He became a hero, a well-known name in cowboy lore. There is even a kid's clothing line named after him, which leads me to wonder why no one ever came up with "Lil' John Dillinger" suits, overalls and jeans for America's youth.
The original Billy was a common crook, a thief and murderer, and he met his maker at the age of 21 in a gunfight. He died as he lived, with a gun in one hand, and possibly a croquet mallet in the other.
No kidding. Historians have just authenticated a photograph as being of a group that included BTK. He is seen in the picture playing croquet with his posse ("The Regulators") in New Mexico in 1878. It was taken after a wedding that summer, just a month after the gang took part in the brutal Lincoln County war, a dispute between rival factions over dry goods and cattle that was resolved by having people shoot guns at each other repeatedly.
Having been imported from England, croquet became popular in 19th Century America. There is even a letter from Gen. George Custer to his wife, asking that she procure and bring him a croquet set so he could play the game with his Army buddies in Kansas. There's no word on whether he took that equipment to his final battle at Little Big Horn.
|Billy's other picture|
Billy also went by the moniker "William H. Bonney." It would seem that he had more names than good qualities. He was a horse thief, cattle rustler, and murderer of at least eight people (although he claimed to have killed 21) and was not missed at all by anyone who liked it peaceful and crime free. Still, in the inexplicable way we have of turning scoundrels into folk heroes, his name alone inspires people to reach for their checkbooks to buy the original tintype of this photo for their den walls:
|This picture for sale|
|That's Billy on the left in this closeup|
137 years from now, Keith Richards, who will still be alive, will be hosting a TV special about a VHS tape that someone just found that shows Tonya Harding's wedding night, and people will pay billions for it.