In real life: That's half true. Yes, it was over money and power, but no, Murphy wasn't the antagonist; he was dying in Santa Fe from cancer during the feud. Murphy’s powerful cronies, the “Santa Fe Ring,” Sheriff Brady, Murphy’s iron fisted apprentice James Dolan, and hired gunmen harassed, threaten and then killed John Tunstall. Ironically, Dolan has such a small part in the film, the actor’s name on the ending credits had more screen time than he did.
In the movie: Tunstall saves Billy the Kid from Murphy’s men and offers him a job on his ranch.
In real life: Billy the Kid was a member of Dolan’s ally gang called “The Boys.” After being arrested for stealing Tunstall’s horses, he was given an ultimatum by Tunstall. The Kid joined Tunstall’s side and was hired as a gunman, but most of all, a key witness against the gang of rustlers who were stealing his stock.
In the movie: Tunstall puts the Kid to work on his ranch as a “hog boy.”
In real life: The Kid was hired on as a ranch worker, bodyguard and witness. I don’t think Tunstall even owned a hog.
In the movie: Jose Chavez y Chavez and “Dirty” Steve Stephens didn’t like each other.
In real life: There is no record or evidence of Chavez and “Dirty” Steve bickering with each other.
In the movie: Chavez is half Navajo and half Mexican.
In real life: There is nothing mention in history of Chavez being “half” Navajo, which means there is a good chance he wasn’t and that he was all Hispanic. While we're on the subject, he was born in 1851 (which doesn’t make him “under 21” when he was a Regulator) and despite his easy-going personality in the Young Guns movies, Chavez was a very rough and dangerous man. After narrowing missing a date with a hangman for murder, he was sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled after serving only 11 years.
In the movie: Billy the Kid wore his six shooters in a “cross” fashion (grips forward).
In real life: As seen in his authentic photograph, the Kid wore his gun with the grips pointing towards the back.
In the movie: Tunstall’s cowboys called themselves the “Regulators.”
In real life: It wasn't until after Tunstall was murdered, that they became the “Regulators.”
In the movie: There are six members of the Regulators.
In real life: The Regulators did consist of Dick Brewer, Billy the Kid, Doc Scurlock, Charlie Bowdre, Jose Chavez y Chavez and Dirty Steve, but there were about a dozen more formal members and many supporting Mexicans, whom are not even mentioned in the movie.
In the movie: John Tunstall is a kind middle age man and a father figure to his ranch hands who he affectingly calls his “boys.” Not only does he provide them with an honest job, but civilizes and educates them.
In real life: Let’s put it this way, John Tunstall was 24 years old when he was killed. As for being a father figure and giving lessons to his ranch hands, he did not. There were more important things going on like fighting for their lives and protecting the ranch then to be worried about holding one’s pinky up when drinking tea and pronouncing words properly. But the sophisticated Englishman did earn the respect of his employees and neighboring supporters.
In the movie: Billy the Kid meets Pat Garrett at the New Year's Eve party. He is in awe of the famous gunfighter and vows to be "bigger" than he is.
In real life: Billy the Kid met Pat Garrett after the Lincoln County War in Fort Sumner. Garrett was nothing more than a former buffalo hunter turn cowhand and bartender, and nothing to be impressed about. Billy the Kid was already making a reputation for himself by the time he met Garrett, so if anyone was in awe of another it would've been Garrett on Billy the Kid. Garrett wouldn't make a name for himself until after he shot and killed Billy the Kid and even then it wasn't in a good light. You know what they say about Pat Garrett.....he killed men like he killed buffalos, but at least he didn't ambush the animals in the dark.
In the movie: Early morning on News Year Day, John Tunstall and the Regulators ride back to the ranch after partying all night. Tunstall is riding in a buckboard and his men on horseback. After seeing a pheasant, the boys lope after it while Tunstall waits. Then Murphy’s henchmen sneak up from behind and they all open fire on him. After shooting Tunstall, his assassins chase after the Regulators who run for their lives.
In real life: There's a lot wrong with this scene, so read the following closely: First Tunstall was not killed on January 1, 1878 early morning, but February 18, 1878 late afternoon. Secondly, he and his men were not returning to the ranch from Lincoln after a night of partying, but leaving the ranch heading to Lincoln. Thirdly, Tunstall was not riding in a buckboard but riding a horse. Speaking of horses, they were herding about nine of them. The reason being, Tunstall didn’t want the horses taken by Brady’s posse who were confiscating his cattle for McSween’s debts. As for the pheasant chase, it was a flock of wild turkeys and only Dick Brewer and John Widenmann (who isn’t even portrayed in Young Guns) go after the turkeys while Tunstall stayed with the horses. The Kid and John Middleton (who also wasn’t portrayed in the movie) were bring up the rear when they saw the posse approaching and they then rushed forward to warn the others. In the confusion the Regulators left Tunstall behind who didn’t ride off with them (go figure?). When Tunstall saw the posse approaching him, he slowly rode towards them to talk. That's when Bill Morton and Tom (not Henry) Hill shot him. The entire posse did not open fire and they also did not chase after the Regulators.
