Billy the Kid

Some things are just, as today’s youth are fond of saying, random. I picked up the shown 1880s tintype in a Missouri antique shop a few years ago. What initially caught my attention was the gun the kid was holding, a single-shot Model 1885 Winchester Low Wall. Only recently, though, did I notice the name of the fake boat that was one of the photographer’s studio props: Bonney. I naturally thought of one Billy the Kid.

We have spent decades seeking a logical explanation for his use of the alias William H. Bonney. But maybe “Bonney” was Billy’s “Rosebud,” except we don’t get the big reveal that we get at the end of 1941’s Citizen Kane, which means we are left to wonder. This frustrates us, because we are genetically programmed to make sense of everything, but lots of things in the past, without that big reveal, defy reason. And some things, even in history, are just random.

Mark Lee Gardner is the author of To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. His next book, on Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, will be published in 2016 by William Morrow.


For more True West coverage on Billy the Kid, follow the links below:

“What if everything we know about Billy the Kid is wrong?” by Frederick Nolan

Is This a Photograph of Billy Playing Croquet? by Bob Boze Bell

Billy the Irish by Chuck Usmar

“Hello, Bob” by Cameron Douglas

Seeking the Creation of the Kid’s Death Record by Dr. Robert Stahl

Billy Bonney’s Bad Bucks by Steve Sederwall

How Did the Kid Get the Gun? by Frederick Nolan


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