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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake 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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid