One of the most exciting exhibits that we have planned at the DeSoto County Museum is our “Outlaws and Lawmen” exhibit that is in the process of being developed. Donations are now being taken, both of monetary nature and materials, in order to bring this exhibit to life.
During the past few months, the Time Traveler has had the good fortune to visit with relatives of two of DeSoto County’s most famous lawmen, W.A. “Hop” Durdin and Burmah Hobbs. There are plans underway to chronicle the legendary careers of both lawmen in the upcoming exhibit, along with several past sheriffs and our current sheriff Bill Rasco and notable deputy sheriffs, including Deputy Sheriff Ray Richardson, the first African-American deputy sheriff in modern times.
One of the more fascinating individuals on the opposite side of the law who hailed from DeSoto County was the infamous outlaw Charles Meriwether Bowdre, one-time Ole Miss student, farmer, rancher, cowboy, notorious outlaw and pal of America’s Wild West outlaw “Billy the Kid.”
The Time Traveler’s good friend, Ralph Kennedy, a retired senior special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, has written the story of Charles Bowdre and how the DeSoto Countian ran with the posse of some of the most famous outlaws in American history.
Kennedy writes that when Charles Bowdre was just three years old, in about 1851, he and other extended family members moved from his native Georgia to DeSoto County, Mississippi.
According to Kennedy, the Bowdres of Silverton Plantation were among the most affluent citizens of DeSoto County. Charlie Bowdre was the son of Albert Rees Bowdre and Lucy Clark Meriwether Bowdre. Their cotton plantations which stretched from Senatobia to Tunica were among the largest in the American South. Today, Bowdre Plantation near Robinsonville can be traced to this family. This unincorporated community became known as Bowdre community, a stop on the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad.
On Feb. 5, 1866, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Charlie Bowdre and a first cousin, Stephen Pettus Bowdre, applied and were admitted to the freshman class at the University of Mississippi.
The two never finished at Ole Miss, records show, and became cotton brokers in Memphis, then one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the American South.
But apparently young Charlie tired of civilized life and sought his adventure out West.
In the early to mid 1870s, Charlie arrived at the border area of Arizona and the New Mexico territories on the Gila River. According to Kennedy, Bowdre partnered with Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock and would employ a man who would later use several aliases and become known to the world as William H. Bonney, or “Billy the Kid.”
“Relatively unknown before his participation in the Lincoln County (New Mexico) War of 1878-79,” writes Kennedy,” Billy the Kid was catapulted into legend in 1881, when Neew Mexico Governor Lewis “Lew” Wallace placed a $500 price on his head after Billy the Kid killed two guards and escaped from the Lincoln County Jail. Almost overnight, the Kid became the focus of numerous national newspaper stories and attained the status of outlaw celebrity of the Southwest.”
“According to legend,” writes Kennedy, and by his own claim, Billy the Kid killed 21 men, one just for snoring too loud.
Billy the Kid would be famously killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881 but not until after an infamous shootout on April 4, 1878 at Blazer’s Mills, New Mexico. Fourteen “regulators,” who were a vigilante group aimed at fighting organized corruption, including Bowdre, Billy the Kid, Scurlock and others, attempted to serve an “arrest warrant” on a member of the corrupt Murphy gang. Legend has it that as Billy the Kid looked on, Bowdre and Andrew L. Buckshot” Roberts fired at one another. Roberts’ bullet struck Bowdre’s belt buckle, causing him to drop his pistol — but not before Bowdre’s bullet found its mark, striking the Murphy gang member in the stomach, “just above the hips.”
Charlie Bowdre would thus be charged with the murder of “Buckshot” Roberts.
According to Robert M. Utley’s book, “Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life,” by December 1880, Charlie Bowdre was ready to quit riding with Billy the Kid and surrender for the murder of Buckshot Roberts.
However, “he still joined the rest of the gang on a mission to ambush Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner. A gun battle ensued, but Bowdre and most of the Kid’s gang members escaped alive. On December 23, however, the gang was holed up in a rock house at Stinking Springs. At dawn, Charlie Bowdre emerged to feed the horses and was riddled with rifle slugs by Garrett’s posse, which had surrounded the building in the night. Later that day, Billy the Kid and his partners gave up. After being riddled with bullets, he fell back into the doorway where, at the urging of Billy the Kid to ‘take a few of them with you when you die’, Bowdre made a valiant exit. Unfortunately, he was already too weak and near death at that point and couldn’t get his gun out of his holster. In the last seconds of his life he stumbled and fell towards Pat Garrett repeating the phrase, “I wish...I wish...”
An outlaw from DeSoto County actually rode with Billy the Kid? And he died in an infamous gunfight with Pat Garrett’s posse? Who knew? This and other fascinating history of DeSoto County is available in more detail at the award-winning DeSoto County Museum, 111 E. Commerce Street in Hernando.
ROBERT LEE LONG is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.