A Conversation for Billy the Kid - Outlaw

Finally someone who can answer my question!

Post 1

JD

Thank you so much for your excellent article. I've lived in New Mexico since 1983. After moving to Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1988 to attend NMSU (Las Cruces, as you know, is very near the Mesilla Valley, and a certain famous courthouse smiley - smiley I became interested in the truth about Billy the Kid. I met a fellow interested party and local history junky - the owner of my favorite local deli chain, the man behind DG's Deli. If you've lived in Dona Ana county for more than a year since the early 70's, you've probably been to DG's. At any rate, he recommended Utely's book which I borrowed from him and finally read around 1991. Unfortunately, I've since returned it. This article of yours is fantastic, though, a well-written summary of all the finer points. I think I'll be hunting down those books now! The Santa Fe library ought to have them. smiley - smiley

But what I'm *really* excited about has to do with your work on the infamous tintype. You see, the deli owner I know had a large collection of famous Old Western photos hanging all over the walls of his Telshor Road shop at one point, supposedly accurately re-created from various daguerrotypes, ferrotypes, and other photos. Amongst them was his pride and joy - a to-scale-sized print that he alleged had been made from the old tintype sometime around the time the old Lincoln Trust was ruining the original under that damn light. You said there were something like a dozen of these made, so I strongly suspect he had a copy of one of those prints, not one of the 12 originals (hanging on a college deli wall?? I don't think so ... heh). But I digress.

The issue I'm hoping you can difinitively solve for me is actually quite simple: was Billy the Kid right handed or left handed? I know quite a few people fancying themselves as "Kidologists" who argue that he was left handed. The base this any of a number of reprints of copies of what I'm sure are prints from the 12 decent photos made of the original tintype. The interesting point is this: the pictures show Billy wearing his pistol on his left hip, the handle butt pointed behind him. Clearly, this is where and how a left-handed shooter would hang his pistol. HOWEVER. I have this vivid memory of ten years ago or more involving the acquaintence of mine who ran DG's Deli. I remember him pointing out to me in his picture that if one were to examine the RIFLE in the picture, one would see that the ejection port for the rifle was in fact on the LEFT side of the rifle! In other words, the port would eject the spent cartidge to the left side of the rifle from the holder's point of view. So what you might say - well, no rifle was made like this at the time - the only reason to have the ejection port on a firearm on the left side of the rifle is so that someone could shoulder the thing on their left shoulder and steady the rifle with their right arm whilst firing with their left ... in other words, a left handed rifle! No one made those circa the 1880s. Therefore, it would seem logical that the picture we all are talking about is in fact a mirror image. Your article seemed to support this theory, about how tintypes were made. If it IS a mirror image, then that would mean that Billy was, in fact, right handed, the pistol in fact being on his right hip, and the rifle being a far more-likely 'normal' right-handed rifle. It's a small matter, but one of which some legend has been made of here in New Mexico amongst my collegues and I.

So ... the picture you have, does it indeed have it the way I've described it? The pistol on the left hip, handle to the back? The rifle's ejection port on the left side of the rifle (from the shooters' perspective)? Or am I just remembering things from 10 years ago with some confusion? Or did I look at the correct print through a mirror myself? smiley - smiley Thanks in advance for your reply ...

- JD

By the way, if the old guy at DG's Deli is still around down there you can win a lunch off him by asking about his pictures and allowing him to show you around a bit - he will eventually come to a photo of Pancho Villa on his favorite horse ... a horse so large, Villa is pictured standing in the stirrups which were raised ridiculously high, and yet his butt is actually in the saddle ... must've been hell to ride like that! If you know the name of the horse, the guy will put your lunch on the house. Oh, you want ME to tell you the name of the horse?? That'd hardly be fair, now would it! smiley - winkeye


Finally someone who can answer my question!

Post 2

Asteroid Lil - Offstage Presence

Ah, so you know what a terrible crime was perpetrated on that tintype! The possibility of litigation forbids me to name names...

Tintypes are direct "impressions" from the lens, and therefore present as mirror images. Billy was indeed right-handed (the Utley book reverses the image to show it as Billy was really). The confusion is so persistent, that in my research I have taken to referring to the Colt side and the Winchester side, rather than Billy's right or Billy's left unflipped ...

So Billy was wearing the Colt on his right hip and holding the winchester up with his right hand, preventing it from spinning 180 degrees on its stock with his little finger.

If DG has a print of the tintype from the 80's (and I think it was toast by 1987) then I think I could list the several people from whom he might have obtained it! Richard Weddle has the only negatives I know of, of the Upham tintype, as well as one of two extant cibachromes of the upper portion of the tintype. The other ciba is in the hands of collector Bob McCubbin. It took months to obtain a black and white photo of the entire original -- one was found in the files of True West magazine -- and I immediately scanned it and committed a whole suite of prints to CD. The archives of the Lincoln County Museum, well, nothing was particularly well organized when I got permission to look around, and accusations were flying, during the weekend I was there, concerning the whereabouts of a receipt written out to Juan Patron for putting up Billy Bonney at his house. I never found a print of the tintype at the museum except for the copy on the wall of the museum itself ...

I was hoping to get back to Lincoln for 29 April, when the Historical Society is touring the old Pat Garrett ranch (with the permission of the US Army), but I've had pneumonia for over a month now, and going off to the epicenter of hantavirus may not be a good idea!

Lil


Correction!!!

