Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Unfinished Kid: A Killer Billy the Kid Manuscript Surfaces

March 13, 2018
   I got a serious offer on this painting today:

"A Belle of Old Fort Sumner"

   I can't really sell it, and here's the inside skinny on why. 

   Several months ago, author Mark Lee Gardner bought an unknown collection of Walter Noble Burns manuscripts on eBay. It consisted of hundreds of pages of manuscript materials, mostly Burns' unpublished western fiction and an unpublished play about pirates! But there was some killer Billy the Kid-related items mixed in, and one of them was an unpublished article titled "A Belle of Old Fort Sumner," which predates the chapter of the same name in Saga that gave Burns' publisher fits.  Fearing a libel suit from the still living "Belle," Paulita Maxwell Jaramillo, his publisher forced Burns to rewrite the chapter.  Pete's sister (not his daughter as is often stated) was only 15 at the time of the alleged tryst with the Kid and this was probably the motive for Pete to throw the outlaw under the bus.

We are going to run this "lost" version in the next issue of True West (May) with Mark's commentary and annotations. It's very cool. 

When the design for the piece came back, I didn't like the art in the original layout (a typical bad, early drawing of the Kid in the same old pose and old-yellowed pages with Burns' handwriting underneath):

First layout

   So I asked our production manager, if the title is "A Belle of Old Fort Sumner" don't you think there should be a picture of the Kid with said Belle?

   To which he said, "When are you going to paint it?" 

   So I went home for lunch and found an old board upstairs which had this exact subject matter, but I got stuck and never finished it. I grabbed it and quickly gave it a go, but I ran out of time (lot's of nuance going on behind that picket fence) and the saddle and back end of the horse are unfinished. Here is the entire painting, un-cropped:

"The Unfinished Kid"

   I know what you're thinking—Why don't you just finish the painting and sell it? Well, because this issue goes to press on Thursday and I have June steaming in right behind it!

"If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would get done."
—Old Vaquero Saying


  1. Wow Bob....your watercolors are beginning to look a lot like Charlie Russell's....and I mean that in a good way.


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