William H. Cox II, also known as ‘Modern day Billy the Kid,’ will be here in Brooksville to speak about his adventures portraying Billy the Kid in Lincoln County, New Mexico during the 1990s. He is set to speak on Feb. 6, 2020 at 6:30 pm at Brooksville City Hall; 201 Howell Ave.
Cox, from the Crystal River and Lakeland areas, writes about his western sojourns in his book The Adventures & Times of William H. Cox II Billy the Kid. In the 1990’s he looked very similar to the photos of Billy the Kid. As he traveled across the country, he ended up in Roswell, New Mexico. When he visited the Roswell museum a historian named Ken Hobbs told him he needed to visit Lincoln County which was 60 miles further west. When William Cox II went to Lincoln County he became an instant celebrity because of his likeness to Billy the Kid. He became known as “Modern Day Billy the Kid.”
Modern Day Billy the Kid wound up forming a partnership with ranger Jack at the scene of Billy the Kid’s famous escape. William Cox II would show up dressed like Billy the Kid as Jack finished telling the story of Billy the Kid’s great escape. Right before Billy appeared, Ranger Jack would ask the audience if they believed in ghosts.
William Cox II traveled around New Mexico meeting relatives of individuals involved in the Lincoln County War and heard many stories from that time. Unfortunately, Billy the Kid was killed at 21, so looking like Billy the Kid only lasts a short time. William H. Cox, now in his early fifties still retains a youthful and likeable nature, so it’s easy to still see the similarities to Billy the Kid.
During his time in Lincoln County in the 1990s, “Modern Day Billy the Kid,” received press coverage and was featured in Bob Boze Bell’s Book The Illustrated Life and Times of Billy the Kid. More recently, he is featured in John LeMay’s book, Tall Tales and Half-Truths of Billy the Kid. LeMay writes about Cox’s adventures and points out some parallels between the exploits of Cox and the real Billy the Kid. While in Lincoln, Cox was accused of taking part in a cattle rustling scheme. At one point, tensions were so high that Cox would only visit Lincoln at night and he was forced to hide out at Ken Hobbs’ house in Roswell. LeMay says that Cox told a reporter, “That Lincoln was too hot for him right now so he would go to Fort Sumner to cool down.”
LeMay’s book focuses on the legends of Billy the Kid, many of which were set in motion by newspapers written thousands of miles from where the events were happening. Many of Billy’s adventures recounted in newspapers occurred post mortem and are somewhat graphic. There is one about Billy the Kid’s trigger finger being removed after he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881. The finger supposedly ends up at the Las Vegas Optic newspaper. According to LeMay, professor emeritus Robert J. Stahl said the paper did have a finger in a jar and said that they used it as a ploy to gain subscriptions. LeMay writes, “Stahl relates that people did in fact trek to the Optic office to see a finger in a jar- whether it was really Billy’s or not is unknown- and reportedly they were allowed to see it so long as they paid three dollars for a yearlong subscription to the paper.”
The stories of the wild west and Billy the Kid were very popular in the east, but the historical accuracy of many of the stories is dubious. One thing that we do know is what Billy the Kid looked like because there are photos of him. Mr. Cox, there is no need to worry. The Hernando Sun has no intention of putting any of your appendages on display.
Today Cox works for Guest Services at Florida Southern College. He periodically makes appearances to speak about his experiences as “The modern-day Billy the Kid.” He enjoys exploring the Fort King Trail, treasure hunting with friends in St. Augustine and along the Treasure Coast. He and his girlfriend Toni are planning a trip to Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry in July to visit the locales of the Civil War battles. He’s an avid fan of adventures and history.
Cox's book reflects on his family history and contains a childhood memoir of growing up in Crystal River, Florida in the 1970's as well as the circumstances which led him on the adventure of a lifetime.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from its original publication on June 28, 2019.