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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid