Saturday, October 31, 2020

Frozen Feet Mystery Solved By The Woman With The Gay Name

 October 31, 2020

   Given all the complaining and horror stories about the evils of social media, here's an anectdote about a wonderful, and life saving, connection made possible by Facebook and this blog.

   I mentioned a couple days ago I was trying to find a small episode in the mountains of Billy the Kid literature about a guy on horseback who had trouble crossing a frozen stream and he had to finally break the ice and then wade across, leading his horse and then riding the rest of the way to his destination with frozen pants. At least that's how I remembered it.

   I queried all my Billy the Kid pards and none of them could recall where I read this. I knew I read it somewhere legit, but with ten days to go before press, I was at wit's end to find this miniscule tidbit. For crying out loud, the ads are starting to run and I've got to let this one go!

Frozen Feat, Indeed!

   Well, lo and behold, look who found it.

   BBB, there is an item about John William Poe and James (Jim) Brent by Poe's wife, Sophie A. Poe in her book "Buckboard Days" 1936, page 246. This has to do with capture of Nicholas (Nicolas) Aragon. . .

"John William gave all praise to Jim Brent for making the trip successfully when all odds were against him.  On his way to Vegas, he came to a creek that was frozen over.  His horse refused to cross it, and Jim could get the animal ahead only by himself dismounting and breaking the ice and wading through, leading the horse, when he reached Vegas, both his feet were frozen."
—Gay Mathis

   I have never met Gay Mathis in person, only here on social media, but she is downright amazing. And this is not the first time Gay has saved the day. When I was doing "The 66 Kid" (2014) nobody in my hometown of Kingman could find a photograph of our eighth grade teacher, Mr. Lomasney, but Gay was able to locate one from his days in Las Vegas, New Mexico. How she did this I will never know, but, thank you once again, Gay Mathis! One of these days I have to meet this brilliant woman with the gay name. Ha.

"The only thing new in this world is the history you don't know."
—Harry Truman

Friday, October 30, 2020

Billy's Bad Company And The Truth About Frank Chisum

 October 30, 2020

   Picking up odds and ends.

Billy's Bad Company

   After the Kid killed his first man and fled Arizona, he fell in with a band of outlaws calling themselves "The Boys." Being just a literal boy, Billy must have had a hard time holding his own amidst all the drinking and brawling of the older, hardened men.

Daily Whip Out: "Bad Company"

   Drinking on the trail and shooting the hats off of fellow riders just for starters, it had to be nerve-wracking and challenging for the undersized boy.

   The truth is hard to find, especially in an election year. Fortunately, I have landed some very good help. Thanks to a recommendation by Roy Young, I contacted Janice Dunnahoo from the Roswell Museum and I got the inside skinny on a couple fronts.

Daily Whip Out: "Frank Chisum"

   Janice has been sending me newspaper clippings on the black, cowboy Frank Chisum and they are so helpful and enlightening. For example, Frank stayed in the Roswell area after the demise of his namesake, John Chisum (1884) and the collapse of the ranching empire he built. Or, as the Roswell Daily Record puts it, "the passing of the brand." Among other tidbits about the ex-slave cowboy, the newspaper proudly noted, "He rode and ate with William H. Bonney, 'Billy the Kid.'"

   Frank evidently tried to start his own herd, as The Las Vegas Optic noted on August 26, 1885 that Frank Chisum "is in the city today. He is a colored man and has gone into the cattle business for himself by gradually working into it. His bunch of cows now numbers 125 head and he is as proud of them as the greatest king on the plains."

   That effort apparently did not pan out because in the teens and early twenties Frank is noted in the "old-timer" parades as having worked for many other "large cow outfits in eastern New Mexico serving with the Blocks, Bar Vs, Circle Diamonds, Diamond Az, Flying Hs, and others. . ." The paper goes on to report, "At old-timer reunions he was always placed at the head of the parades where he could be seen riding the finest horses the country afforded and dressed in the uniform of a Confederate officer, a relic sent to him from the Southland and one of his most prized possessions. At the barbecues 'Frank' was always given a place of honor, serving the pioneers in the same fashion which for more than a half century he served the cow outfits."

