I subscribe to a magazine called True West. It’s free online. https://truewestmagazine.com/
And it comes into my inbox and has some of the most interesting stories in it.
A recent one was about the picture of Billy the Kid. They call it The Tintype. And they know it’s him because he had it in his possession when he was arrested and he said it was and back then, I guess they could just look at the guy and say, “Yep, that’s you.”
So this picture is a for-sure, real-deal picture of Billy the Kid. But it turns out just recently two MORE tin type pictures have surfaced both claiming to also be a picture of Billy the Kid. And there is no way to prove it except to hold it next to the proven tin type and look at them both and say, “Yep, that’s him.”
Well, if it IS him, then it’s worth $5 million dollars. And if it’s NOT him it’s worth the $5 paid for it at the flea market. So a lot is riding on it. This article in True West has experts claiming it’s bogus.
But then other sources online claim it is really him.
While I was reading…and reading…and reading… (I’ve got a book to write, ok!!??) I found the second unverified picture with an equally shady provenance. Also worth either millions or nuthin’. And, being a historical research addict even if there is NO BOOK RELATED POINT TO IT, I started reading other things about Billy the Kid.
And there are two schools of thought on Billy. Either he’s a vicious killer, or he’s a folk hero.
I’ve always been in the vicious killer camp.
But reading all these articles, then watching documentaries, then watching a movie…(and My Cowboy Husband comes up behind me while I’m “working” and says, “Are you STILL reading about Billy the Kid?)
But anyway, I’ve changed sides to an extent. Billy the Kid was caught up in the Lincoln County War. In this battle for power in Lincoln County, New Mexico, over seventy people were killed.
One man was caught and shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett for it. Billy the Kid. And before this he was arrested and charged,convicted and sentenced to hang for it while everyone else got off scot free.
It’s believed (though some numbers are wildly inflated) that Billy the Kid killed six men. One, the first man he killed, was a blacksmith and it was generally considered to be self-defense. But instead of standing trail, Billy escaped jail and ran and became a wanted man.
Then in the course of the Lincoln County War he killed the town sheriff William Brady and one of his deputies. The sheriff and his staff were the hired men for James Dolan who had a monopoly on all the stores in Lincoln County. He charged brutally high prices and burned out or drove out anyone who came in to compete with him.
This made Dolan a hated man in Lincoln County which was at the roots of the Lincoln County War.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to write about that. Maybe in another blog.
So Billy killed this villainous sheriff who ran the town for Dolan, in a shoot-out. So it was generally considered self-defense, too, except it was the sheriff so not exactly, except the sheriff was a villain, so kinda…You start to see why people have mixed feelings about Billy the Kid.
Billy was arrested after this killing and Dolan, too. The governor of the territory of New Mexico came to Billy and said if he’d testify against Dolan they’d let him off on the murder charge.
Billy said no way, because they’ll kill me.
The governor—they have paperwork that admits this—told Billy he’d protect him. Billy agreed to testify but Dolan was still acquitted. Then Billy’s turn came for trial and the judge said, “No territorial governor is going to tell me how to judge a case…” and he denied Billy the deal the governor had made.
So, Billy broke jail…this was about the fourth time he’d done it. But this time right in front of waaaay too many witnesses, he killed a sheriff’s deputy guarding him—sheriff’s deputies who were loyal to the man he’d killed, Sheriff Brady.
Billy escaped but now he was wanted for murder.
BUT if the governor had stood by his deal Billy would have gone free. Billy put his fate in the hands of the governor and he was betrayed.
So yes, Billy the Kid was a killer. But the Lincoln County War was treated on all sides like a war. No one was charged with any crimes except Billy the Kid.
It gave me some sympathy for him and some understanding of why he is considered a folk hero.
I wasn’t sure about putting the two supposed pictures of the Maybe Billy Tin Types up. I understand they are old enough to not be copyrighted, but there are some murky laws about using someone elses PHOTOS of old photos. So, I can’t afford to pay any fines.
Here’s a link to what they call Billy the Kid Crochet Photo. https://truewestmagazine.com/the-croquet-kid/ I will tell you the True West photo specialists are universally skeptical. But other sources take the picture more seriously.
And the second unconfirmed photo is of Billy the Kid with Pat Garrett (and others). This is a great photo whether it’s Billy the Kid or not just because I love the attitude of these tough western types sitting together getting their picture taken acting cool. Seems like something people would do today.
So opinions? Is Billy the Kid a murderer or a folk hero?
If you went to study and read about all these photos, what do you think?