Post 3

Asteroid Lil - Offstage Presence

That's what I get for not previewing the post.

The winchester is in his LEFT hand. And he's stopping it from turning with his index finger. I've just got out a copy of the cibachrome to confirm the placement.

Did DG ever point out the oddity about Billy's shirt?

Lil


Correction!!!

Post 4

JD

Ah HA! So I am correct! Billy WAS right handed! smiley - winkeye Thank you, you've made my day!

Yes, I remember the Winchester rifle being in his left hand (once you reverse the image mentally). Thanks for confirming my memory; I will be 30 years old in 3 days' time and I've been feeling a bit anxious of late about the possibility of memory loss, as at least one of my younger siblings enjoys pointing out to me with annoying frequency. But I digress.

Actually, the deli owner never pointed out the oddity of Billy's shirt. I'm wondering what it could be, but I would venture a guess that it could be the buttons being on the wrong side - the copy was so bad I think we both easily overlooked the buttons.

By the way, good luck with your endeavors! I await the publication of your findings with interest. And yes, seeing as you have pneumonia, visiting New Mexico at the moment is not a good idea - nto necessarily for the Hanta Virus (if that worries you, any time is bad since it's still rare but more common here than anywhere else). It's actually snowing outside here (Santa Fe) and is likely to be one storm after the other for the next 10 days or so. Of course, it's far more likely to be rain you'll find down at Lincoln County's elevation and latitude. Still, not pleasant weather for the sick.

- JD


Billy's shirt

Post 5

Asteroid Lil - Offstage Presence


Billy is wearing a placket front shirt with a nautical motif -- a foul anchor -- under the leather vest and hand-knitted jacket. Nobody has been able to answer how a shirt like that turned up in the Southwestern territories ... or why Billy took a liking to it, but then wore it as a work shirt. It's like changing the oil in your car or doing all your yard work while wearing a gaudy green-and-red xmas tee-shirt.

*sigh* I had a whole cross-country Amtrak trip organized, and am having to cancel the lot. I was in Lincoln on the weekend of 5-7 November last year, and stayed at the Casa Patron. I fell in love with the silence and the scenery, and would love to move out there. Not necessarily into Lincoln (although I wish I could afford it), but thereabouts.

Lil


Billy's shirt

Post 6

Asteroid Lil - Offstage Presence


JD, I have Billy's picture on my home page if you want to take a look.
Lil


Billy's Face

Post 7

Asteroid Lil - Offstage Presence


...and I have just put up an article, with pictures, about my restoration attempt. The article won't be up for too long (this is 14 April 2000) so check it out at:
http://www.h2g2.com/A297786 ...


Billy's Face

Post 8

JD

I just checked out the article and pictures. Having only spent some small amount of time perusing the print I saw at DG's Deli in Las Cruces all those years ago, I was gratified to see that my memory wasn't that bad ... that the original pictures of the Tintype were actually as bad as I remember - or, more accurately, that the tintype was in that bad of condition. smiley - sadface

You've done an amazing job on restoration. Such a good job, in fact, that I have to admit to an initial reaction of incredulity. The restoration is almost too good to be true - while I believe that is a far more accurate picture of Billy the Kid's likeness, it still seems too good to be true. However, after several minutes, I've gotten used to looking at it, and it does seem more like the "handsome boyish rogue" I picture when I think of Billy. I imagine, however, you will receive some resistance to the general acceptance of this image as being accurate due to our many many years of thinking of Billy as being a slack-jawed, lazy eyed, and neary deformed man. A shame really. As has been said, this resistance will probably be a direct result of his infamous and ill-conceived legend - he is supposed to be a nasty ol' bastard, not the "typical wild west cattle rustler" he most likely was.

I do sincerely wish you luck in your efforts, and hope you aren't put off by the perhaps inevitable criticism and accusations of "taking artistic license" with your project. Personally, I was surprised and pleased with your work, and I think we're all very fortunate that someone has taken the time to restore the accuracy of an image of an American Icon. As an American (and a resident of New Mexico), may I be amongst the first (of New Mexicans anyway!) to congratulate you on a job well-done. It's actually a relief to see him in a more accurate way - I worried about the Southwestern woman's taste in "good looks" with that first picture. smiley - winkeye Poor Billy's face seems almost like a morgue picture of someone who was hit in the face with a large shovel rather than a guy just about to go out dancing!

Oh, I've wondered long about that shirt that Billy wore ... could it not be something he perhaps took as a hand-me-down from his Father on the East Coast? Perhaps as a memento ... it might be the reason such a gaudy (for the SW) and unusual shirt made it out here in the 1880s. Then again, it could simply be something as mundane as he bought it on a whim from some traveller from one of the coasts, going who knows where.

Thanks again for posting that stuff!

JD


Billy's Face

Post 9

Asteroid Lil - Offstage Presence

As it stands, the restoration is a little bit too painterly: I should let the hair be slicked down with bear grease the way it probably was. But for the rest of it, I'll stand by the results. I didn't include all the quotes, but person after person chimes in to say how sweet-looking and personable he was. And not a little afraid of the life he had fallen into. He really deserved better.

Already the reconstruction has encountered opposition from the exec editor of True West, Bob Boze Bell, who is, you may know, an avid and life-long kidologist. He has tried to paint Billy innumerable times. And he keeps on trying. Well, it is a complicated matter, and far from over, just like the boy's legend.


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