The confusing story of the man with three names

June 14, 1918

On this day, David Anderson, a.k.a. Billy Wilson, a.k.a. Buffalo Billy was killed by a drunken cowboy.  That he died is one of the few facts certain about the man with three names.

The shooting may have been a week earlier, according to his hometown newspaper.  He was about 56, or maybe 10 years older.  A former outlaw, he had at least reformed to the satisfaction of one of the West’s legendary lawmen.

 Billy Wilson, a.k.a. Billy Buffalo, (right)  did in fact ride with Billy the Kid and his gang, rustling cattle from local ranchers and stealing horses from the Mescalero Apache Reservation. 

 It’s also true that on November 29, 1880, the Kid and the gang were surprised by an eight-man posse near White Oaks, New Mexico.  The Kid and Wilson, escaped on foot following a shoot-out.

They later met up with outlaw Dave Rudabaugh, (right) the story goes, and planned a revenge killing.  The next day the trio rode in to White Oaks to ambush deputy sheriff James Redman.  The plot was foiled, however, when several dozen White Oaks residents showed up to defend their deputy.  

The three would-be assassins got away but were run down at a ranch 40 miles from town by a determined posse of a dozen citizens.  Once again, however, they managed elude capture.  In the process deputy sheriff Jimmy Carlyle, was killed in the ensuing gun battle.  

Three days before Christmas, however, legendary lawman Pat Garrett (left) had little trouble tracking the rustlers through the fresh snow to a stone hovel at Stinking Springs, near present-day Taiban, New Mexico.  Garrett’s men surrounded the building while  Billy and the boys were caught napping inside.  The entire gang was captured without a single shot fired.

Believed to be Billy the Kid’s house at Stinking Springs

Busted, convicted of robbery and counterfeiting and sentenced to seven years in prison, Billy Wilson maybe served four years before escaping.   Or maybe he escaped earlier and never served a day.   Either way, he headed for Texas, a wanted man.  

That’s where the life of Billy Wilson, alias Billy Buffalo ended.  He became David L. Anderson, law-abiding business man, married, respected father of two.  

It was purely by chance that Anderson encountered Pat Garrett in Texas.  Impressed by the former outlaw’s apparent change of heart, Garrett decided not to turn him in.  Instead he helped secure a presidential pardon for him. 

No  longer a felon, Anderson moved to Sanderson, Texas, was hired as a U.S. Customs Inspector, became a successful cattleman and eventually was elected the sheriff of Terrill County.  

Once again the facts of Anderson’s life diverge but both stories have the same tragic ending.  As sheriff, Anderson was either called to quell a disturbance at Harrell’s Saloon where he was ambushed by ranch hand Ed Valentine or he was shot at the Sanderson Depot while trying to disarm  Valentine.  

Sanderson Depot in the early 1900s

Valentine, for sure also wound up dead but just how has, you guessed it,  several versions.  He may have been shot by Anderson’s deputy emerging from Harrell’s if the saloon venue is true.  Or the angry citizens of Sanderson lynched Valentine an hour after the shooting at either the depot or the saloon.

Anderson was indeed buried at Saint Mary Magdalene Cemetery in Brackettville, Texas.  Valentine’s final resting place, like nearly everything else, remains a mystery. 

The Billy the Kid Museum, 14 N. Pecan Street, Hico, Texas, features, in addition to a sign that’s a favorite selfie spot, documents, photos and little known facts about one of the country’s most famous outlaws. It also explores the mystery of Hico resident Brushy Billy’s claim that he was actually Billy the Kid and the controversy over Billy’s death at the hands of lawman Pat Garrett.  Admission is free. Donations are welcome.  Open Monday through Saturday, 10 to 4 and Sunday, 11 to 1.  For more information go to or call 254-796-2523.  

© Text Only – 2019 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.