May 29, 2003
I gave a talk at the Hubbard Museum last Saturday morning and it was quite intimidating. As I looked over the the packed room I saw the faces of practically every Old West expert in the land. Drew Gomber (Billy the Kid author and expert), Richard Ignarski (weapons expert), Phil Spangenberger (ditto), Al Frisch (ditto), Nora Henn (Lincoln County War expert), Bob McCubbin (photo and well-read expert), Dave Daiss (no slouch on gun and Old West history), Paul Andrew Hutton (a professor of history at UNM). You get the picture.
Normally when I give a speech I can pontificate and pull statistics out of my rectum like this: “Ma’am Jones of the Pecos was an incredible woman. She had nine kids, eight of them boys and she lived 132 miles from the nearest doctor.” But on this speech I found myself saying, “Nora, how far is it from Seven Rivers to Fort Stanton to the nearest doctor?” And Nora would say, “152 miles,” and I would say “Thankyou. It’s nice to have experts here in the room,” when it actually was intimidating as Hell. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the speech went really well and we laughed and had a good spirited conversation about all things Western.
Later that same day, back in Lincoln, two of Paul Hutton’s young daughter’s came to the main house at Casa de Patron where we were staying and asked if I wanted to join them for a walking tour of Lincoln. I got dressed (I was on my third nap) and went out on the street. There I met Paul, his two daughters and his young son, Paul Andrew, Jr., who must be about seven or eight. We started up the street and right off, Paul Jr. says to his dad, “Where did Billy kill the sherif?” And Paul says pointing, “Right over there son. And he shot two others and they all deserved it.” I, of course blanched and looked at Paul askance. It has never been proven that the Kid killed Sheriff Brady on April Fools Day in 1878. He was shooting with five or six other Regulators through an adobe wall and it was a rather cowardly killing to say the least. But Paul just smiled and kept walking. His son and daughters were hanging on his every word. We got past the Tunstall store and Paul says, “Here’s where Billy escaped from a burning house and killed three men as he ran, hitting one right between the eyes as he jumped into the Rio Bonito river bottom and escaped to fight another day.” The kids eyes were wide but not as wide as mine. Billy shot no one as he escaped, all the killings happened in the next wave of McSween men who tried to escape the burning house. It was legend and Walter Noble Burns who gave those killings to Billy. Paul is an expert on this and so I was appalled but I kept my mouth shut. This went on for an hour or so and at every turn, Paul told his kids the tall tales that I thought we were supposed to disprove and educate the public about.
When we got back to Casa de Patron, his kids were pulling on his arm and saying, “Daddy, Daddy, tell us more stories.” I finally realized he is a genius. My kids never were interested because I would say, “Don’t believe that sign. It really didn’t happen that way.” I told this to Paul and he smiled. “Always tell your kids the legend,” he told me. “Maybe they’ll get interested enough in history and want to find out what really happened.”
That’s why I want to be Paul Andrew Hutton when I grow up.
“If you can’t improve on a story, you have no business retelling it.”
—Old Texan Saying
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