Finally, two days in a row without rain and that meant deck time. Today I read Michael Wallis’s book, Billy the Kid: The Endless Road with lots of history about New Mexico and westward expansion in the tale. Wallis really digs to give as much background on Billy as possible although so much is unknown about him for sure. He traces the boy from Indiana to Kansas to New Mexico. When I learned Billy was born of an Irish mother and his name was Billy McCarty, I got excited. My own great grandfather was reared by an uncle who was McCarty and of people from the Emerald Isle. Then when I knew about the Wichita years, I had to check. But the years did not add up to a relative fathered by the future outlaw, as Billy was 11 years old when my great grandfather was born…and he was also an orphan.
Billy had a hard life, and he was small. He was thin and delicate, his feet and hands like that of a woman. This must have been a burden in the Old West. He loved to sing and dance; many people liked Billy McCarty, later Antrim when he used his step-father’s name. He could read and write at a time when many could not. He loved to tell stories and the ladies liked him. He found he had to learn gun skills to make up for his size. The revolving rifle and a six shooter became the Great Equalizer for him, to protect himself. He shot the man who had him down on the ground abusing him, hardly what I would describe as cold blooded killing, more like self-defense. However, that shooting and hard circumstances in a hard land lead him down a rough path.
His mother died when he was 15, his step-father abandoned him, and he fended for himself falling under the influences of the wrong sort of men. With the right hand, Billy could have been something besides dead at 21. Had he fled to Mexico even then, he would have lived, but he wanted to stay close to his special sweetheart. So Pat Garrett got the drop on Billy when he tiptoed out in stocking feet at night to get a chunk of meat off a carcass.
I learned of the Wallis book while reading the latest issue of True West. While I wait for the new Lone Ranger movie to hit theaters, I decided to read up on Billy the Kid for summer entertainment. I am glad I did as Billy the Kid was an interesting character. Like the rest of us, he was not all bad or all good but a mix of parts that made him unique…and lead him to live a life that made him a legend.