News / USA

Notorious Gunslinger Remembered 130 Years Later

Books, movies, plays and paintings all immortalize Billy the Kid

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

This month marks the 130th anniversary of the death of Billy the Kid. Like many gunslingers of the 19th century Old West, his notoriety was partly based on exaggerated accounts of his exploits.

Taken sometime in late 1879 or early 1880, this is the only known photograph of Billy the Kid. It sold at auction in 2011 for $2.3 million, the most ever paid for a historic photo.
Taken sometime in late 1879 or early 1880, this is the only known photograph of Billy the Kid. It sold at auction in 2011 for $2.3 million, the most ever paid for a historic photo.

His reputation continued to grow as his story was told and re-told in novels, songs, theater and film.

Legend says Billy the Kid shot 21 men, one for each year of his life.

American legend

There are more than 65 movies which tell the story of the charismatic outlaw. Legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie immortalized him in a song.

"Billy the Kid," a 1938 ballet written by American composer Aaron Copland remains one of Copland's most widely performed pieces. And artist Thom Ross has created more than 200 paintings which he thinks reflect a universal theme.

“There is so much murder. There is so much of midnight riding, the thundering hooves, the guns going off, these grim men dressed in boots and spurs and hats and guns," says Ross. "So all those horrible, horrible moments have just been fabulous in terms of inspiration for doing paintings.”

'Along The Pecos,' by Thom Ross, depicts Pat Garrett leading his deputies, John Poe and Kip McKinney, along the Pecos River at night during their pursuit of Billy the Kid.
'Along The Pecos,' by Thom Ross, depicts Pat Garrett leading his deputies, John Poe and Kip McKinney, along the Pecos River at night during their pursuit of Billy the Kid.

One of Ross’s favorite works shows Pat Garrett and two deputies riding along the Pecos River at nigh, which recalls the three wise men of the Christmas story.

“So you take that same story, you change the camel to a quarterhorse, you change the turban to a Stetsonand you have the same story," he says. "Three men, the Magi going to see baby Jesus bringing gifts of life. And for Pat Garrett and his two deputies, riding to see the Kid, they are bringing gifts of death: bullets, knives and guns.”

The real story

The real story is as hard to come by as the Kid’s real name; at times he was William H. Bonney, William McCarty, Henry McCarty and Henry Antrim.

Billy the Kid’s life of crime began when he was a teenager in New Mexico, roaming the streets, stealing and hanging out with the wrong crowd.

“He flees to Arizona where he kills his first man at the age of 17,” says Mark Lee Gardner,  a storyteller, musician and scholar of the old American West.

Gardner recounts the story in his book, "To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett."

According to Gardner, the baby-faced outlaw did some honest work, but made his mark stealing cattle and horses. Along the way, Billy murdered several men. Scholars say it’s more like nine, rather than the 21 of legend.

Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett

When he was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett, Gardner says Billy made the most famous jailbreak in the history of the West.

'To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett,' retells the story of two well-known figures in American legend.
'To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett,' retells the story of two well-known figures in American legend.

“He kills his two guards, a broad daylight escape and Pat Garrett then has to track Billy down a second time, and 130 years ago, in July 14 around midnight, he shot him in this darkened room and Billy's been a legend ever since.”

Over time, Billy the Kid became a folk hero while the sheriff was painted as a villain, a reputation which Gardner believes is not deserved.

“To me, Pat Garrett was a hero. Pat Garrett went after Billy, something that no other lawman had been willing to do," he says. "He was successful. He captured Billy the Kid twice. He deserves to be better known and better appreciated as an upstanding sheriff.”

The History Channel is adapting Gardner's book for a four-hour television miniseries, written by Cyrus Nowrasteh.

“I think the attraction to this new book is it is a really accurate, well-researched account of these two fascinating characters of American legend," Nowrasteh says. "I think we may be attacking the story from the Garrett perspective while at the same time telling the Kid’s story, and sort of cross-cutting back and forth between them.”

While Billy the Kid has been pictured numerous times on screen, in books, on stage and on canvas, the only authentic image of the young outlaw - that scholars can agree on - is a small photograph taken sometime in late 1879 or early 1880.

It was sold at auction in June for $2.3 million, the most ever paid for a historic photo.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid