Thursday, October 15, 2015

With Mallets Toward None

Billy the Kid (born Henry McCarty, but that doesn't sound like a name for a legendary gunslinger) was a pretty tough hombre in America's Wild West days, the days when people walked around with guns, shooting at each other. (Can you even believe such a time ever existed in our country?)

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
A fellow named Randy Guijarro paid $2 for the picture in a junk shop in Fresno, CA, in 2010, and it's on the auction block now, expected to bring in a few cool million bucks.  The only other picture we have to keep the young felon's dear memory alive is the picture taken in 1880, the one where he looks like a member of Blake Shelton's entourage.  

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

By the way, the historians went to a lot of trouble to make sure this is not a picture of a Billy the Kid impersonator or something. In the course of a year-long investigation, they where it was taken: Chaves County, New Mexico. They even dug up the remains of the building shown. Jeff Aiello, director of a National Geographic Channel documentary on this story, says, “We found the old lumber underneath. We found those exact rock piers are still there.”   There will be a TV show about this later this month.  

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.

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