The PBS series American Experience is currently exploring a number of significant figures from the historical Old West. Running on Tuesdays for the month of January, the first episode looked at Billy the Kid (1859-1881). The January 10th episode was interesting to this viewer for its examination of the relationship William H. Bonney aka Billy the Kid had with the Hispanic ranchers in the territory of New Mexico.
Many of these ranchers had been dispossessed of their land by an emerging Anglo property-owning establishment that manipulated the law and banking system to their advantage. In retribution for the killing of his ranch boss, the young Englishman John Tunstall, by the monopolistic immigrant Irish-led group known as “The House”, Billy the Kid took on that corrupt establishment and became a hero to the local Hispanic community. During what became known as “Lincoln County War” (due to its geographic/administrative location), the Kid could find refuge amongst Hispanic farmers.
The PBS episode did not highlight any specific friendship between Billy the Kid and his eventual vanquisher, Sheriff Pat Garrett, though it has been recorded that they were previous acquaintances when Garrett was a bartender. As Billy the Kid, a veteran outlaw and jail escapee at just 21, continued to harass the established Anglo land barons, both the government and business community sought his demise – Garrett accomplished that on July 14, 1881 while Billy visited the family home of his young sweetheart, Paulita Maxwell. Here is the trailer for the PBS episode:
The 1973 Sam Peckinpah film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, is perhaps the most moving treatment of the Kid’s story thus far. The relationship between Garrett (James Coburn) and the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) is highlighted to relay a number of ideas – that the Kid’s ways represent a challenge to those desiring to “civilize” the territory, that Garrett sees himself as simply hired to do a job, that in doing his job he is betraying an earlier relationship and that Garrett continues to admire Billy for sticking to his way of life. Here is a trailer for the film – Bob Dylan played a small role within it and also provided the soundtrack:
The next episode in this American Experience series explores is the story and myth of General George Custer – it will air Tuesday, January 17th @ 8pm on your local PBS channel. Westernsreboot.com will provide commentary following each episode.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)