- BILLY THE KID
- (1859?–1881)Possibly no fact of Billy the Kid’s true life is without dispute. What his real name was, where he was really born, how old he was, even facts surrounding his actual death are questions historians have never settled. Only one known photograph survives of the real Billy the Kid. However, the facts concerning the legend of Billy the Kid are well-known, and they are the only facts that matter for understanding cinema Westerns. Evidently Billy the Kid was born William H. Bonney in Brooklyn, New York, around 1859. When he came to New Mexico Territory as a teenager, he carried himself with youthful swagger, dressed colorfully, and had an extraordinarily fast gun. Somewhere along the way he developed a friendship with lawman Pat Garrett, who eventually killed the Kid in 1881. Before his death, Billy had killed 21 men. Most Westerns have included, in one way or another, most of these basic details. Garrett later published the biography that established most elements of the myth for posterity. Legend nearly always pictures the Kid as a left-handed gunfighter, which in Western codehas usually hinted at homoeroticism; his relationship with Garrett has certainly been seen as a homosexual affair. Numerous film versions about Billy the Kid have been made, the most prominent starring Jack Buetel in The Outlaw(1943), Paul Newman in The Left Handed Gun (1958), and Emilio Estevez in Young Guns (1988). Virtually all films portray Billy the Kid as a misunderstood outlaw.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.