Fred Nolan and Robert Utley could riff with the best of them.
In April of 2012, I was giving a history talk in a tent on the concourse of Ruidoso Downs, where the annual Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium was being held, and it just so happened that the foremost Billy the Kid scholar, Fred Nolan, was visiting New Mexico from Chalfont St Giles, England. Fred and his wife, Heidi, came in the tent, unrecognized, and sat in the front row. The modest-sized tent could hold perhaps 45 people. I started my talk on Billy the Kid, and I kept quoting Fred Nolan and even wondering out loud what the great expert might say to all of this, and I kept pushing it and speculating on this and that, and then finally, I said, “Well, why don’t we find out what Fred Nolan really thinks?” and I invited him up on stage. The audience gasped, and we went right at it, trading facts and insults and banter and we absolutely slayed that crowd! You would have thought we were Laurel and Hardy and had been working the circuit for decades. Such a great memory.
Actually, the same could be said for The Old Bison, Robert M. Utley, who passed on June 7, 2022, eight days before Nolan’s death on June 15. In addition to being two of the foremost experts on the American West, Utley and Nolan were contributors and longtime supporters of this magazine. We give tribute to both.
-Bob Boze Bell