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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable book because of the relationship of the author, August 21, 2000
This review is from: The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid: A Faithful & Interesting Narrative (The Western Frontier Library Series) (Paperback)
The introduction to this book by J.C. Dyke is good, and explains a lot; especially the last paragraph, wherein he says,"The reading (and study) of [this book] is essential to an understanding of that mythical hero, the Robin Hood of the Southwest, who was once just a bucktoothed, thieving, murderous little cowboy-gone-bad, Billy the Kid."

Of course, the author, Pat Garrett, was not an unprejudiced reporter of events, for it was he who ended the life of William Bonney, also known as William Antrim (his foster father's surname). It is also interesting I think, in passing, to mention that Billy the Kid was not a product of the West, but a transplanted New Yorker.

Elsewhere, you will read that Pat Garrett's writing effort is poor, and leaves much to be desired. He readily admits it. In his own words, he says, "I make no pretension to literary ability, but propose to give to the public in intelligible English, 'a round, unvarnished tale,' unadorned with superfluous verbiage."

Garrett is motivated, he says, by an "impulse to correct the thousand false statements which have appeared in the newspapers and in yellow-covered cheap novels."

And, there is no doubt at all that the stories of Billy's exploits were greatly exaggerated by an Eastern press eager for stories of gunplay and adventure on the Western frontier. Today's myth of Billy the Kid is largely descended from the pulp stories created by the inflamed minds of Eastern "journalists" and the latter-day Hollywood screen-writers who have made no attempt at all to portray the truth.

Pat Garrett claims to have known Billy throughout the period known as the "Lincoln County Wars," and having listened to Bonney's reminiscences around campfires and says he has interviewed many persons since Bonney's death. That much would seem to be undisputed.

Bonney was born in 1859, six years after the birth of another Southwestern hardcase, John Wesley Hardin. In fact, they were contemporaries and were raising hell at the same time. Bonney, however, died young at the age of 21, in 1881. Hardin died at the age of 42--twice Billy's age--in 1895. And, if the rumors are true, Hardin probably killed twice as many men. They both started young. Both are reputed to have had fearful tempers. Neither were killed in the face-to-face "quick draw" shootouts so dear to the hearts of Hollywood writers. Instead, both of their executioners used stealth to kill their quarries.

According to Garrett, in Pete Maxwell's darkened bedroom, where he shot Billy to death, Billy was holding a butcher knife in one hand and drawing his double-action Colt "Lightning" revolver ("self-cocker") with the other, while asking in Spanish, "Quien es? Quien es?" ("Who is it? Who is it?") They were, again according to Garrett, at point blank range. The only other witness was Pete Maxwell. There are other versions to the story, including one which insists that Bonney was unarmed except for the knife, which he had used to cut off a chunk of beef from a hanging carcass outside, because he was hungry.

My question is this: it is undisputed that he was holding the knife, and the reason for which he had it. So, where was the beef? It is unlikely that he ate it raw, or stuck it in a pocket. Probably he was holding it in his other hand, intending to cook it. In which case, if he had a revolver tucked in his waistband, he must have had to drop the beef to fetch his revolver.

It is probably of little importance; a Billy Bonney armed with a butcher knife, at close quarters, would still have needed killing. But, did he make the fatal mistake of coming to a gunfight armed only with a knife?

I think that this is an important book, if for no other reason than the relationship that existed between the author and William Bonney. I recommend it. My version is in the hard cover.

Joseph Pierre
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