When N. Scott Momaday graciously agreed to share his tale of collecting a six-gun he believed was once owned by Billy the Kid (see p. 20), we gave a shout out to Allen Barra, asking him to tell us which Billy the Kid books he believes everyone should own in their library.

1. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Michael Ondaatje; Vintage): The Canadian poet and novelist Ondaatje uses poetry to get inside Billy’s head— “I wanted to have Billy talk from the core of his story.” He portrays Billy as Jung might have imagined him.

2. Billy Gashade: An American Epic (Loren D. Estleman; Forge): Billy the Kid and Jesse James and Calamity Jane and Crazy Horse are all filtered through the life of another myth, Billy Gashade, the songwriter who puts their stories to music.

3. The Saga of Billy the Kid (Walter Noble Burns; University of New Mexico Press): Burns began it all in 1925, at a time when the Kid’s story was perilously close to being forgotten. Burns printed the legend, and in so doing, he preserved it.

4. Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride (Michael Wallis; W.W. Norton & Company): In this thorough study of the boy and the myth, Wallis comes closer than any previous biographer to putting clothes on the ghost.

5. Anything for Billy (Larry McMurtry; Simon & Schuster): This esteemed author portrays Billy’s life as a tall tale that draws from and touches on a score of other Old West legends.

6. The Demise of Billy the Kid (Preston Lewis; Bantam Books): Lewis’s H.H. Lomax was the Zelig of the American frontier, present at all the great shoot-outs. He brings some much-needed humor to Billy’s story.

7. Inventing Billy the Kid (Stephen Tatum; University of Arizona Press): This tome is a thorough and satisfying investigation of the Kid’s life and evolution into a symbol of American popular culture.

8. The Ancient Child (N. Scott Momaday; Harper Perennial): Momaday’s lyrical novel, which juxtaposes Kiowa Indian myths with the legend of Billy the Kid, has an almost dream-like power.


—Allen Barra, author of Inventing Wyatt Earp (Bison Books)

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