Friday, October 19, 2012

How Did All My Friends Get Hooked On Billy the Kid?

October 19, 2012

   When I was in Ruidoso last weekend I was pleasantly surprised when Fred Nolan told me he got hooked on the Kid by “The Saga of Billy the Kid,” by Walter Noble Burns. That is the same book that tripped my trigger. So, I asked all my friends how they got to be Kid Krazy.  Here are some of their comments. See if you can spot a trend?

Like you and Frederick Nolan, I was bitten by THE book. I still have my $1.49 Grosset and Dunlap reprint of SAGA OF BILLY THE KID. It led me to Burns' TOMBSTONE, followed by Lake's WYATT EARP, Horan's DESPERATE MEN, Homer Croy's JESSE JAMES WAS MY NEIGHBOR, and Hendrick's THE BADMAN OF THE WEST, pretty much in that order as I recall.  That would have been in the early 1950's.  I wrote letters to Stuart Lake, James D. Horan and Homer Croy and I still have the letters they sent me. Burns was dead of course, and I could not get Hendrick's address.   So I was hooked on ALL of the Old West outlaws and lawmen from the beginning, not just the Kid.  But how can anyone not be drawn to the Kid?

In addition to those above, in the 1950's I wrote letters to Maurice Garland Fulton, William Macleod Raine, Walter Prescott Webb, Earle R. Forrest, Carl W. Breihan, Wayne Gard, Helena Huntington Smith, Angie Debo, John Myers Myers, Burton Rascoe, Ed Bartholomew, F. Stanley, Phillip Rash, Doc Sonnichsen, Stanley Vestal (W. S. Campbell), William A. Keleher, and of course J. Evetts Haley, Robert Mullin, and Ramon Adams.  Stamps were only 3 cents. I am sure there were more I cannot recall.  These were all in the 1950's, the earliest in1952 when I was fifteen.  Every one of them responded. I even wrote to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and they responded giving me a book.  And I  visited Zoe Tilghman twice in Oklahoma City after I turned 16  and could drive.  Of course, Glen Shirley lived in Stillwater and I knew him well.

—Robert G. McCubbin

Well I'm certainly not as crazy as some of you. Billy was always of interest in the generic way I was interested in all of western history from a young age. I remember a particularly striking Joe Grandee TW cover when I was a kid. When I was in high school I cared enough to take a bus downtown to the historical society to look at the Billy letters in the Wallace Papers (which in those innocent days they just handed over to a high school kid to paw through). I loved Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid when it came out of course. But it was really only when I moved to New Mexico in 1985 that the affliction came (sort of like the hantavirus). I wrote that piece for NM Magazine (Dreamscape Desperado) to purge myself, but als. Next stop Hollywood and many misadventures with Billy leading to Davy, and so on. Soon I met Bob Boze Bell and was pulled into an ever-increasing web of Billy mania. The rest, as they say, is history (yes, a bizarre mix of hysteria and history).

—Paul Andrew Hutton, a distinguished professor at the University of New Mexico

Don't know that I'm as crazy/sick as the rest of you, but maybe.  I came to it from the opposite direction, though.  It was my fascination with Pat Garrett that got me hooked on the Kid. By the way, I've got a good friend who has recently become infected.  He's the top scholar on Sam Peckinpah.  You may recognize his book: Peckinpah: The Western Films, A Reconsideration.  His name is Paul Seydor.  Anyway, he just finished a book on the different versions of Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, which is excellent.  Apparently Peckinpah was Kid crazy as well.

—Mark Gardner, author of “To Hell On A Fast Horse”

I had a French exchange student living with my family & me and she was going back to Paris the day Young Guns II was coming out here in the States. She was sooo sad she was going to miss the premiere release...she talked about the first movie cuz she loved all the actors. So my family and I decided to c YG2 in her honor after we took her to the airport. I watched it & felt like a 2x4 hit me in the back of the head. I was living in Oregon then. I made my first trip to NM several months later to check out Lincoln, Blazers Mill, Ft Sumner, Santa Fe, etc. I had to walk the land, touch the soil, etc. I felt like I was returning home. That's how it all started!!!!

