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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched and written true history of Billy the Kid
Mark Lee Gardner has so thoroughly researched and written this history of William Bonney, Billy the Kid, and his killer, Pat Garrett that many of the myths can now be put to rest. The Legend of Billy the Kid has been romanticized by many movies, books and songs, but now the actual historical facts are on display.

The book is laid out in chronological fashion...
Published on January 11, 2010 by Burgmicester

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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stays On The Factual Side Of The Trail
Billy the Kid is one of America's most famous killers, but the only killing he is really known for is his own. Mark Lee Gardner presents a sober-sided retelling of the life and death of the Kid and of the man who brought him down, Pat Garrett.

"To Hell On A Fast Horse" scores points for sticking to the facts, but loses them for...sticking to the facts. I come...
Published on January 18, 2010 by Bill Slocum


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched and written true history of Billy the Kid, January 11, 2010
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Mark Lee Gardner has so thoroughly researched and written this history of William Bonney, Billy the Kid, and his killer, Pat Garrett that many of the myths can now be put to rest. The Legend of Billy the Kid has been romanticized by many movies, books and songs, but now the actual historical facts are on display.

The book is laid out in chronological fashion and the story of Billy the Kid is told side by side with the one man that will be forever tied to him - Pat Garrett, the Sheriff that brought Billy down. The bibliography is well worth the time to peruse it. Much of the data and primary reference material is quoted and commented upon by Gardner, making this section of the book very valuable to anyone that is truly interested in the full historical story.

The writing is very good and easy to follow. Of the 250+ pages, the first 200 are dedicated to the story of Garrett and Billy and their intertwined lives. After Billy is killed by Garrett, the book concentrates on the rest of the life of Pat Garrett. Garrett's life after Billy is not a pretty one and is quite sad to read. Gardner works his material and maybe overwrites this portion a little. As a writer of pure history, Gardner attempts to leave no stone unturned and this is one of the two negatives that I have with the book - just too much detail without the interest of Billy the Kid's involvement. With the title as it is written, this reader expected Billy to be a part of the book until the end.

The second negative is that this book does not give to the reader any of the surrounding events that are ongoing during the time frame of this story. I like to obtain more historical information in the era of the biography to complement the immediate story of the biography's main character(s). In this case there are many individuals that are on display for their part in Billy's and Garrett's lives, but little else is discussed. For this reason, I marked down the rating from 5 to 4 stars.

If you are interested in the true events surrounding Billy the Kid, then this is the book for you.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stays On The Factual Side Of The Trail, January 18, 2010
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Billy the Kid is one of America's most famous killers, but the only killing he is really known for is his own. Mark Lee Gardner presents a sober-sided retelling of the life and death of the Kid and of the man who brought him down, Pat Garrett.

"To Hell On A Fast Horse" scores points for sticking to the facts, but loses them for...sticking to the facts. I come away from reading this 2010 history satisfied I know a lot more about Billy and Pat, but as to what made them so important to be worth reading about 130 years later, I can't honestly say. What was it about them that resonates so, now, then, and in all the decades between?

It sure wasn't the vast trove of reliable historical testimony they left behind. Gardner makes clear that available records are scant at best, and often unreliable. Instead of compensating by printing the legend, a la John Ford, he goes to census records and newspaper accounts, synthesizing what is out there with a gimlet eye but not much in the way of a discernable point of view.

Gardner does favor Garrett to Billy, perhaps because there's more data on the lawman, but mostly because he views Billy as a charming thug. "Billy's real and deadly talent was fooling people," he writes. "Billy joked and smiled, but his quick mind was always sizing up the situation, looking for a sign of weakness, a slight mental error, something that would give him an edge."

Garrett stood for something more than using people. Gardner portrays him in the opening chapter, which flash-forwards to Billy in Pat's custody, as a stolid character standing up to a mob to see to it Billy and his other prisoners receive honest justice, not the frontier variety. Later on, after Billy's death, he pursues an investigation with possibly dangerous political repercussions. Even when documenting Garrett's foibles, you get a feeling Gardner is on his side, trying in a non-partisan way to adjust the scales of remembrance which have tipped Billy's way too long.

The legend doesn't get aired out much, except a little in the footnotes. There, Gardner refutes popular misconceptions that Pat and Billy were friends (they knew each other, had mutual pals, but were never buddies) and that Billy was left-handed (the one picture we have of Billy was, like all ferrotypes, a reverse image). Frankly, I wish he had carried over some of this voice to the main text, which is dry as an arroyo at high noon. With such a great title, you expect more.

