Lady Marilyn had a plan for Saturday. She was craving the road and some wide open spaces. So we headed East to reconnect with the West. The mission was to hit Crystal Crane Hot Springs, a three-hour drive way out into the sage, not far from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The hot springs was a McGuffin, really, mostly a reason to hit the road.
There is something truly fine and soul-satisfying about driving through endless miles of sagebrush, with mountains framing the horizon, and listening to Ian Tyson. The legendary folk singer is an old man now, and his health hasn’t been good. He’s still on his ranch in Alberta, Canada, because — as Tom Russell tells it — he’ll never leave his horses.
I like old corrals and sagebrush
Cowgirls in old pickup trucks
I love them old time waltzes
George Jones and Emmylou
But I’d like nothing better
Than to lay these eyes on you
It felt mighty good to immerse myself once again in the work of an artist who wrote and sang the soundtrack of the revival of cowboy culture.
Rock Island Auction Co. continues to serve up some exceptional Frontier Partisan firearms.
This carbine was manufactured in 1877 and evidently saw many years of use in the American West. It has an integral blade front sight on the front barrel band, the two-line address and King’s patent marking, a two leaf rear sight, a saddle ring on the left, the serial number on the lower tang, carbine stock and forearm, and brass buttplate with cleaning rod compartment door (rod absent). The forearm has a line of tacks along each side. The buttstock has three tacks on each side of the wrist, a cross on each side, a line of tacks along the top of the comb, and a double line of tacks bordering the butt. Brass tack decoration is commonly associated with Native Americans in the West and was also used by white westerners, and the ’66 “Yellow Boy” is known to have been popular with Native Americans from many tribes in the West in the late 19th century. A very similar cross and double line border design can be seen the Winchester ’66 in the Smithsonian that is attributed as surrendered by Hunkpapa Lakota holy man and leader Sitting Bull to Major David H. Brotherton in 1881.
Frontier Partisan Ted Franklin Belue has another one of his well-researched articles in True West Magazine’s May edition. He tackles one of the most persistent bits of folklore surrounding Daniel Boone: Did he trek as far west as the Yellowstone in his old age? Belue’s answer is a definitive… maybe. Evidence, such as it is, is fragmentary remembrances that aren’t too strong on dates and in some cases conflict with what Boone was known to be doing at a particular time. Subsequent accounts seem to conflate other people’s expeditions with Boone’s, further muddying the waters.
As Belue notes:
“We all want that Alfred J. Miller oil of him and Colter hunting griz on the Yellowstone or standing a’kilter to Old Faithful’s steam plume — hands high, mouth agape. One day, maybe, his lost memoir he dictated to Dr. Jones will surface at Sotheby’s and explain all. Until then…”
Can’t prove it’s true, can’t prove it’s not true. My own sense of it is that the Boone Yellowstone Hunt is, as Ted intimates, maybe just a bit of wishful thinking for all of us, just because it’s so poetically perfect. But maybe it’s enough to recognize that the old man kept to the trail virtually his whole life long. Whether or not he made it to the Yellowstone, he surely saw some country, and bridged the era of the Long Hunter and the Mountain Man.
EPIX TV network’s new Billy the Kid limited series is upon us. Two free episodes here. I’ll be firing this up soon — got an Outlander episode tonight and two Outer Range episodes to catch up to. Frontier Partisan cinema is loaded these days.
The world will never get enough of Billy the Kid. Hell, I wrote a song about him — I’m as sold as anybody on this very American story. Turns out, an Aussie historian is, too. A bloke named James B. Mills will give us a new Billy bio this summer, focused heavily on El Chivato’s relations with the Hispanic community of New Mexico.
In the annals of American western history, few people have left behind such lasting and far-reaching fame as Billy the Kid. Some have suggested that his legend began with his death at the end of Pat Garrett’s revolver on the night of July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner. Others believe that the legend began with his unforgettable jailbreak in Lincoln, New Mexico, several months prior on April 28, 1881. Others still insist his legend began with the publication in 1926 of Walter Noble Burns’s book, The Saga of Billy the Kid.
James B. Mills has left no stone unturned in his twenty-year quest to tell the complete story of Billy the Kid. He explores the Kid’s disputable origins, his family’s migration from New York into the Southwest, and how he became an orphan, as well as his involvement in the Lincoln County War, his outlaw exploits, and his dealings with Governor Lew Wallace. Mills illuminates the Kid’s relationships with his enemies, lovers, and numerous friends to contextualize the man’s character beyond his death and legacy. Most importantly, Mills is the first historian to fully detail the Kid’s relations with New Mexicans of Spanish descent.
So, the question remains, who really was the person the world knows as Billy the Kid? Was he more than a young reprobate committed to a life of crime, who relished becoming the famous outlaw and cold-blooded, self-absorbed “sociopath” or “thug” that some still prefer him—need him—to be? Or was he in fact the generally good-hearted, generous, courteous, young vigilante that so many remembered with considerable fondness, who ultimately preferred the company of the more peaceable Hispanic population than his own Anglo people? In this groundbreaking biography, Mills takes the reader closer to the flesh-and-blood human being named Henry McCarty, alias William H. Bonney, than ever before.
To me, Billy Bonney was an essentially good-hearted kid, with an unfortunate penchant for thievery, who simply wouldn’t take any shit. What most people don’t realize about Kid history is just how much the Hispanos loved and supported him. He was definitely their Billy. My next book is going to be In the Days of Billy the Kid: The Frontier Lives of José Chávez y Chávez, Juan Patrón, Martín Chávez, and Yginio Salazar. I’m currently busy working on it.