Story last updated at 5/1/2013 - 2:54 pm
Can you believe that Billy the Kid, a name prominent in the history of the West, has a connection with Alaska in Wrangell? It was one of those "six degrees of separation" moments for our late museum director, Dennis Chapman, while he was reading "Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride" by Michael Wallis.
"Was Amanda McFarland anywhere near Arizona?" he asked me. "Yes, she was! Why?" "Listen to this," he said.
Catherine McCarty, Billy the Kid's mother, gave birth to Billy sometime, someplace, with someone as the father. Not a factual historical sentence. His childhood name was William Henry McCarty. The first documentation of Henry, as he was called at that time, starts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is the "ah ha moment" concerning the connection with Wrangell.
On March 1, 1873, after eight years of courtship and frequent cohabitation, William Henry Harrison Antrim and Catherine McCarty wed. The bride, according to Wallis, was 44 and the groom 31. The simple marriage ceremony took place in the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe. Originally a Baptist mission, it was the first Protestant church in that territory but was eventually abandoned. It stood empty until 1867 when the Presbyterians bought it.
Officiating at the Antrim-McCarty wedding was the Rev. David F. McFarland. According to both church and county records, there were five witnesses to the nuptials. Two witnesses, scrawled in the ledger by Rev. McFarland, were the brothers Henry (the future Billy the Kid) and Josie McCarty. Harvey Edmonds, a local citizen, who frequently acted as a witness for local marriages, also signed the papers. Rev. McFarland's daughter Katie and her mother were in attendance as witnesses. This was Amanda R. McFarland. The future Presbyterian missionary of Wrangell.
Rev. McFarland was forced to retire in ill health before the end of that year, and he and his family moved to Southern California. Upon his recovery in 1875, they accepted positions among the Nez Perce Indians on the Columbia River plateau in what became parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Hard work and severe climate again affected the reverend's health, and in May 1876, he died.
Amanda, born in Virginia and educated in Stuebenville, Ohio, had a long history of Presbyterian missionary work. After their marriage, she had accompanied the Rev. McFarland to Illinois where they spent 10 years in missions. In 1867, they were sent to Santa Fe, the first Presbyterian missionaries in that territory.
From what I can learn, Amanda was a tough, sturdy woman in the mission fields of the late 1800s. For example, she crossed the plains from the Missouri River to Santa Fe several times in a stagecoach. On one occasion, when she was the only woman aboard during a 12-day trip, Plains Indians pursed the coach for a portion of the way. No wonder years later, she was not intimidated by the Tlingits during several clan disputes in Wrangell.
After her husband's death, Amanda was unable to endure the desolation and loneliness in the Nez Perce country, and moved in January 1877 to Portland, Ore. Here Sheldon Jackson, the man who encouraged the Presbyterian Church to educate and Christianize the Alaska Natives, heard of her desire to return to the missionary field. It didn't take many months before Amanda and her belongings were on a coastal steamship heading up the Inside Passage to Fort Wrangel, as the town was known.
Billy the Kid's mother died in 1874, and Antrim, Billy's stepfather, placed her two sons in foster homes and abandoned them. A year after his mother's death, Billy the Kid began his outlaw lifestyle. That would have been 1875, and Amanda was still in remote Nez Perce country with her husband.
Billy the Kid, also known as William H. Bonney, was shot to death July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. At that time,
Amanda had moved to Fort Wrangel. Here she ran a home for Native girls and the Presbyterian mission industrial school. The girls learned to cook, sew, and keep a home.
One wonders if Amanda ever knew that she was one of the witnesses at a Sante Fe wedding where the son of the bride went on to become a famous rustler and gun-fighter.
Newspapers from Seattle reached the growing frontier town, but would the names Billy the Kid or William H. Bonney have meant anything to her? I suspect that the demise of an outlaw in New Mexico did not jog her memory of a time eight years earlier.
Amanda went on to establish another school and girl's home in Howkan on the west coast of Prince of Wales, eventually retiring to her former home in Ohio.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.