How many men did Billy really kill? Gardner doesn't really say. He does offer first-hand accounts of a few killings, as well as a shoplifting and a horse theft. Gardner also introduces a lot of characters, even when they don't serve much point in the ultimate scheme of things. He spends a few sentences introducing a co-leader of one of Garrett's posses, then a few pages later, in an aside, notes the guy skipped the country with stolen money, not to be mentioned again.

It's not exciting reading but gives you a sense of what the Wild West was really about, for good or ill. Gardner wants to tell it like it was. In this case, maybe the legend is better.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story "worth knowing" (4.5 stars), January 4, 2010
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J. Green (Los Angeles, California) - See all my reviews
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I heard plenty of Marty Robbins and Western music as a kid since it was the only music my dad really liked, and I remember listening to the sad story of "Billy the Kid," crouched next to the big old stereo cabinet while the records played. For some reason outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James (along with The Red Baron) loomed large in my childhood mind - I'm still not quite sure why.

Mark Lee Gardiner tells the story of Billy the Kid (a.k.a. Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, and William Bonney) very well. He provides background on where he came from and how he became a notorious outlaw, at least as far as is reliably known, which is sketchy at best (the Marty Robbins song says Billy "at the age of 12 years he did kill his first man," but the book says he was 17). He also tells of Pat Garrett, the all-but-forgotten Sheriff, who tracked Billy down and arrested him, and later killed him after a brazen and bloody escape (the song also says the two were friends, but the book says no). In doing so Gardiner brings the Old West of New Mexico alive in a very readable way - the chapter where Garrett kills Billy was particularly exciting. I noticed another review complain that Billy is romanticized too much, but I saw it differently; that Gardiner was trying to convey how Billy was viewed by the people, some of which saw him as a hero instead of an outlaw. My only complaint would be that the text and editing is a little uneven, and in some parts (not quotations) the language is a bit colloquial and salty. Also, the book drags a little after Billy's death, and the 100 pages that continue discussing Pat Garrett's latter history could have been shorter. But these complaints are minor, and I found the book to be an excellent and fun history.

(I also recommend Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West for those who enjoy this book.)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars but chock full of detailed information, January 13, 2010
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N. Wallach (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
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Billy the Kid's reputation is well known and well deserved. In American lore, he is a lovable outlaw with a goofy grin and an uncanny ability to escape from many a scrape and encounters with the law. In the end though, he is shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Who was Pat Garrett and how did those two characters become inextricably linked? This book delves into their lives and careers and answers those questions while giving the reader fascinating insights into the Wild West and how it really was.

As a standard historical text, you would not be surprised to learn that the author covers each of the two proponent's lives separately and then intertwines their stories as they move towards the climax of the fatal encounter that cemented their relationship - that being the night that Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid dead. I found it interesting that while Pat Garrett's story leading to their interactions in Fort Sumner and Lincoln County was rather short, Billy the Kid's history was much longer and more detailed. Maybe that is because there is and was so much interest more in the background of the outlaw rather than the lawman? In any case, that is what you will see when you read this book. Each of Billy's names and murderous acts are described in minute detail, while Garrett's career spans only a few pages.

The middle part of the book is a very detailed listing of a period of several months in which Billy the Kid is on the run from the law, and Pat Garrett is after him. This part ends with the infamous shooting incident. The latter part of the book covers the next 30 years of Pat Garrett's life until he gets killed in an ambush. Throughout the whole book we read small side stories of what life was like in the Wild West territory of New Mexico and find out just how violent people were back then as well as how intertwined society was! When you read stories about this man or that with seven killings to his name, but who was never prosecuted, you quickly realize how flimsy the reach of the law was back in those days.

The book is meticulously researched, and I am actually taking away one half star for that as the level of detail interferes with the flow of the narrative in many cases. The author seems able to describe each posse and gang member by name and in several cases spells out their interactions with each other and all their family relations. There is simply too much information provided in those areas. Maybe some sort of listing or charts in an Appendix would have been a better treatment for this, but I know that my eyes almost glazed over and I really did not follow the names much - as I said, the denseness of the information detracted from the narrative's flow.

