THE TRAGIC DAYS OF BILLY THE KID
Facsimile of 1956 Edition with a New Foreword by Robert G. McCubbin
FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
Robert G. McCubbin
President, Wild West History Association
How did a young fellow in remote New Mexico Territory, who lived to be only twenty one, become internationally known? Why is "Billy the Kid" the most familiar name in New Mexico more than one hundred and twenty five years after his death?
The answer? To begin with, he lived during what became known as the Wild West—a time and a place of disorder, violence, fighting, and killing; a time and place dominated by undisciplined and untamed men and women. In that environment, young Billy packed a tremendous amount of excitement into the final four years of his short life.
Henry McCarty, alias Henry Antrim, alias Kid, wandered into southeastern New Mexico at the age of seventeen. There he took up yet another alias, William Bonney, and soon found himself caught up in events that were none of his doing. He responded with actions Sherriff Pat Garrett described as, not the outgrowth of an evil disposition, nor caused by unchecked youthful indiscretions, but "the result of untoward, unfortunate circumstances acting upon a bold, reckless, ungoverned and ungovernable spirit, which no physical restraint could check, no danger appall, and no power less potent than death could conquer."
Young Billy had an appealing personality. He was described by many who knew him as being jovial, fun-loving, happy, cheerful, pleasant, courteous, loved to dance, loved to sing, yet always ready to rise to a challenge. Jim East, one of Garrett's posse that captured the Kid, wrote of another side. "It was strange to see a boy of eighteen have such power over older and no question desperate men."
Paulita Maxwell, a teenage girl in Fort Sumner in the time of the Kid and whom many believe was herself a girlfriend of his, said many years later, "Billy the Kid, I may tell you, fascinated many women. His record as a heart-breaker was quite formidable. Three girls at least in Fort Sumner were mad about him." Not only were the girls and women of his time attracted to him—some still are to this day!
Interest in Billy is further increased by the mystery surrounding his early life. A century and a quarter after his death, in spite of much diligent research, firm answers are still yet to be found as to where and when he was born and what his real name was at birth. The most likely place of birth was, surprisingly, New York City, and his most likely name, William Henry McCarty.
Finally, what seemed a minor thing that happened toward the end of his life would dramatically influence his place in history. Although he was known to his friends simply as Billy or Kid, the press of the time dubbed him "Billy the Kid"—a name that is not easily forgotten and which assured that young Henry McCarty would forever live on in history.
Originally published in 1956, The Tragic Days of Billy the Kid by Frazier Hunt was the first to utilize the research of Maurice G. Fulton of Roswell, New Mexico, as well as that of J. Evetts Haley of Texas. Both were diligent researchers and conducted interviews in the 1920s and 1930s with survivors of the Billy the Kid days who shared first hand information, insights, and opinions. Both Fulton and Haley intended to someday write a biography of Billy the Kid, but neither ever did.
Fulton's correspondence indicates he supplied Frazier Hunt with much material, but at the same time was frustrated by Hunt's approach to history. While Fulton believed in straight history, Hunt wrote that he wanted to write "fast moving, dramatic, and romantic historical-biography.... I want it to be accurate, full and written as well as I am capable of doing." He was indeed capable of doing it well. J. Evetts Haley wrote, "Hunt was an outstanding American patriot and man of letters." Hunt gives us an authentic and exciting read while presenting a believable and human Billy the Kid.
Hunt's original title for the book was, The Land Between the Rivers: The Strange Story of Billy the Kid. Later he proposed The Little World of William Bonney, but he finally went with The Tragic Days of Billy the Kid.
Whatever the title, the author accomplished what he set out to do. In this book Billy the Kid is defined more completely than in anything appearing before—and most everything written since. While there are no footnotes, some specific sources are cited in the text. But we know his sources were the most accurate available at the time, and little of significance has come to light since.
The reader will find in this book a Billy the Kid who emerges from the shadows of legend and myth into an appealing personality whose actions and behavior are understandable. The distorted figure of legend becomes a young man of flesh and blood and heart. Perhaps the book appeals to me so much because Frazier Hunt's Billy the Kid is so much as I think him to have been—and I think we both have him right!