Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pat Garrett's Cold And Miserable March to Capture The Kid

 October 25, 2020

   It was a year ago tomorrow we celebrated 20 years in Cave Creek with a big party at Black Mountain Library. That seems like a hundred years ago, now. Of course, we never anticipated all the strangeness of 2020, but then who did?!

   This is my last week on the Kid project. Of course, when I get to this stage of the production cycle, I always get inspired to do more paintings than I have time to do. Like this little dittie:

Daily Whip Out: "Billy Border Chase"

   In the fall of 1877 Kid Antrim split from the Jesse Evans gang somewhere around Mesilla and while the Boys went up the west side of the Sacramento Mountains, most historians believe Billy angled off to the east, past El Paso and out across the Cornudas and the Guadalupe Range and then up to Seven Rivers. He had some adventures on that run, and legend says he sprang a compadre out of the jail at San Elizario which is downriver from El Paso on the Rio Grande and on the border with Old Mexico. This scene, above represents that escape.

Daily Whip Out: "Billy In Snowdrift"

A Bonney Inspired Winter Wonderland

      One of the things the movies never quite get right is the massive manhunts in the snow, which is the backbone and centerpiece of the Pat Garrett trackdown of the Kid in the winter of 1880.

   Record snowfall and bitter cold temperatures would have thwarted any sane manhunter, and for the record most all of any who could, stayed in front of the hearth in November and December of 1880. Out of some 300 available cowboys in the Tascosa area, only 13 took the call to hunt the Kid and they had names like "Animal" and "Cat Fish" and "Bigfoot Wallace," you know, people I am related to and can relate to.

   Moving aganst the Kid when no one, including Billy, thought he would, Garrett pushed his manhunt to the brink of endurance with frostbite and bitter cold as snowdrift conditions hampered the posse's every move. Whiteouts, with horses plunging in snowdrifts, was their daytime activities. As night, out on the plains, it was even worse!

Daily Whip Out: "Garrett's Miserable March"

   A sidenote: In the fall of 1990 I met another Kid Krazy guy Steve Randolph in Lincoln and I joined him and his dad at their campsite outside town and we were going to sleep out in the weather to get a feel for what it must have been like in 1880 when Garrett and the Kid played snowdrift cat and mouse games. I was given a thermal sleeping bag and we had a campfire, but in the night it was so cold I had to seek refuge in the cab of a pickup truck. The next day we discovered it was in the low twenties out!

The Randolphs in Camp after a cooooold night.

   Okay, contrast that with two of the Tascosa cowboys who were on the road after the Kid and when it got dark they simply took the saddle and blankets off their horses and pushed the blankets down into the snow and slept like babies! I always think of this crazy contrast.

   Are we softer these days. Boy Howdy. At least this Woosie is!

Daily Whip Out: "Garrett Pushes On"


  Through deep snow, the combined posses pushed on and, of course, they finally captured their prey and, after burying two, they beat it to Las Vegas through the snow. Crazy cold stuff, this is.

Daily Whip Out: "Snowmelt Rider"

   In a fine Jim Earle book in my collection, "The Capture of Billy the Kid" we get the remembrances of a couple of those Texas cowboys. One of them, Cal Polk, very bluntly tells about how rough they were, and he later served as a U.S. Marshal, but damn he and those boys were rough as cobs.

"We was all Dead Broke and had got mean and cared for nothing."

—Cal Polk, remembering his wayward ways in the cold hunt for Billy the Kid in the winter of 1880

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Cowboy Who Rode With Frozen Pants

 October 24, 2020

   I vaguely remember reading about one of the Texas cowboys with Stewart on the hunt for the Kid, telling the story about riding in a snowstorm and coming to a river (the Pecos?) and it is frozen over and he's afraid his horse will fall through the ice and drown him, so he grabs rocks and busts the ice then leads his horse across on foot, and then rides the rest of the way to his destination in frozen pants! Who was that and where do I find it again? Ha. Thanks.

   In his renowned book “Charles Goodnight: Cowman & Plainsman,” historian J. Evetts Haley wrote, “In its tortuous meanderings it is often cursed by the natives as ‘the crookedest river.’ Goodnight used to tell how Pete Narbo, a Palo Pinto ranchman, shot a steer that someone had dropped from a herd. He swam over to get the beef, but had to swim back again, discovering that he and the animal had been on the same bank. And though that was a long time ago, the Pecos has not improved with age.

