In the early 1960s, in San Leandro, CA, my father met a very old man. The man was his neighbor and so old that he no longer left his home. However, my father enjoyed visiting him. The old man had all kinds of stories that he would share with my father. One particularly memorable story that the old man had was the one of how he lost a ring finger. He lost it in a gunfight with Billy the Kid.
Sixteen and On the Road
The old man, at the time of this story, was sixteen. I will refer to him as “Sixteen”, because my father cannot remember his name. It was the 1800s and Sixteen was riding through the Southwest on a horse. He had a couple of companions with him, but they were in no way his chaperones. I questioned my father about this. Why was this teenager roaming the Southwest without parents or any kind of guardian? My father pointed out that people grew up quicker back then, and it wasn’t so unusual for a teenager to leave home on his horse to travel and find work.
Chasing Cattle Rustlers
Sixteen and his companions were riding through a canyon when they came upon a gunfight. A posse of men were chasing a gang of cattle rustlers that they had caught rustling cattle. Bullets were flying as both sides shot at each other. Sixteen and his companions joined the posse (the good guys), and they all chased after the rustlers together. Though young, Sixteen carried a pistol of his own, and he started shooting at one of the rustlers. He missed his target. The rustler returned fire, and he shot Sixteen’s ring finger off. The rustlers were chased through a “draw” (what my father tells me is a narrow passageway), and they were eventually herded into a cave.
To Pursue or Disperse?
After the rustlers were chased into the cave, a man asked Sixteen if he knew who it was that shot his finger off. Sixteen told him no. The man told him it was Billy the Kid. Sixteen was in awe that he had just gotten into a gunfight with such a notorious outlaw, and I’m sure this took away some of his regret over losing a finger.
Billy the Kid was stuck in the cave with his gang, and the vigilantes waited for them to come out. Apparently, they weren’t willing to wait forever, so they all ended up leaving. Billy the Kid and his gang wouldn’t leave the cave, and the vigilantes didn’t want to be stuck in there with them. So rather than purse the outlaws, Sixteen continued on his travels and lived a very long life. By the time he relayed this story to my father, he had to be nearly a hundred years old.