Legends & Lies, Icons, Billy the Kid and Saguaros

pima-women-gathrering-saguaro-fruit-by-edward-curtis-loc-3c01252r-blogA century or so ago, railroad boosters and marketers discovered Arizona’s signature cactus, the saguaro, as the perfect symbol of the Southwest. The Sonoran Desert’s Carnegiea gigantea is native to Arizona, northern Sonora, Mexico, and a very small area of desert on the west bank of the Colorado River in California. Today, the iconic succulent appears on dozens of retail products, from salsa to tortillas, from banks to motels, as an internationally recognized symbol of Arizona, the American Southwest—and, for that matter, the West and the United States in general. Hollywood film and television producers love inserting the saguaro into the frame, even if the production is about Texas, New Mexico, California, Utah or other Western locale. The reason—it looks and says Western movie. Or at least the cliché of a Western movie. I can accept that because Hollywood is Hollywood and they have used Southern California to imitate every location in the world. But, enough is enough: the FOX News producers of Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies television series crossed the line in its documentary on Billy the Kid—there are no saguaro cactus in the state of New Mexico, unless transplanted to the Land of Enchantment by a cacti-loving collector. So, Mr. O’Reilly, the next time you want to convince millions to believe that Billy the Kid lived out his life as Brushy Bill Roberts and was not killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett, I suggest that your producers do their research on the legends and lies of the West—one of which is that the saguaro cactus can be found in every desert of the West—and film your Billy the Kid documentary near Fort Sumner and Lincoln, New Mexico. Oh, and, please, please, please, leave out the saguaros, unless your documentary is about Arizona.

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