A wagon stuck in the Pecos a long time ago.

“The devil could not dream such a damnable stream

“As the Pecos River Southwest;

“From bank to bank she reeked and stank

“Like a thousand buzzards’ nests.”

Friday, October 23, 2020

Digging Up Billy the Kid For Fun & Profit

 October 23, 2020

   One week to go. Here's a sneak peek at part of a CG-doubletruck "advertorial" in the next issue:

   Thanks to my neighbor, Tom Augherton, I finally got to see "The Kid" (2019) which features a pretty convincing Billy the Kid.

Dane DeHaan as William H. Bonney
in "The Kid" (2019)

   Unfortunately, they tacked on a coming of age story about another "kid" who gets mixed up with the Billy Bonney inspired character during the Stinking Springs episode of the actual Kid story and then it goes in and out of the fictional kid with the historic Kid glancing off the main story so that by the end, if you came for the real Billy you were disappointed, and if you came for the coming of age Billy, perhaps you got some satisfaction, but I didn't, because, well, you know how cranky I get.

Daily Whip Out:
"The Chica From Anton Chico"

   As we have already seen, Billy had many affairs with beautiful women up and down the Pecos. Legend says one of them, from Anton Chico, haunted his dreams to the day he died.

George Coe and a WPA writer in front of
the crumbling "House" (Lincoln County Courthouse), circa 1940

Digging Up Billy for Fun & Profit

   "I believe the evidence shows Garrett lied about the escape of the Kid," says ex-cop Steve Sederwall, who, in 2003, as the mayor of Capitan, New Mexico, joined forces with then Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan to reopen the case on Billy the Kid. The governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson sanctioned the investigation. Sederwall was convinced that "if Garrett lied about Billy's escape from jail, what else did he lie about?" The two got permission from the state to shoot a pistol off in the stairway of the Lincoln Courthouse and do the first-ever CSI on the crime scene. "We wanted to see if a pistol touched off in the stairwell could be heard at the Wortley," Steve remembered.

    Short answer: it could.

   They fired off a pistol in the stairwell on April 28, 2003. On June 5th the story landed on the front page of the New York Times, with a sensational story about modern day cops who were still chasing Billy the Kid. As Sederwell puts it, "That was the second the investigation jumped the tracks." At first, Governor Richardson was pleased, telling the boys the state couldn't buy this kind of publicity. The governor also wanted to push for a pardon of the Kid and match the DNA of the two digs—Billy in Fort Sumner and Catherine McCarty in Silver City—to prove that Brushy Bill Roberts was a fraud. Someone from the Maxwell family still had the bench Billy the Kid was laid out on after his death and they claimed there was still blood on it. Sederwall and the boys now had a DNA sample and someone in Arizona wanted to exhume John Miller who some claimed was actually the Kid. The governor of Arizona signed off on a dig and the Boys dug up Miller in Prescott, but when the story hit the press, an Arizona attorney, Dave Snell, filed charges against the Boys for "grave robbery." 

   As the story grew more sordid, everyone started to take heat, especially Sederwall and Sullivan, who were sued and then came the death threats. Officials in Fort Sumner got spooked when they heard there was a chance the Kid's body was not in his marked grave because the U.S. Army came in the early 1900s and moved all the graves to Santa Fe. Long story short, so far, no one has dug up the Kid to see if he's actually there. 

  By the way, Steve's new book "Cold West Case Files: The Dirty On Billy the Kid" is recommended, especially if you want to see a behind-the-scenes take on all of above. Here's my favorite quote:

"Everyone has a secret they want to keep hidden: cops call that secret the dirty. Not until you know the dirty, can you find the truth."

—Steve M. Sederwall

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Was Billy the Kid A Bonnie Lass Toolie?

October 22, 2020

   The new Billy book will have plenty of new pictures and plenty of new questions, like this one:

Was Billy the Kid a "Bonnie Lass Toolie"?

Daily Whip Out:
"Billy as a Bonnie Lass Toolie"

   Interviewed in 1936, Jesus Silva of Fort Sumner claimed that he found the Kid walking after his escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse and that he guided the fugitive to the Jesus Anaya home, eight miles south of Fort Sumner. The Kid, though hampered by his leg irons, walked part of the way while Jesus rode. Silva left the Kid at the Anaya home, and claimed he stayed for almost a month.