In any case, this book is so detailed and so well researched that if you have any interest at all in that period of the Southwest, or any of the events surrounding Billy the Kid or the Fort Sumner area in the early 1880's then this book belongs on your shelves. If you care about the specifics of the personalities involved and the real story behind their legends, then this is also the book for you. Good reading!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Dual Biography of Bill the Kid and Pat Garrett, March 13, 2010
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Until I read this book I had only read mythological accounts of Billy the Kid, which usually contain nothing of Pat Garrett's life. Books and movies have mythologized Bill they Kid as a Robin Hood type, happy go lucky outlaw and Pat Garrett is demonized as a cowardly man who shot him down in the dark.

This book dispels those myths and gives a fuller account of the lives of both these men in a well written and documented dual biography.

The book walks through the early life of both men, with William Bonney's (Billy the Kid) being much more mysterious and unclear. He documents the Kid's rambling nature and his involvement in the Lincoln's County wars in New Mexico, where he comes off looking not quite as narcissistic and craven as one would think. It is clear that Bonney had little few skills except with his gun, which is the only way he could really make a living. His unbelievable, daring, and bloody escapes are even more dramatic than the movies that portray them. The author does an outstanding job at using what little documentary evidence exists to bring to life, real life, Billy the Kid.

But the book also has done a great service to the ill fated Pat Garrett. I knew absolutely nothing about Garrett before reading this book and the author provides a very vivid, full biography of this misunderstood Western lawman. Far from the cowardly person often portrayed in the movies, he was a man of honor, kept his word (mostly), and was equally the epitome of the fearless, tough lawman as the more famous and renowned Wyatt Earp. He did fall on hard times and was a rather bad business man, which ultimately lead to his downfall and possibly murder. The author does a splendid job of exploring his life and the mysterious events surrounding his death.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the American West that is not based on myth.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivid Telling of the True Story behind One of the Wild West's Most Enduring Legends., December 29, 2009
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"To Hell on a Fast Horse" is a dual biography of the outlaw Billy the Kid and the man who achieved a durable fame by killing him: Pat Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County, Nebraska. Mark Lee Gardner is a Western historian whose enthusiasm for his subject and fascination with these men comes across in his prose. As I was reading, I imagined Gardner's lectures on Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett to be well-supported and detailed but spirited, with a touch hyperbole. That's how he writes. "To Hell on a Fast Horse" is a popular biography that knows its stuff but does not provide as much social and economic context as a more academic biography might, instead concentrating on personalities.

The central story is Pat Garrett's hunt for Billy the Kid, real name William McCarty or Antrim AKA William Bonney. It begins in 1880 with Garrett's first custody of Billy, then backtracks to tell Billy's life story until his death in 1881, concentrating on the years 1877-1881 when Billy was a career horse thief and became involved in the Lincoln County War on the side of John Henry Tunstall. After Billy's death, the author picks up Garrett's life as a lawman, cattle rancher, and collector of customs in Texas, until he also met an untimely death in 1908. Gardner paints a vivid picture of Billy's personality, but I found Garrett an elusive character until the chapters on his later life, and then still a touch opaque.

I wasn't as impressed by Billy the Kid or Pat Garrett as the author is. Billy seems like a hapless and amoral young man who steals and kills, because he could never figure out what else to do. He got a raw deal in the Lincoln County War, but he wasn't bright enough to grasp what he had gotten into. He may have had charisma, but his winning personality only attracted people as foolish as himself. Garrett was a competent and persistent lawman who always got his man. Unfortunately, that discipline didn't apply to all aspects of his life, so his family suffered the consequences of chronic gambling debts. I have to conclude that the stories of the Old West are more interesting than the people who lived them. "To Hell on a Fast Horse" tells a good (true) story.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Descriptive History, January 27, 2010
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I can't say that I actually learned much new information in this book, but the author tells a very good story. This is a great example of excellent descriptive history. The kind of popular history made popular by Catton and Ambrose. We all pretty much know the story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garret, but man this book read as good as most western movies I have seen on the kid. The stuff on Garretts death was interesting and probably what I knew the least about going in. If you like the old west and like a history book that reads like a novel, read this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fresh Telling of the Saga of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, March 1, 2010
Mark Lee Gardner deserves high praise for "To Hell on a Fast Horse." He combines rich scholarship with a gifted storyteller's understanding of how to keep the audience's attention. What is amazing is the extent to which both Garrett and Billy the Kid emerge on the pages as human beings, rather than as one-dimensional heroes or villains. Indeed, the book appropriately ends with a fitting quotation from Walter Noble Burns (as recorded by Sallie Chisum in 1924): "I knew both these men intimately... and each made history in his own way. There was good mixed with the bad in Billy the Kid and bad mixed with the good in Pat Garrett. Both were distinctly human, both remarkable personalities." After reading this compelling book, you will feel as if you gain genuine insight into both men and their times, both the good and evil in it. The account of these violent businessmen and gunmen in multicultural New Mexico is