In the movie: Dick Brewer and Billy the Kid did not get along and were competing for leadership over the Regulators.
In real life: Dick Brewer was the undisputed leader of the Regulators and the Kid didn’t object, nor did the other Regulators, all of them respected him and it's said the war may have turned out differently for the Regulators if he had survived. The Kid had no interest in becoming leader, if anything he kept his opinions to himself and was a follower. After Brewer’s death, leadership bounced from one older Regulator member to the next. It wasn’t until the burning of McSween’s house when the men turned to Billy the Kid for leadership.
In the movie: The Regulators have a shootout with Henry Hill -a gunfight humorously instigated by Billy the Kid.
In real life: This shootout never happened and Henry Hill's real name was Tom Hill. The real story of Hill's death is less exciting then depicted in the movie. While he and fellow outlaw Jessie Evans were trying to rob a sheep camp, Hill was shot and killed and Evans was wounded and later arrested.
In the movie: After Dick Brewer sent the lamb to slaughter and he came out a king sheep, the Regulators read about their gunfight with Hill in the newspaper where the Kid gets all the recognition. It is then that Chavez christens William H. Bonney with the name “El Chivato...Billy the Kid.”
In real life: He was known as William H. Bonney and also as Kid Antrim during the Lincoln County War of 1878, but he would not be known as “Billy the Kid” (thanks to the newspapers writers -not Chavez) until shortly before his capture by Pat Garrett in December of 1880.
In the movie: While attempting to arrest Bill Morton and Frank Baker, Billy the Kid shoots and kills fellow Regulator, William McCloskey, for being a spy and then the Regulators gun down Morton and Baker when they tried to escape.
In real life: There's two sides of the story of how McCloskey, Morton, and Baker were killed. The Regulators said that while riding back to Lincoln, Baker snatched McCloskey's gun and shot him and then the two prisoners fled. This doesn't sound likely, because the prisoners knew that McCloskey was sympathetic to them and was probably playing both ends of the table. While trying to escape the Regulators easily gunned Morton and Baker down. But a more plausible story goes that after capturing Morton and Baker, and taking them back to Lincoln, the Regulators were discussing it amongst themselves that as soon as they turn the prisoners over to Sheriff Brady that he would release them. So they decided to be judge and jury and execute the prisoners. McCloskey objected, so a Regulator named Frank McNab shot him, and then the Regulators shot and killed Morton and Baker. Don't feel too bad for them, both Morton and Baker were ruthless outlaws that rode with the "Boys." Not only was Morton one of those that shot Tunstall, but the Kid had a personal bone to pick with Morton that dated back to when he rode with the "Boys" himself. Morton had treated the Kid meanly, which explains why the Kid was eager to kill Morton and Baker on the spot when the Regulators first captured them. One thing about Billy the Kid, he never forgets an unkindness.
In the movie: After taking refuge in an outhouse, Buckshot Roberts shoots Dick Brewer three times in the chest. Then the Regulators riddle the outhouse with bullets killing Roberts.
In real life: I'll begin with pointing out the gunfight between the Regulators and Buckshot Roberts happened after Sheriff Brady was killed not before. The gunfight started when Roberts and Charlie Bowdre fired at one another at the same time. Roberts’ bullet ricochet off of Bowdre’s belt buckle and hit another Regulator severing his finger (no, it wasn't Doc). As for Roberts, he wasn't so lucky, he was shot in the gut and mortally wounded. Roberts then ducked into an adobe building for a standoff. Roberts wounded another Regulator in the chest (no, it wasn't Chavez) and grazed the Kid’s arm. Dick Brewer snuck around back and peeked over a pile of logs when Roberts shot him between the eyes killing him instantly. Although, badly wounded and in considerable pain, Roberts gave his enemies a run for their money. Even the Kid would later admit to a friend: “Yes sir, he licked our crowd to the finish.” The Regulators left Roberts to die and sought medical attention for their wounded men.
In the movie: It shows Billy the Kid skipping merrily down the street behind Sheriff Brady and his deputies, he then tosses his hat over their heads, and draws out the sheriff’s own guns from his hostler and shoots him. After the Kid and the Regulators gun down the deputies in a gunfight, the Kid walks up to the wounded sheriff and shot him in the head.
