June 20, 2013
When I give my history talks, I sometimes learn more than my audience. Last night at Cartwright's was one of those times. My talk was on the history of Route 66 and as I was relating my own story about growing up on Route 66 I told the tale of buying the fake photo of Billy the Kid at The Longhorn Museum in 1958.
On our annual summer trips to Iowa, my father rarely stopped the car except for gas, food and a good night's rest. When I wanted to stop to see The World's Largest Buffalo, he didn't even slow down and as we blew by the exit he told me we had "to make time."
Like so many fathers of that era, his trips were planned to the minute and by the mile. After filling up with gas he did the math on the inside of a matchbook cover to figure out his mileage. When we got behind 14 trucks outside of Gallup he would work his way around them, then cruise at ten miles above the speed limit for a half hour to make up for lost time. We had to make time and this was why he was so reticent to stop for stuff I wanted to see.
"You've got fifteen minutes, kid." Those were the words he told me after he reluctantly pulled into the dusty parking lot of the Longhorn Museum, 43 miles east of Albuquerque, on the south side of Route 66. As I ran inside, this is what I saw:
As I told this part of the story last night and mentioned the Longhorn Museum, a woman in the front row literally gasped and put her hand to her mouth. She looked like she had seen a ghost. After the talk, Sandi Cook came up to me and said her father worked at the "ranch" and that she grew up there, catching the school bus to Moriarity every morning. That was such a treat for me. I asked her what happened to the place (I went looking for it in 2006 and found only part of the sign remains). She told me the sad story, which I'll share later.
The punchline to my story of visiting the Longhorn Museum for fifteen minutes in 1958 is that I bought an "authentic photo of Pat Garret and Billy the Kid" for a quarter and after putting it up in my room and making a vow to someday have a hat, vest and rifle just like the Kid in the photo, I discovered—in True West magazine—that the photo was A FAKE!
The Fake photo of Billy and Pat: actually George Gormley as the Kid and Dave Steele as Pat from the 1931 Santa Fe Fiesta Melodrama, directed by Margery Wilson
In my talk last night, I made the connection that two years ago I actually held the only known photo of Billy the Kid, which later sold for $2.3 million. From a fake picture of Billy the Kid to the only known photo which Billy actually held in his hands (his thumb prints are on the photo!). How about that for one degree of Billy the Kid?
After my talk and after Cindi and I exchanged contact info, Bucky and Tracy Marshall approached me to tell me how much they enjoyed the talk. Bucky asked me if I still had the fake photo of Billy and I said, yes, it's framed and in my studio. Bucky asked me what I thought it was worth. I had never thought of that before, but I admitted that despite it's fake-iness, it was an icon to me, and now that I think about it, what a great investment it was. And, it literally launched me on my career and a lifelong passion to find out the truth about the historic, wild West.
Turning to leave, Bucky had one more comment: "And your father gave you the best gift." I didn't follow his drift and said, "What is that?"
"He gave you the fifteen minutes."
Can fifteen minutes in a museum change a person's life? It certainly changed mine. Thanks, Dad for making time.
"In the end we are judged on what we give, not what we take."
—Old Vaquero Saying