Amarillo Daily News, January 10, 1929

   Hmmmm, so, if there was a statue of Frank Chisum wearing his Confederate uniform, would reformers demand that it be taken down?

   Frank passed in March of 1929. He was 73.

"What's good for the goose tends to be bad news for the gander."

—Old Vaquero Saying


Thursday, October 29, 2020

I Can See The End of The Final Word On Billy the Kid From Here

 October 29, 2020

   Angling off into the final push on the final word on the Kid. Feels odd, feels good. A long journey is coming to an end.

   This morning, via Slack, Robert Ray and I roughed in the final sections on the final week of the prolonged production schedule. It's been a long run, but we're almost done.

   Still lots of holes and gaps and redundant drivel (my word for my words). I can't believe how hard this has been. Of course, a good chunk of the hardness has been learning to communicate and work, via Slack. I would venture two months went by with nary a progress report, to report. Still not super efficient, for me, but it is the future and I view this as one last hurdle in one last game, like an aging catcher who has issues with the whole designated hitter deal, and here he is standing in front of me at crotch level. More than slightly irritating. Still, this is the game and I still love the game.

Final Thoughts

Don't you think the Kid would have posed at least once with an armed woman? I do.

Daily Whip Out:
"Billy With Armed Mamacita"

   And, I totally dig the idea of a black gunfighter with a catchy name.

Daily Whip Out:

"Young Henry Young"

   Although, this is for another book at another time.

And, while we're at it. . .

Daily Whip Out: "Henry With A Henry"

Digging Out

   It's safe to say anytime the Kid was incarcerated he immediately looked for a way out and on most occassions the boy found an egress. Several times he went up the chimney as in his first arrest in Silver City, but he also did the same when surrounded in a cabin, six miles below Lincoln by Sheriff Kimbrell and a 15 man posse. They waited until dawn and discovered the Kid "escaped by climbing up a chimney, leaving his arms behind and escaping under cover of night." In the Santa Fe jail, Billy and fellow prisoners Dave Rudabaugh, Billy Wilson and a prisoner named Kelly almost succeeded in digging their way out. The Daily New Mexican told of Sheriff Martinez and Marshal Tony Neis entering the cell, while the men were at supper. "They examined the room and found that the bed ticking was filled with stones and earth, and removing the matress discovered a deep hole." It almost reached the street. 


   I'm still trying to find the origin of the Cowboy Who Rode With Frozen Pants story. I emailed Roy Young, who is working on a book on the Stewart Cowboy Contingency that chased the Kid in the winter of 1880 and he couldn't find it, but here are two more examples he gave me:

1.  Manuel Brazil:  "The night of the twentieth (December 1880), he had ridden many miles to the fort in below zero weather to give us a message, and had arrived close to midnight, with ice frozen on his beard."
2.  Charles Frederick Rudulph, quote: "With extreme caution, taking care not to step too loudly in the frozen crunchy snow, we advanced to the old rock house.... We were only eight yards away, shivering and half frozen... I soon realized that was the least of my worries when I found out that my feet were almost frozen; I could feel nothing in my toes."

   "Well how many wasted have I seen signed 'Hollywood or bust'

   "And left to ride the ever ghostly Arizona gusts
   "Cheerleader tramps and kids with big amps sounding in the void.
   "High society vamps, ex-heavyweight champs mistaking soot for soil. . ."
—Bruce Springsteen, from his new album, A Letter to You

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dueling Posses In The Lincoln County War

 October 28, 2020

   Historians often talk about the lack of law in the Old West, but the people who lived in Lincoln County, New Mexico in 1877 suffered from too much law. 