In real life: As funny and amusing as it was in the movie, the Kid did not skip merrily down the street behind the lawmen and he didn’t take the sheriff’s own guns. The Kid was one of six Regulators hiding behind an adobe wall at Tunstall's store, waiting to ambush the lawmen. When seeing the sheriff and his deputies walking by, they all opened fire and shot the sheriff and a deputy (George Hindman) while the other lawmen escaped. The Kid and a Regulator named Jim French (who was portrayed as Henry William French in Young Guns II) jumped over the wall to retrieve the Kid’s rifle that the sheriff had taken from him weeks earlier and/or an arrest warrant for Alex McSween, when one of the hiding deputies shot the Kid. The bullet only clipped him in the thigh but buried itself in French’s buttocks. The two limbed away and the Regulators left town. Note: Dick Brewer was still alive when this killing took place, but he was neither present or approved it.
In the movie: While at cantina, Billy the Kid shoots a bragging Texan name Joe Grant. The Kid innocently asked to see Grant's gun and while admiring it he empties the revolver and passes it back.
In real life: There are three things wrong with this scene: First, the shooting happened 18 months after the siege at McSween’s house, not shortly before. Secondly, the Kid did not empty Grant’s gun, but spun the cylinder so the hammer would hit an already used and empty shell. Thirdly, he didn’t whistle a “sad ballad” to give himself away, instead the Kid turned to leave when Grant tried to shoot him in the back. When the Kid heard his gun click, he whirled around and shot Grant.
In the movie: Doc Scurlock was single and had the hots for Murphy’s China girl.
In real life: Doc Scurlock was already married to Antonia Herrera. There was also no China girl or any woman working as Murphy's "house entertainment."
In the movie: Doc Scurlock takes down dictations from Billy the Kid for a surrender letter to Governor Axtell. At the end of the letter he changes his mind and tells the governor to kiss his....well, you know.
In real life: Billy the Kid did write a formal letter (himself, he didn't need anyone to write it for him) to offer his surrender to Governor Lew Wallace, who replaced Axtell as governor. But were ahead of our time here, the deal between the Kid and Wallace would be mentioned in Young Guns II, but falls out of place in this film.
In the movie: The Regulators are trapped in Alex McSween’s house for barely two days, when the soldiers come to flush them out. The house is set on fire and the Kid is thrown out the second store window in a trunk and comes out shooting as the others make a run for it. Meanwhile, after sneaking out earlier, Chavez comes galloping into the firing zone with horses for the escaping Regulators.
In real life: It was dramatic and exciting, but it didn’t happen that way. First, the house was one story. Secondly, there were a large number of Regulators (about 15, not five) and 30-40 Mexican supporters. They were all split up in varies locations, some in McSween’s house, a few in Tunstall’s store and the rest spread throughout the town. Thirdly, the battle did not last less then two days, but five days. Fourth, the Kid and the Regulators who were trapped in the burning house, waited until nightfall to make their break. The Kid wasn't tossed out a window in a trunk, but he and the others rushed through the back door to the Bonita River behind the house. Lastly, Charlie Bowdre and Dirty Steve were not killed (they weren’t even in the house) and Chavez did not sneak out of the house earlier to fletch horses.
In the movie: During the siege at McSween’s house, the Kid shoots Charlie Crawford right between the eyes to antagonize the lawmen and later during the Regulators' escape, the Fort Stanton soldiers kill Alex McSween with a Gatling gun.
In real life: Charlie Crawford was shot on the outskirts of town by Doc Scurlock’s father-in-law. As for Alex McSween, he was killed by one of Dolan’s gunman, not by the soldiers and definitely not by a Gatling gun.
In the movie: Billy the Kid kills Murphy.
In real life: Billy the Kid did not kill Murphy. Like I mentioned above, Murphy was dying of cancer in Santa Fe during the war.
In the movie: In the end, the Regulators ride off into the sunset going their separate ways. The Kid goes to Fort Sumner, Scurlock goes to New York City with his China girl, and Chavez goes to California.
In real life: The Regulators did split up and many went into hiding. The Kid and a handful of men went to Fort Sumner and then laid low in Tascosa, Texas, but would be back. Doc Scurlock did not go to New York to become a teacher, but Texas where he lived out his life and died on July 25, 1929 in Eastland, Texas. Chavez did not pick fruit in California, but remained in New Mexico; he died on July 17, 1923 in Milagro, New Mexico.
In the movie: Someone snuck in the Fort Sumner graveyard at night and carved the word "Pals" on Billy the Kid's headstone.
In real life: A dramatic touch to the ending of the movie, but not quite.
Billy the Kid's grave and original marker (what was left of it) was washed
away in the Pecos flood in 1904. Finally in 1932 the Kid's surviving friends
pitched in and bought a new headstone that had the names of Billy the Kid
a.k.a William H. Bonney, Charlie Bowdre, Tom O'Folliard, and the word
"Pals." Since the Kid's bones were washed away in the flood and the exact
location of his grave is questionable, the "Pals" headstone stands today
mostly to give tourist something to look at.