   “Anaya had three daughters, and when strangers would come, Billy dressed up like a girl and stayed in the kitchen with the Anaya girls. And he made a good one, too — he was small, his hair was long and he talked Mexican just as good as them."

—Jesus Silva, in The Amarillo Daily News, Friday Morning, Nov. 13, 1936

   So, yes, if the Silva account is true, Billy the Kid was in the slang of the day, a "Bonnie Lass Toolie" which is a good looking woman.

   Thanks to Mark Lee Gardner, I got another crack at the visage of Walter Noble Burns. Mark bought most of Burns' papers and in them, is this photo printed on a publicity release for "The Saga of Billy the Kid." It's one of the best photos I have seen of the writer, but it has one problem:

Burns with ripped mouth.

So I took a crack at him in my own style:

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"Walter Noble Burns"

   The older I get, the more I mistrust oldtimers and their stories. I know, I know, it takes one to know one. Still, if you have been doing this as long as I have you have to face the fact that most of the collected remembrances of geezers comes down to an orgy of inconsistencies and that eventually you come up against the unmistakable: it's all built to baffle. Still, we trudge onward, hoping to gleam some truth from the effort. 

"My memory's not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my memory's not as sharp as it used to be."

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Plague of the Billy Wannabes

 October 21, 2020

   We in the Old West collector's world live with a phenom we jokingly call The Plague of the Billy Wannabes. Here's how it started. 

Before Koch and After Koch

   I was there when the only known photo of Billy the Kid was auctioned off for $2.3 million. I don't want to overstate this, but it actually felt like the oxygen was being sucked out of the room.

   Several weeks before the auction, my friend, Brian Lebel, brought the tintype out to the True West World Headquarters and I actually got to hold it in my hands. I had gloves on to protect it, of course, but the experience was quite surreal. First off, to think that the Kid held this in his hands was off the chart crazy. And, even though the piece of tin is no larger than a credit card, and is dark and covered with "noise" (the surface is thick with aging marks and debris, including strand marks from the sweater he wears in the photo!), there was a hypnotizing effect just staring at it, as if you could see deeper into the image. I felt the Kid's presence, and I'm not that kind of guy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

   For years the photo was considered lost, but then in 1986, descendents of one of Billy Bonney's pards, Dan Dedrick, donated their tintype to the Lincoln County Heritage Trust in Lincoln, New Mexico. When the trust ended, the photograph went back to the Dedrick family and they ultimately contacted Brian Lebel, who put it up for aucton at the Brian Lebel's 22nd Annual Old West Show & Auction in Denver. This was in June of 2011. Brian told me he thought it might fetch $400,000 and, so, we asked on a True West cover, "Would you pay $500,000 for this Little Piece of Tin?" Boy Howdy. Turns out we were both wildly off.

   The bidding, at the Denver Merchandise Mart, started with five bidders and within two minutes, the bids shot past the one million mark. The air seemed to be crackling with electricity. At the $1.5 million mark several bidders dropped off, and then with a calm determination, Bill Koch bid $2 million and all the competition dropped away (Koch confided to a friend of mine before the auction, "I'm not leaving this building without that photo.")

   "When the bidding ended, the whole room erupted in clapping and people leapt to their feet," said Melissa McCracken, wife of Brian Lebel. "I've never experienced anything like this before."

   A $300,000 "buyer's premium" was tacked on to the winning bid, bringing the total selling price to $2.3 million.

   Koch is one of the sons of Fred C. Koch, founder of the Wichita based energy conglomerate Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the U.S. Bill has a twin, David and another brother, Charles, who are prominent conservative activists.

   Ever since this auction we have been besieged with one new Billy wannabe photo after another. It's not an exaggeration to say a new one pops up every week. Everyone smells that multi-million dollar payday. So far, none of them have passed the provenance test.

"The owner of the photograph believes he is living every collector's wildest fantasy and lots of folks are rooting for him. He believes in the photograph and has enlisted some persuasive allies in his quest to prove its authenticity. I fear, however, that he is simply 'tilting at windmills.' The whole quixotic episode proves yet again the eternal, worldwide fascination with America's favorite bad boy. Billy would love it—but even he might say 'buyer beware.'"

