7-25 Billy the Kid Books
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- We continue with the Jay Miller reading list of books on subjects this column has frequently carried. Today's subject is Billy the Kid.
"The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid" was ghost written for Pat Garrett by Roswell postmaster Ash Upson during the year following the Kid's killing. It likely was intended to improve Garrett's image and political career and maybe make a few bucks.
But it failed on all those counts. Printed and distributed by the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, the book never took off. Many years later, the New Mexican reportedly burned the large number of remaining copies, which were cluttering up a storeroom. Today, surviving copies of that original printing sell for very big money.
Although the book was not successful, it was considered as more authentic than the dime novels that began appearing around the nation immediately after Billy's death. Consequently, Garrett's "authentic" accounts of Billy were used by authors and screen writers as the gospel truth for many years.
The book has been reissued often since with introductions and annotations by later Billy historians. The newest and best has annotations by Fredrick Nolan, the leading authority on the Lincoln County War. You'll enjoy reading Billy stories you always thought were true and then learning the facts from Nolan.
"The Saga of Billy the Kid," written by Walter Noble Burns in 1926, brought Billy into world prominence. Many participants in the Lincoln County War were still living at the time and Burns made the first serious efforts to interview them.
But that's not to say Burns got it all correct. He romanticized Billy, making him into a Western Robin Hood hero. And it was picked up by Hollywood, which made over 50 films about Billy. That's more than any other historical figure.
Someone had to straighten all this out. And two leading Southwest historians did. Robert Utley, formerly of Santa Fe, wrote "Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life" in 1989, finally separating fact from fiction. He destroyed the myths of Billy, the bloodthirsty gunman and Billy, the Western Robin Hood with a scholarly and well-researched book that portrays Billy as, above all, a superb gunman with an arresting personality.
He was, of course, many other things too, and Utley does an engaging job of getting into Billy's mind to explain some of his actions.
In 1998, Fredrick Nolan dipped into his storehouse of Lincoln County War knowledge and came out with "The West of Billy the Kid," presenting an evenhanded account of known facts about Billy, leaving conjecture to the reader.
Nolan's book is replete with pictures on almost every page, most of them from the collection of Robert McCubbin of Santa Fe.
I've probably already told you that I'll be adding to the Billy lore with a book covering the more than 30 columns I wrote during the past two years of efforts to dig up Billy and his mother. It is a chapter in Billy's history that has not been recorded by anyone else.
The book, "Billy the Kid Rides Again: Digging For the Truth," is awaiting pictures from Joe Micalizzi of Hollywood, the only person to record the saga of the past two years on camera. Bob Boze Bell, of Cave Creek, Arizona has graciously agreed to provide the art for the cover of the book.
This chapter in Billy's story is not over. Reports from Prescott, Arizona indicate John Miller, who has been reputed to be Billy, has been exhumed and is awaiting DNA testing at a laboratory somewhere.
And people in Silver City are becoming nervous that further legal proceedings may now be pending there because the judge in that exhumation hearing 18 months ago left the door open a crack in case any other DNA was found.
So stay tuned to this column. We'll keep our ear to the ground, listening for Billy to come riding this way again.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org