—Linda S. Pardo

I don't remember ever hearing of a 'Billy The Kid' growing up in Michigan. I spent several summers in Cody, Wyoming when I was a teenager and then moved there when I was 21 yrs. (Yes, ironic, eh?) In the next several years I started to feel a yearning to go to New Mexico. I did not know why. When I discussed it with friends, they said, "Oh it's just because there are a lot of Native people there and you're into that." Thinking/feeling deep inside myself I said, "No. I need to go to Lincoln County. I think there was a lot of conflict there." I then thought.....and Billy The Kid was around there. I did not see a movie,I did not read a book, I don't even remember hearing anyone else speak of him. As I had no money at the time I thought if I made it down there somehow, I would not have money to come back so I basically would just have to move there. (which was okay with me) However, at the time, I REALLY was liking Cody and I just thought.....okay, soon I will go. After some years, I got married to the first guy, lived in Texas, Tennessee, Michigan........had my beautiful little girl.......and decided that was long enough to have a misspent youth and I needed to get serious about a career. Went back to school in Bozeman, Montana, got a business degree, got divorced, and moved on with my life. After several more years (that's another story) the desire started hitting me again. I somehow HAD to go to Lincoln County. Read Billy The Kid books, saw the "Young Guns" movie and I was right back YEARNING to go to New Mexico. Married guy #2 in 2000 and a couple months later (because I then had more money) took off, by myself, to Lincoln. That was the beginning of my annual trips to New Mexico. In the beginning, I would just go to Fort Sumner, Lincoln, and surrounding areas and just think and feel. It was amazing!!!! Then........weird things started happening to me. the next story.

—Shelly Buffalo Calf

I was born in NM and have been to many of BTK's haunts including ground zero in Lincoln. Once you educate yourself about his life and not the Hollywood versions, you can't help but become engrossed and intrigued by his personality and of course the mystery. There is a reason why so many old west historians continue to try and chip away at that enigma that is the Kid. We still know so little about him and perhaps that's why he will always have us coming back for more.

—Gordon Fikes

I wanted to know the truth...then come to find there's always so many versions to every story in the Old West! That's what makes reading True West so much fun! You guys go back and look at each version with any new evidence you keep updating history.

—John Beckett

Marlon Brando's loosely based “One-Eyed Jacks,” then kristofferson/peckinpaw's “Pat Garret & Billy the Kid” and then " Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid.”

—Ken Crane

I came through a backdoor: My interest in the American crime landscape. Billy the Kid is a marvelous enigma -- like Charles Manson, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy or Lee Harvey Oswald, among others -- who became mythic as he tumbled along in the cultural undertow. They are not exactly celebrated as good guys, of course, but neither are they cast aside as purely bad guys either. They are often portrayed as being more complex than they probably were. Something about them fascinates us, and I am fascinated with the fascination. Doing my CRIME BUFF'S GUIDE books, I've been amazed at how many of these aforementioned pop up in so many places in so many legendary forms.

—Ron Franscell

As a kid growing up in Tucson, Arizona, the cowboy image was more than popular, it was a way of life for most Arizonans. My siblings and I grew up with adventure stories of the old west. Billy the kid was considered a bad boy and fought against the law (the good guys). A few years ago I saw a documentary on the history channel about Billy the Kid and the story they told made Billy out to be a real hero, an American good guy fighting a corrupt law enforcement system. I now love Billy for his courage and sorry so many years were wasted in thinking badly of him. The west still holds so many mysteries and opportunities.

—Carol Bennette

My dad took me to see the first Young Guns movie when I was a kid. We watched lots of Westerns together so I assumed this was another made-up Hollywood tale. When my dad told me Billy the Kid was REAL, I wanted to learn more. I first read Pat Garrett's (Ashmun Upson's) book, then Walter Noble Burns. A few years later, Elizabeth Fackler's (someone needs to tell HBO to make that into a miniseries!). I was hooked. Partially because its a fascinating story with how tragic the whole thing is, mostly because Billy is such a phantom figure. We know he was real, but he's just on the edge of reality. All we have of him is one faded picture and a few short notes. We hardly know, apart from descriptions, what he looked like. We don't even know where he REALLY came from. There's that hope that, somewhere, there's more to the story because so much seems to be missing. Absolutely fascinating...