Gardner's account of Garrett's post-Billy the Kid career also makes for fascinating, if also very sad, reading. For example, the rise and fall of his relationship with Theodore Roosevelt underscored Garrett's difficulty in dealing with his violent past and his personal vices. The book also highlights the role of the aggressively venal lawyer and politician Albert B. Fall as an opponent of Garrett. One wonders whether some of the evil lawyers portrayed in old western movies were based on Fall.

All is all, this is a great book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old West History and Adventure, February 14, 2010
By 
James Gallen (St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews
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"To Hell On A Fast Horse" is a dual biography of two giants of the Old West, Billy The Kid and Pat Garrett. Their stories intertwined in the Lincoln County War of 1877 New Mexico and remained linked until Garrett killed the Kid in 1881.

The details of the Kid's life are sparse, primarily because his origins were obscure and his time in the public eye was so fleeting. This book focuses on the crimes committed by the Kid, mostly murders, and Garrett's efforts to bring him to justice or, to use President Bush's words, bring justice to him.

Pat Garrett is an interesting Wild West character. Remembered mostly for killing Billy the Kid, he was one of those men who lived out their lives on the edge of civilization where their talents and efforts enabled them to achieve a degree of prosperity and social status. Residing in New Mexico with forays into Texas, Arizona and Mexico, Garret made a living out of being County Sheriff, U.S. Marshall, Customs Collector, rancher, gambler and a few other things on the side. Besides Billy The Kid, shared the world's stage with Theodore Roosevelt, who was impressed enough during their meeting to appoint Garrett Customs Collector at El Paso, and Albert Fall, a New Mexico attorney and politician who would later serve as U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior before going to prison in the Teapot Dome scandal.

Author Mark Lee Gardner has written a very good history of a slice of the Old West. While his writing style does not exhibit the enticing detail of Zane Grey or Louis L'Amour, he more than makes up for it with extensive research. The notes and resources included in the back provide sufficient detail for any aficionado of Western Lore. As readers of my Amazon reviews may note, I tend to prefer the "big story of history" and the lives of the major figures over the anecdotal tales of more minor characters. Despite this preference, I really like this book. It has enough of adventure attract my attention and historical facts to hold my interest. Happy Trails!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Done As Far As It Goes, September 28, 2012
This review is from: To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West (Hardcover)
There have already been more than 80 reviews of this book, so I will not rehash any of the story as has been done in other reviews. I basically agree that the author did an excellent research effort for background material and that the book is well written. I especially like the part that follows Pat Garrett's life after he killed Billy The Kid (BTK).

I give this book three stars for what it does not contain. My pet peeve with most history books is that they do not contain enough maps. This book contains plenty of geographic names but NO maps. A second, and major failing, is that the author does not explain in sufficient detail the complex relationships between the various factions and personalities that led up to the Lincoln County War. A third point is the author's imbalance in describing the backgrounds of the characters, especially that of Sheriff Brady whose murder was so crucial to the BTK/Garrett narrative. As the author points out, Brady did serve in the regular army and NM Volunteers for fifteen years and was elected sheriff. To go beyond this, Brady had served in several posts including US Commissioner and territorial legislator. Certainly for the times, he was a pillar of the community. As for where he stood in the Lincoln affair, he did serve with Murphy during the Civil War, and although he was partial to the Dolan/Murphy faction, there is no evidence that he took orders from that side. A final point where I fault the author is that he states several times the Gov. Lew Wallace gave BTK a pardon and then reneged. A couple of years ago here in NM, the topic of a pardon for BTK by then Gov. Bill Richardson really stirred the pot. Even Richardson's staff could find no written evidence in Gov. Wallace's records to indicate that a pardon was ever offered or given, even though Richardson stated that a pardon was granted. Statements that BTK was offered a pardon in exchange for his testimony in a case and that it was withdrawn after his testimony are not factually accurate.

Other than these few points, I found the book to be well worth the read. But do not stop with just this book. I highly recommend "High Noon In Lincoln County" by Robert M. Utley (former Chief Historian and Assistant Director of the National Park Service).
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To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West
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