   For the BTKIII book:

Daily Whip Out:

"Garrett Pushed On Thru The Whiteout"

   Dueling Posses

   In 1877, Lincoln County suffered from too much law, with rival posses roaming the countryside, their saddlebags stuffed with warrants for members of the other side. Both sides enlist reluctant posse members to fatten their ranks. Several, neutral farmers testify that the Regulators threatened them each with a $50 fine if they didn't help serve warrants on McSween's enemies. The Dolan side also intimidated anyone they could to join their ranks. As the arrest and recriminations spiraled out of control, everyone fears the worst. And their worst fears come true.

Daily Whip Out: "Dueling Posses"

May 19, 1878
   Eighteen Regulators raid the Dolan-Riley cow camp near Seven Rivers. It is believed the Kid is with them. They steal 27 horses and kill Manuel Segovia, alias "The Indian," who allegedly was a member of the posse that killed Tunstall.

June 22, 1879
   John Kinney and his "posse" reach Lincoln from Mesilla. They state they are in town to help the authorities, but since both sides have "authority" it's unclear who that is. Mostly they just help themselves.

June 23, 1878
   Marion Turner and Billy Mathews attend church in the McSween parlor at 4 p.m. and hear Rev. Ealy's sermon, "Ye must be born again."

June 27, 1878
   Sheriff Long's posse, supported by Capt. Carroll and 25 troopers, attacks McSween and others near San Patricio. No one is hit, or captured.

Daily Whip Out: "Jumped!"

June 29, 1878
  Col. Cronin saves Juan Patron from being killed by a Peppin posse. Patron seeks sanctuary at Fort Stanton.

July 1, 1878
   A Dolan posse arrests John Copeland at his ranch for being a McSween man.

July 2, 1878
   Susan McSween shows up at Saturnino Baca's house and threatens to have the family killed if Baca sent a "posse" after her husband.

July 3, 1878
   A John Long posse ransacks San Patricio looking for the Regulators and Alex McSween.

July 4, 1878
   Billy Bonney and four Regulators ride into Roswell to buy tobacco and candy for Sallie Chisum. As they are leaving, they see a cloud of dust rising in the west. As the boys ride towards Chisum's ranch, the riders come into view and they realize it is a posse of Dolan men who open fire on them. George Coe remembered they "were hitting the high spots." The posse besieges Chisum's ranch for most of the day, but finally gives up and return to Lincoln.

July 8, 1878
   The John Selman "posse" raids the ranches on the Ruidoso, sacking the Coe's and Saunder's ranches.

July 14, 1878
    It is Sunday night, as McSween with "about forty" men, reach Lincoln. The Regulators choose Martin Chavez, "a prominent native" from Picacho, s their leader. According to George, "We requested him to accept leadership of our band, and promised to abide by his decisions and foll his plans. He readily consented, and began to draw up a plan of attack." Chavez places his men in key strategici locations throughout the town.

July 15, 1878
   The McSween men prepare for war. They barricade windows with adobes, pile bags of dirt against doorways and carve portholes in the adobe walls.

"The law is a suggestion with a gun."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Lincoln County Warrior: Frank Chisum

 October 27, 2020

   One of the unsung heroes of the Lincoln County War was this guy.

Daily Whip Out:

"Lincoln County Warrior: Frank Chisum"

   Benjamin Franklin Daley was his slave name and he was bought by cattle baron John Chisum in Fort Worth, Texas for $400 and set free. Chisum then offered him a gig as a cowboy riding for the Jinglebob. He took the name Frank Chisum and he also took to cowboying with a relish. A natural rider and skilled with horses, he was also a dead shot, and acted as John's bodyguard on many occassions. Chisum never went heeled, but, as the story goes, he didn't need to when Frank was by his side.

Daily Whip Out:

"Frank Chisum's Heroic Ride"

   While the two were hunting strays, John Chisum came down with smallpox and Frank rode to Fort Stanton and back, 150 miles, to get medicine for his friend.

"No man could live there who did not steal from Chisum."

