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Book Review: The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid (Bob Boze Bell) : WW

Originally published on Published Online: August 12, 2001 
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The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid, by Bob Boze Bell, Tri Star­Boze Publications, Inc., Phoenix, 1996 (second edition), $39.95 hardbound, $29.95 softbound.

Since there is only one "known" photo of Billy the Kid, you can't very well do a book about him that is full of pictures, right? Wrong…that is if your name is Bob Boze Bell. When you open the talented and imaginative Bell's revised and expanded second edition of his 1992 Billy book, the first thing you turn to is that famous, rather unflattering image of the Kid holding an 1873 Winchester rifle. But on the next page, you'll find a Bell portrait of Billy (real name Henry McCarty), and a few pages later, a Bell depiction of Billy as a real kid. And the famous outlaw shows up elsewhere in the 192-page book–in Bell drawings/paintings, in disputed photographs (most historians say none of them are really of Billy), and in movie stills (Paul Newman, Robert Taylor and Kris Kristofferson are among the actors who have portrayed the Kid). There are many other fine Bell drawings and historic photos of folks who were acquainted with New Mexico's most famous bad boy. You'll also find some re-enactment photos and maps. In all, there are about 500 images, which is a visual bonanza that nobody interested in Old West outlaws will want to pass up. Oh, the text is quite fine, too, as Bell ably presents the Billy years, starting with his birth on November 23, 1859, in New York City (place and time have been much disputed) to his death at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. As in his books on Doc Holliday (see review in April 1996 Wild West) and Wyatt Earp, Bell injects just the right amount of humor. On page 189, for example, Bell shows 21 "likenesses" of the young desperado, including "Goofy Billy," "Alfred E. Billy," "Degas Billy," "Beatle Billy" and "O.J. Billy." All in all, a pleasure to read…and to look at.

One Response to “Book Review: The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid (Bob Boze Bell) : WW”

  1. 1
    Steve McCarty says:

    BBB's book is wonderful. I bought an early edition and have read and re-read it and referenced it dozens of times. It follows a time line that gives shape to the BTK story. The pictures and illustrations are outstanding.

    If one is truly interested in the Kid's story one must read half a dozen books: Utley's "The Short and Violent…." , Nolan's "The West of…" and his "BTK Reader…" , George Coe's "Frontier Fighter", Lily Casey Klasner's "My Girlhood…", Burns's the "Sage of…", and Wallis's "Endless ride…" . I liked Gardner's new book about the Kid and Garrett, to know one requires knowledge of the other.

    All of those aside, the book to start with IMO is BBB's "Illustrated Billy.." It makes a nice book for young readers as well…it is beautifully illustrated. For readability I like Robert Utley's book. It is the book that got me started and I reference it often, but I pick up all of these books and re-read them. (I have left a few good ones out.) Nolan's "The West of…" is a must have. I have about worn out my copy.

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