Inside the Capitol

Thursday, December 08, 2011

12-12 Billy the Kid Always Will Be an Icon

121211 Billy

SANTA FE – Billy the Kid keeps producing for New Mexico. Recently he was the subject of a statewide treasure hunt which put millions of extra dollars into the state tourism industry, according to new Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson.
More recently, The Kid was the subject of a History Channel documentary, which is still in reruns. And next month, a Public Broadcasting System hour-long special on Billy will begin airing featuring many New Mexicans and other authorities in the field.
Why, you ask, is a long-dead, no good cowboy having so much effect on our culture? Well former Gov. Bill Richardson spent over a year soon after he took office in a controversial effort to dig him up. That controversy stretched from Texas to Arizona and involved numerous lawsuits, some of which still are continuing.
Then there was Richardson's abortive effort to pardon Billy for shooting Sheriff Brady on the main street of Lincoln, N.M. Former Gov. Lew Wallace may have promised Billy a pardon on that one, but if so, he reneged and Richardson wanted to know why.
In the process, people from around the world weighed in on the question and Richardson ended his term without granting the pardon.
But the real reason The Kid attracts so much attention around the world is that to a great many he isn't a juvenile delinquent, cattle thief, cop killer, as many New Mexicans see him.
Billy the Kid also was a talented, orphaned, fighter for the little guy against a ruthless government. Billy didn't rob banks, stagecoaches or trains. He took what he needed to survive and shared the rest with the needy.
He was intelligent, had excellent handwriting, was musical and somehow knew the words to all the church songs. Fate led him to having to scramble for a living in the Old West. And I may not need to tell you how much the Old West is revered in much of the rest of the world.
So we may just have to learn to accept our most famous New Mexican as an attraction to the rest of the world.
` The two film productions out now aren't perfect attempts at reality. Billy and the story are so complex that 52 minutes just won't do it.
Every production has to have an angle to capture viewers. The History Channel's "Billy the Kid Decoded" is an effort to present several versions of The Kid's story and let the viewer decide what happened.
That's fun, but the leading authorities all are basically in agreement that Sheriff Pat Garrett killed The Kid in Fort Sumner and that is where he is buried.
But people don't want to see their heroes die. That is why so many are willing to believe every crackpot who comes along claiming to be Billy or Elvis or other heroes.
Next month, public television's "American Experience" history series will feature The Kid. The series has won many awards over the years for its coverage of people and events.
PBS is beginning a new series on the Old West. Billy the Kid won out over many other candidates to kick off the series. Last week, the program's producer and director were in New Mexico to help promote the series.
Along with some Billy the Kid consultants, they appeared at roundtable discussions in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to screen clips of the film and to describe their efforts to humanize The Kid by getting into the "interior" of Billy to understand who he really was.
Perhaps the most telling observation came from writer Hampton Sides who said just a year ago he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times describing his amazement about the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, wasting time deciding whether to pardon a two-bit thief and murderer.
Sides says he got beaten up by so many people throughout the nation and world that he decided he had better become an expert on The Kid also.


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