Billy the Kid, Kansas-style

The June 3, 1881 Sedan, Kansas Times-Star carried this brief item of local interest. Had the snake known what kind of fellow ten-year-old Willie would grow up to be, it might have held back out of professional courtesy. For unless he was stealing the strawberries, this may have been the only newspaper account ever mentioning him without connecting him to some act of deviltry.

A dozen years later Will Chadburn made plenty of headlines as he went on the owlhoot trail for good, seeking to justify his adopted nickname of “Billy the Kid,” After committing a rapid-fire string of crimes around his home town, including several robberies and a stolen horse, he lit out east toward Coffeyville and connected with a pair of Arkansas fugitives. Their train robbery scheme ended in murder and landed all three in the Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing (where the below photo of Chadburn was taken).

His prison stretch (which included one bold but short-lived escape) taught him nothing. Shortly after his release a post office burglary sent him to the federal prison at Leavenworth. And shortly after leaving Leavenworth in 1905 he’d pull another robbery, kill a Santa Fe railroad detective in a shootout, and end up gunned down by a citizens’ posse less than twenty miles from his home town.

My April 2020 Wild West magazine article about Chadburn, “Billy the Kid of Kansas,” can be found online here: (subscription required). From the same issue, “The ‘Most Daring’ Train Robbery at Mound Valley,” about the caper that sent Chadburn to the Kansas pen, can be found here: (no subscription required). A fuller account of Chadburn’s murder of railroad detective Frank Calhoun, and the bloody end of his outlaw career, can be found in Chapter 9 of Some Gave All:

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