—Old Lincoln County Saying

Monday, October 26, 2020

It Was 39 Years Ago Today I Made The Journey

 October 26, 2020

   It was on this date in 1981 I got a strong feeling that I had to be in Tombstone. There was nothing in the newspaper about it, or on TV. I just knew it was the centennial of the street fight and I had to be in the vicinity of the O.K. Corral. So I drove down from Phoenix and picked up my friend John Weinkauf in Tucson and we went to the town of Tombstone and I parked and we walked down to the corral and there were a bunch of people standing around there who would change my life. Bob McCubbin for one. Phil Spangenberger, Richard Ignarski, Ben Traywick, Howard Love (who owned the O.K. Corral and put on the entire shindig).

   I've been going back ever since

   Anyway, that first visit was 39 years ago, today. Crazy. Life changing. What is the lesson? Read on.

The Kid In The Texas Panhandle

   Never underestimate the Poontang Trail. After the Big Killing in Lincoln in July of 1878, people began to flee the entire region because of the violence. The Ealy's left Lincoln with an army escort, protecting them all the way to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Mormon settlers in the Roswell area abandoned their farms to seek opportunities in other climes. Even the Chisums packed up their belongings and their herd and decamped for Texas. They were all fleeing the warzone of Lincoln and the fighting factions who had made the entire area uninhabitable.

Daily Whip Out: "The Big Killing"

   The Kid and what was left of his ragged Regulators spent most of this time securing new mounts and stealing cattle. One little known aspect of the Big Killing is that in the middle of the standoff, the mail carrier was allowed to pick up mail at the McSween house and McSween himself bought stamps and the Kid sent a letter to Sallie Chisum. Bottom line, the Kid had a thing for the Pecos Princess, and, knowing that, it was somewhat predictable that the Kid and his Regulators soon enough caught up with the departing Chisum party and then followed them all the way to Tascosa, in the Texas Panhandle.

   John Chisum, who was in the East, instructed his brother James to drive their cattle to the free grasslands of the Tascosa area until things settled down in Lincoln County. The Kid and his crew caught up with them along the Canadian River, about forty miles east of Fort Bascom. "Regulators come up with us at Red River Springs on the 25 Sept 1878," Sallie wrote in her diary. The boys were driving a large remuda of horses they had gathered to sell to Texas clients.

"What is the lesson? I made the journey."


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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

If My Father Had Made The Turn to Fort Sumner

 October 18, 2020

   In my second book on the Kid, I had the last man standing as Francisco Gomez, who not only rode with Billy the Kid and on Susan McSween but he lived to experience the atomic bomb blast just over the mountains at the Trinity Site (which is between Lincoln and Socorro). He died in 1946 and at the time I published the second book I assumed he was the last guy standing who knew Billy the Kid.

   Well, researcher and soon-to-be Kid book author, James B. Mills, of Australia, recently shared with me info on a guy in Fort Sumner who outlived them all.

Daily Whip Out: "Vicente Otero"

   This guy was alive in the summer of 1958 when my family was on the way to Iowa to visit the family farm. I saw the turn at Santa Rosa (Billy the Kid's grave 55 miles) but I couldn't get my dad to make the turn. If I had been able to get that stubborn Norwegian to make the turn, and we got to Fort Sumner and I had the good fortune to ask the right questions and charm the right people, I would have been able to meet and interview a guy who rode with Bill the Kid!

   Of course, there was only one problem.

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"The Fanner-Fifty Kid"

   I was only twelve at the time, which of course would have stunted my interview capabilities and I would most certainly have asked all the wrong questions.

"Was the Kid fast on the draw?"

"Did he rob banks and trains?"

"Did his horse come when he whistled?"

"Did he dress all in black?"

"Did he carve notches on his pistols?"

   I think I can pretty much predict what ol' Vicente would have told me:

"He was my friend and he was none of those things."

"The problem with this world is that by the time you make it to greener pastures, you're too old to climb the fence."
—Old Vaquero Saying