Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride

by Michael Wallis, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2007, $22.95.

 The life and times of Billy the Kid—alias Henry Antrim, alias Henry McCarty, alias William H. Bonney, alias the Kid, alias Kid Antrim and alias El Chivato—has been examined, reexamined, debated and analyzed to death…and beyond death. Kid writers have included Robert M. Utley (a 1989 biography) and Frederick Nolan, as well as colleagues, cohorts, enemies, filmmakers, novelists and even Pat Garrett, the man who killed the Kid (unless you buy the conspiracy theories) at Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory, on July 14, 1881.

Yet for all the research, little is actually known about Billy the Kid, and those facts and legends still lead to often intense debate. The Kid remains as much a cultural icon today as he was in 1881. So Michael Wallis, a Western Heritage Wrangler and Spur Award–winning author, attempts to define Billy the Kid through the times he lived in, “a culture of violence that has thrived to this day.”

Much of the 329-page book focuses on the Kid’s developmental years, being raised by his mother in Indiana, Kansas and later New Mexico Territory. And Wallis nicely boils down the often complicated and confusing Lincoln County War, which propelled Billy the Kid out of obscurity. “He emerged from the ashes and the blood, riding a wave of illusion and deception created by the true perpetrators of both sides of the war,” Wallis writes. “The truth was neatly covered up through sleight of hand with historical facts by a host of dime novelists, journalists, and hacks. What was left was the lone figure, all at once romantic and daring but also dark and lethal.”

On the other hand, the Kid’s death (in which Wallis has him armed with revolver and knife) is given superficial treatment. Although inconsistent and covering no new territory, Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride is overall an engaging read.

 

Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here