—Josh Horton

Hard to say, I think for me it was Barry Sullivan and Clu Gulager and their Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid TV show back then.

—Alan Rockman

I met Clu Gulager when i was about 10 years old.He shot a fly off the wall inside a new store called Best Buy Market in Visalia,Ca. That blank gun was loud,my eyes were big,i was hooked ,the fly was dead~Well he said there was a fly up there

—Rick Son

When I discovered that I was related to Bob Olinger.

—John Olinger

The movie with Val Kilmer playing 'Billy the Kid'. [Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid]

—Jerry Rushing

You did, Boze. I remember you talking about your "The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid" on a certain radio station (oh, that stretched to 3 different stations, didn't it?). I couldn't wait to get my hands on that great book of yours when you finally finished it! Not as crazy as you & Fred Nolan though. I still have to read "Saga of Billy the Kid".

—Harold Roberts

Bob, it was actually two items that started my enjoyment of the " Billy The Kid Saga " earlier in my life. First was the wonderful recording made by the late and great Marty Robbins, " Billy The Kid ", released on his album, " GUNFIGHTER BALLADS AND TRAIL SONGS ", released in the early 60's...But, if any one thing sold me on the life of Billy, it was the great portrail of Billy by actor Geoffrey Deuel in the movie, " CHISUM " made by Warner Brothers and Batjac Productions, owned by the late and great John Wayne, who also starred in the picture, released in August, 1970.

—John Wayne Anderson

Walter Noble Burns' Saga when I was twelve.

—Elizabeth Sinkovitz

The kid holds my interest more then any other outlaw. I've read everything I could get my hands on about Billy. I can't think of any movie or t.v. show that inspired my interest.

—Joe Wilson

It was Young Guns with me Bob.

—Rick Rosales II


—John A. Aragon

It was when I decided to tell I was the great grandson of Billy and wrote my book telling the story 1999 after hearing all the fuss at the Outlaw Gang outings. Now everyone knows but some find it hard to believe my story. I keep asking myself, "why do the Billy things keep coming to me"?. Unfortunately, my story debunks many of the prior findings by those you mention.

—Elbert Garcia

My history teacher telling me about how he died - not the usual topic of discussion for a kid growing up in the north of England.

—Michael Bell favorite western historian totally brought me on board.....Thanks for sharing your artistic renditions and animated tales.

—Julia Flannigan

Lived in the Southwest for 15 years and the Kid has been a hobby/fascinating of mine, along with visiting historical places of Kid significance, but as a longtime Peckinpah fan, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" is my favorite and without doubt, put my Kid fandom over the edge

—Sam Aselstine

Actually, mine was a record my dad had. It was a little skit with the kid and another cowboy. I listened to it over & over (this was in the 60s) and even performed it in front of the 3rd grade class i was in at the time. LOL I cant remember the name of the album. Wish i could!

—Brigitte Simmons Cherubini

I'm a BTK fanatic. I first became interested in Billy around 1954-55. My maternal grandmother brought me a Billy the Kid plate (wall hanger) from the BTK museum at Ft Sumner. I didn't start reading books on Billy until the 70's. My BTK plate today hangs on my home office wall between a BTK reward poster and a photo of Billy. So, the plate is what started me on my craze for Billy.

—Jimmy Avance

I am 55 and I grew up in the Bonanza/Gunsmoke era. Matt Dillon convinced me the Cowboy Way was the only way (with a little help from the Duke.) BTW, just subscribed to your magazine. Decided it wasn't the Cowboy Way to read it free on the newsstand.

—Mike Dickerson

The Left Handed Gun got me interested in BTK, then Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid hooked me for good.

—Hal Smith

BTK got into my blood as a kid! I always wanted to be Pat Garrett until I found out they where friends! He killed his friend and that was the last time I liked Pat. Weather you believe he really killed the kid or not he still had to live the rest of his life with people thinking he killed his friend. Is there anyone out there that believed the old man that claimed to be BTK was really him?

