on to have two more children. The entire family was in Utah within a few years of arriving in the United States(before Feb. 1861).

  15. Congratulations Gwen, after reading your comments and all the others on this page, you come the closest to be accurate according to what I have been told all my life. Helsene went to Utah in the 7th Handcart Company of the LDS Church.(After arriving on the Westmorland) Helsene is my ??? great grand parent (my mother-Shirley Bohne, her Father-Abner Bohne, His father-Henry Magnus Bohne, his Father-Carl Frederick Magnus Bohne, husband to Helsene Hjetting. I keep looking for stories about Helsene and all I’ve been able to find is her and her children listed in the above mentioned Handcart Company, and Abner Bohne mentioned in his life story that his Father Henry Magnus walked almost all the way across to Utah. I have also heard about a possible connection to Billy the Kid, but positive proof has never been found.

  16. My Grandmother is a Bohne now spelled Bonney or Bonny she told me that her Grandfather Joseph Smith Bohne might have changed his name from Bohne to Bonny to avoid association with William Henry Bohne (Billy The Kid) who was his brother Henrick(Henry) Martin Bohne’s son. Henry Martin Bohne is buried in Alberta, Canada.
    Gramma clearly stated that Billy the Kid was her Great Uncle. Keep in mind this was over 45 years ago before all the Movies etc. She had a picture supposedly of Billy and Joe, it did not look anything like the most commonly used pictures of Billy the kid, it does look similar if you could remove the warping that makes Billy look so bad and it did look like the Bohne family. I have tried to fit Billy in the family and can’t fit him in, if he was born out of wedlock that fact would be hidden as far as possible.

    The biggest error’s I find in your theory is that Helseina Hjetting Bohne is Buried in Mt. Pleasant, Utah in 1890 along side her second husband Svend Larsen. Some of my family still live in Mt. Pleasant to this day and I have personnally seen the grave. After losing her first husband Magnus Carl Fredrick Bohne who was buried at sea Baltic Sea Russia in 1855 and having 5 children born 1845, 1848, 1849, 1851 and 1855 in Denmark. Helsiena emmigrated to Utah with the Mormons and married Svend Larsen and had 2 more children in 1858 and 1862.

    Billy was born in 1859, His brother Joseph Smith McCarty was born 1863 in Indiana per his voter registration of 1916 and the 1885 Colorado Census. He never married and died friendless, his body was donated to a Colorado Medical School. He was most likely a half brother to Billy.

    Now as far as Billy’s Mother Catherine McCarty Antrim born in Ireland abt 1829 who was buried in New Mexico in 1874 she was from Ireland. She traveled to New York aboard the Ship DEVINSHIRE You should be able to find her in census records with William Henry Harrison Antrim in Indiana around 1866. Moved to Wichita, Kansas around 1869. Their marriage Took Place about 1873 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Catherine’s obituary was in the newspaper THE SILVER CITY MINING LIFE Sept 1874.

    Billy’s Headstone is in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Some folks wanted to exhume Billy and Catherine for DNA they took it to court and lost. Fort Sumner exists mainly to the Tourist trade and do not want to open the grave.(due to lose of tourist money). I traveled to Fort Sumner and viewed Billy’s headstone, (the headstone is a large stone that is relatively new). I met an elderly gentlemen that told me there was a flood many years ago that wiped out the Cemetery to the point that caskets were floating on the water, the town gathered up headstones and caskets to relocate them, so if Billy ever was buried there that his bones were likely missing or even some other bones were placed in that grave.
    Most of the headstones and caskets including Billy’s were simple wooden ones that wewe lost in the flood.

    So good luck in searching for a Bohne family Billy connection, If you ever get any clues please let me know I have only found a dead end. I truly believe what my Gramma Bonney told me and I would love to solve the Mystery. Try looking in the male lineage of Bohne’s. Helsiena named one of her sons Joeseph Smith Bohne who married Elizabeth Wing, and her father is Joseph Smith Wing. My point is this: The Mormons named many sons Joseph Smith ____, after the prophet, So why did Catherine name a son Joseph Smith McCarty? Where is the Mormon connection or is it just a coincidence? Humm!!! [email protected]

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