Tuberculosis: The Root of Infamy for One Outlaw

Billy the Kid’s tombstone in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Tuberculosis became the leading cause of death in this country from the 1880s until the advent of penicillin in the 1940s. The dreaded disease brought many artists and others to convalesce in the high mountain desert of Santa Fe. People suffering from tuberculosis came to New Mexico for its pristine air and dry climate. In fact, the state of New Mexico promoted its sixty sanitariums in magazines throughout the country. Santa Fe’s Sunmount Sanitarium is currently located on the grounds of the Carmelite Monastery. The well-known artists Will Shuster and Carlos Vierra came to Sunmount to convalesce.

TB & Billy the Kid

Rev. McFarland performed a marriage ceremony for Catherine McCarty and William Antrim on March 1, 1873, in the sanctuary of the church. It was a second marriage for Catherine, who had been widowed nine years earlier. Her two sons, Henry and Joe, stood witness at the ceremony. After her first husband died in New York City, she had taken the boys west, where she met William Antrim. Catherine had severe, advanced tuberculosis and she knew that her new husband loved the boys and would care for them if anything happened to her.

Silver City Meet Billy the Kid

After the wedding they moved to the drier climate of Silver City. She prayed that her sons would lead a Christian life. She died a year later, when Henry was 15. He was close to his mother, and her death led him to a life of petty theft and pranks around town. After stealing clothes from a Chinese laundry, he was incarcerated but escaped through the jailhouse chimney. That was the beginning of his life as a criminal in New Mexico and Arizona, where he became known as Billy the Kid.

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