—Ronnie Butler

I'm 36 years old and Young Guns got me into westerns, the west and history. They were my gateway, Walter Noble Burns took it to another level. I have loved reading and sifting through the stories both real and imagined and finding out what happened.

—Rob Sullinger

I grew up watching Bonanza, The Lone Ranger, and Gunsmoke and fell in love with the Old West. When I got a little older I became fascinated with the rough and tough characters that lived during that period. That is when I became a Kid fanatic. I cannot learn enough about the Kid and cannot help but love the little devil!

—Carole Nease

I'm 74 years old. My sister and I grew up hearing stories from our grandfather about Billy. My great-grandparents knew Billy and he would visit them when he was in Mesilla, NM. My grandpa was a young boy at the time. We love Billy the Kid! El Chivato!

—Gloria Ojo Beltran

I'm from Belgium,and here we have the comic called Lucky Luke. Billy has played a part in several episodes,and even has one issue specially dedicated to him. It's here I read about him before I could even read! Since then I found him my most favourite character in the comic. Imagane my reaction,when later in life I found out he really was a true icon of the old west! Check it out, Lucky Luke comics by Morris !!!

—Peter Van Echelnoel

I first got interested in Billy in my early teens. I first really started to get interested in him after reading "The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid..." by Pat Garrett. Then, as a reward for finishing up a round of chemotherapy, my father took me on a road trip to New Mexico where we visited many Billy the Kid sites. Along the way I read Fred Nolan's book, "The West of Billy the Kid." Ever since I have been hooked.

—Nicholas Nargo

I grew up watching Westerns on Saturday mornings, but I think after my first visit to Lincoln I was hooked on the kid.

—Keitha Harper Shandley

fI first discovered the kid when the comic shop next door got all these western comics and yep the first was billy the kid, being a kid myself and left-handed you couldn't ask for better upbringing, also the fact the kid is still a mystery today as he was when alive.

—Michel Cribb

I have just gobbled up all the knowledge I could get on the kid over the years, think I've seen every movie about him, except I know I didn't see King Vidor's Johnny Mack Brown version. separating fact from fiction is the fun of it.

—Jack Schill

First, I saw Young Guns. Then I read Robert M. Utely's book "Billy The Kid: A Short and Violent Life." I picked apart Young Guns after that, but I still love that movie for the scenes that ARE accurate.

—Brent Henshaw

You know what, for me it was The Left Handed Gun with Paul Newman that got me interested in Billy. Being from Oklahoma, I was always more interested in "our" bad men, from Kansas, Missouri, Texas & Nebraska era. I know it's factually silly as "history" but Paul Newman did bring a character to life for me that I had ignored. Still not a "fanatic", but I've read all the books, particularly Mr. Utley's collected works.

—Jim Holden

I just always like western history and especially the bad boys, like my cousins...the James boys.

—Diane Sprouse Hutchens

I had to do a report on tall tales fact and fiction when I was in high school. While doing research on the kid, I discovered there was a lot more to his story. I became a kid nut and have read everything I can get my hands on about him.

—Dan Cowart

Well all it took for me was a copy of Walter Noble Burns' Saga... That little book really primed the pump. Fred Nolan, Robert utley and Michael Wallis book are awesome. Went to Lincoln this past July. I have a photo of the 2d story window where Billy greeted Bob Ollinger....."hello Bob"

—David Spooner

I'm from McAlister,NM which is 50 miles from Ft. Sumner and 20 miles from Stinking Springs, I am a Kid fanatic!!!!

—Wendy Green Swaim

I'm 44 years old an when I was a kid my dad ordered a book off of T.V. it was a brown padded leather looking book with all the famous outlaws stories and pic.. Maybe by Time Life, not sure. From this I fell in love with the old west.

—Shannon Ardoin

He was just a kid when he died, a troubled kid. His story makes me sad.

—Ann Phelps

"The cinema is an invention without a future."

—Louis Lumiere