The Return of the Outlaw Billy the Kid, by W.C. Jameson and Frederic Bean, Republic of Texas Press (Woodware Publishing), Plano, Texas, 1998, $16.95.
Just when some of us thought it might be pretty safe to believe that Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty in New York City in 1859 and was shot down by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory, in 1881, along comes this book to challenge the outlaw experts. Would you believe that Billy the Kid was really born William Henry Roberts near Buffalo Gap, Texas, in 1859 and died on the streets of El Paso of heart failure in 1950? Actually, authors W.C. Jameson and Frederick Bean do not come out and say that Mr. Roberts was outlaw Billy the Kid; what they do say is that “the case for William Henry Roberts as Billy the Kid is stronger than the case against it.” They present their evidence and make their case (based on a combined 40 years of study), and then ask the readers to decide for themselves. Undoubtedly, most Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett experts won’t buy it now anymore than they did in the 1950s after attorney William V. Morrison and historian C.L. Sonnichsen first made the case for Roberts in the 1955 book Alias Billy the Kid. Not long before his death in 1991, Sonnichsen told Jameson and Bean that he had been tormented by proponents of the traditional history of the Kid and wished he had never collaborated with Morrison on that book. So William Henry Roberts obviously isn’t just surfacing now. But because these two noted authors both had serious doubts about Garrett’s reliability and many of the often repeated “facts” about Billy the Kid’s life, Roberts has resurfaced in fine fashion. Remember, keep an open mind, and then…well, tormenting hasn’t gone out of fashion in 1998, has it?