In the annals of American western history, few people have left behind such lasting and far-reaching fame as Billy the Kid. Some have suggested that his legend began with his death at the end of Pat Garrett’s revolver on the night of July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner. Others believe that the legend began with his unforgettable jailbreak in Lincoln, New Mexico, several months prior on April 28, 1881. Others still insist his legend began with the publication in 1926 of Walter Noble Burns’s book, The Saga of Billy the Kid.
James B. Mills has left no stone unturned in his twenty-year quest to tell the complete story of Billy the Kid. He explores the Kid’s disputable origins, his family’s migration from New York into the Southwest, and how he became an orphan, as well as his involvement in the Lincoln County War, his outlaw exploits, and his dealings with Governor Lew Wallace. Mills illuminates the Kid’s relationships with his enemies, lovers, and numerous friends to contextualize the man’s character beyond his death and legacy. Most importantly, Mills is the first historian to fully detail the Kid’s relations with New Mexicans of Spanish descent.
So, the question remains, who really was the person the world knows as Billy the Kid? Was he more than a young reprobate committed to a life of crime, who relished becoming the famous outlaw and cold-blooded, self-absorbed “sociopath” or “thug” that some still prefer him—need him—to be? Or was he in fact the generally good-hearted, generous, courteous, young vigilante that so many remembered with considerable fondness, who ultimately preferred the company of the more peaceable Hispanic population than his own Anglo people? In this groundbreaking biography, Mills takes the reader closer to the flesh-and-blood human being named Henry McCarty, alias William H. Bonney, than ever before.
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Published by University of North Texas Press