—The Top Secret Writer

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Billy's Bill of Sale

 October 20, 2020

   Need you to help me vet some photos for the book. This is posted on the web as an early photo of Billy the Kid's grave. It certainly looks right and it is forlorn enough, prior to the explosion of interest that Burns' book gave the site. Is it, in fact the Kid's grave?

The Kid's grave prior to
the invention of the Good-Bad Boy?

   And here are Billy's pallbearers.

Billy's Pallbearers in the 1920s
L to R: Charlie Foor, Jose Silva,
Vicente Otero and Paco Anaya

And here is the bill of sale signed by the Kid when he sold Sheriff Brady's horse, Dandy Dick to Henry F. Hoyt in Tascosa, Texas, in 1878.

All legit? Good to go? What do you know? I know, I know, do your own damn research, Kid.

"The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government."
—Barry Goldwater

Monday, October 19, 2020

Billy At The Baile And Working Remotely Is So Tiring

 October 19, 2020

   I am exhausted. Let me tell you how much I hate working remotely, but first let's do a little dance for having actual work that I can still do.

Daily Scratchboard Flashback Whip Out:

"Billy at The Baile:

   Thanks to my curator, Kristi Jacobs, and her masterful filing sytem, I was able to find a packet of old Billy the Kid images I have done over the past 30 years. I found this old scratchboard, above, and saw immediately it had potential. Honestly, it looked so bad in the book (BTKII) I was not even planning on using it in the new book, but when I saw the original in the packet I thought I could salvage it. So I pulled it out and hauled it downstairs and gave it another pass with my scraping tools, and if you compare it with the version in the book, you will be amazed as I was. First of all, it doesn't look like mud, like it does in book #2. When I told this to my production manager Robert Ray he wondered if it isn't a function of gray-scale vs. bit-map scanning, which is how we scanned scratchboards in the old days (mid-1990s!).

   And, speaking of scanning, I spend way too much time trying to find scans, especially now that we're all working remotely. Here's a typical exchange on Slack, which is a cousin to Zoom.

"I need that image of Billy dancing at a baile. It's a scratchboard."

"What did you name it?"

"I don't know, 'Billy the Kid at the Baile.'"

Fifteen minutes later: "Sorry, chief, it's not coming up."

Okay, try "BTK Baile"

"Nope. When did you do it?"

"I don't remember. At least 26 years ago?"

"That won't help us."

And so it goes. I finally made a vow, today, to write down every single name of every single scan and keep it in a ledger on my desk.

The Kids Return

   Billy and the Top Secret Writer are in the House.

   This next issue marks the return of two of my favorite "kids." One is the legendary outlaw, who sparked in me a lifetime of research on his short and violent life, and the other is the legendary scholar who, so far, has had a long and peaceful life, interrupted by eloquent tirades against the machine (Academia with a capital A).

   Our creative designers and editors worked overtime to process and complete my third and final book on Billy the Kid. We are running a few samples of the new artwork that accompanies the book in this issue.

   The Billy book is, in fact, dedicated to The Top Secret Writer. He has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. Here's looking at you Kid! 

Billy Back Issues

   Part of our rationale for the third and final Billy the Kid book is that in the past 21 years our contributing editors and writers have uncovered much new scholarship about the legendary outlaw and we thought it was only fitting that we gather it all up in one final book. It wasn't as easy as it sounds as we had to catalogue and sort through the new stuff, then vet it with the previous book and shoehorn it all in, all the while working remotely! Ouch!

"Live by the gun, die by the gun"

Or, is it better to live like a friend of Billy's?

Daily Whip Out: "Vicente Otero Sketch"

   Vicente Otero was born in Manzano, New Mexico and lived in Lincoln County and Valencia before moving to Fort Sumner. He was a pallbearer at the Kid's funeral. Incredibly, no one interviewed him in depth about his friendship with the Kid (if only my father had made that turn!). Vicente was blind in the last years of his life in Fort Sumner. He died on November 28, 1958. Some in the family dispute the birth date on his headstone (see, below). Although his headstone says he was born on February 12, 1852, census records indicate he was born in the late 1840’s, which would put his age somewhere near 110 when he died.

 "One died at 21, the other at 110. One's a legend and the other one took more naps and ate more homemade enchiladas. Which one do you want to be?"

—A Life Question for Me And My Kid Krazy Friends