Wednesday, February 2, 2011

#6: Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis

Whenever I see "Billy the Kid" I think of two things:

1. Twinkie the Kid
2. Emilio Estevez. 

The author's intent in this book is to separate the myth of The Kid from the reality, and Mr. Wallis succeeds admirably in dispelling many notions about Bonney and his time and the books makes an excellent read. I am not going to be one of those people that say "Wow! This read like a novel!" Soooooo, what novel? "The Pelican Brief" or "Moby Dick"? Wallis is an excellent writer and does not skimp on the research, which makes the book good history. What he brings forth is what is most missed about Billy The Kid, the fact in plain sight: he was A Kid. He sang, danced, liked the ladies, ladies liked him. He did not drink too much or too often and was much more at home with the Mexican population of the American Southwest than the Anglo population. 

But more about Twinkie the Kid. The golden cake filled with awesomeness acquired this mascot in 1947; while this cream-filled rustler is unique, Billy The Kid was not alone in being called "the Kid" or getting caught up in range wars. Wait a minute, isn't there a "Tobasco Kid?" Yep, Kid Elberfeld who played for the Tigers back in the 1900s-1910s was called that for a "fiery disposition", a euphemism for being willing to spike the crap out of people. Twinkie the Kid is uniformly non violent. He doesn't even have guns:

The Tobasco Kid liked to get into fights. Billy the Kid emerges in this text as someone deeply and negatively affected by the death of his mother when he was 14; his step father lit off for the silver mines, leaving Henry Antrium to throw rocks at chinese laborers and raise hell generally. There is an impending dread in this book, knowing what is going to happen to this somewhat likable killer. That dread is mirrored in the film Young Guns starring Emilio Estevez. The difference is that the film takes far too long to kill off the Regulators; you actually want Billy to get it in the end. Lousy Hollywood. 

Who do we have to thank for the myth of The Kid? Governor Lew Wallace, more famous for
1. Being a slightly incompetent Union general in the Civil War
2 Writing the book Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, starring Chuck Heston. 
Wallace put a price on Billy the Kid's head, who promptly jumped in a chariot and lit out for Arizona, where Heston lobbied for weaker gun laws. Also, Billy's stepfather was there. Of course, when Billy took off, Wallace shrugged his shoulders and disappeared to write his masterpiece. Heston spent most of his career, in his words, "not wearing trousers" while Billy was hunted down and killed by Pat Garrett, no relation to Lief Garrett who recorded "Made for Dancing". Billy loved to dance; in other words, the myth is human. Always was, always will be. Except for Twinkie the Kid, who is a cake with no expiration date.

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