“The Big Die-Up,” by Chuck Lyons, in the April 2019 Wild West, about the death of the open range, is one of the best written descriptive articles I have ever read anywhere. I have read it several times so that it really sinks in. The art in the article says it all, especially if you really look in the eyes of the cattle in the paintings. I am considered pretty tough by people who know me, or at least that is what I have been told, but reading that article slowly and thinking about it brought tears to my eyes. There is no doubt this act of weather changed the course of the West, and Lyons’ article describes it as well as can be done.
I truly enjoyed “The Legendary, Mysterious Kid,” by Richard W. Etulain, in the February 2019 issue. I’ve been reading and collecting material about the Kid for more than 55 years. A couple of items I’ve gleaned from various books and articles over the decades that were not noted:
• The Kid was very small, even for the era. An article from The Las Vegas [New Mexico] Gazette on Dec. 27, 1881 (printed after his death), reports the Kid was 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9 and about 140 pounds. Other reports have the Kid smaller, at about 5-foot-7 and 120 pounds.
• Billy probably had reddish hair. The same Gazette article says he had “light hair.” Other reports state he was a strawberry blond
• The Kid was not sullen, mean or given to temper tantrums. Miguel Antonio Otero Jr., who knew the Kid, described him as pleasant, laughing, sprightly and good-natured. Other reports list him as jolly. Pat Garrett’s ghostwritten book, by Ash Upson, had much to do with the myths reporting the Kid was a violent-tempered killer.
• Billy had a pony he had trained that knew tricks. He could call it by whistling, and it would come. Several old-timers mention his “trick paint horse.”
• Garrett and the Kid were acquaintances but never friends. Garrett knew when he ran for sheriff he would have to bring in Billy. He would have hardly run for office if the Kid were a buddy.
• John Chisum, the cattle baron, was sick and tired of the smaller cattle thieves pilfering his cattle. He had lost more than $150,000 in the mid-1870s to rustlers and Indians raiding his herds. As a friend of Alexander McSween (who was his attorney) and John Tunstall, Chis-
um had funded the Kid and others several times with money and supplies. After Billy escaped from jail, he came to Chisum, claiming he was owed $500. Chisum refused, explaining he had funded the Kid with supplies well over this amount. Billy and others proceeded to steal Chisum’s cattle. This led to Chisum and others talking Garrett into running for sheriff, with the major goal to capture or kill the Kid. Chisum is buried in my hometown of Paris, Texas.
I was disappointed to see my favorite Billy the Kid movie wasn’t listed. In my view—since all movies are fantasy—the best is still The Kid From Texas (1950), starring war hero turned actor Audie Murphy. Murphy is the only actor who ever played the Kid who is the right size (5 feet 7 at age 25, when he starred in the movie) and was in real life a killer (Audie was credited with killing more than 100 Germans in World War II). Audie as a blue-eyed killer fits the bill perfectly, and he became a major Western star for the next decade. His autobiographical war movie, To Hell and Back, was Universal’s top-grossing movie till Jaws. Audie’s sister Nadene Lokey, 88, is my godmother and as ornery as her brother.
Through dogged determination and sheer true grit Pat Garrett and his posse were able to track down and ultimately kill Bill. Yet 138 years later historians have been unable to satisfactorily corral this outlaw. I can’t help but think that fun-loving Billy the Kid is still smiling at us with that big toothy grin of his.
I am a longtime subscriber to Wild West and very happy to see each issue in my mailbox. The Guns article in the June 2019 issue [“A Palmful of Firepower,” by George Layman] mentions the backup derringer used by Paladin on Have Gun—Will Travel. However, the actor’s real name was not Robert Boone, as stated in the article, but Richard Boone. I was a crewmember for United Airlines back in 1962 and concurrently was an avid fan of Have Gun—Will Travel. During a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles the flight attendant came to the cockpit and advised that “Paladin” was on board. After we arrived at the gate, I stood by the cockpit door and waited for him. When he came by, I told Boone what a fan I was of his program. He thanked me and then reached into his wallet and pulled out a “Have Gun—Will Travel” card and presented it to me, just as I had seen him do on the screen so many times. I still have the card somewhere in my precious mementos.
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