History has treated Billy the Kid like a homicidal psychopath, a brazen madman responsible for as many as 21 murders. Steeped in legend, shrouded in folklore and outright lies, Billy the Kid has been portrayed for over 125 years as one of the most savage killers in American folklore. Yet for others, particularly the Hispanic people of the Southwest, the Kid was an avenging angel and a sagebrush Robin Hood. For them and many others, the Kid embodied youth, nobility, humanity, romance, and tragedy. He was the symbolic transition between the old and the new, with a blazing sixgun in hand. Now along comes Michael Wallis's sympathetic yet completely authoritative biography, which challenges and debunks many of the myths that have hounded this young man since his death at the age of 21 in New Mexico Territory. By scrupulously retelling Billy the Kid's brief but compelling story in an effort to set the record straight, Wallis -- renowned for his social histories of the West -- has created a new portrait of this outlaw. Countless books have been published about the Lincoln County War, including Billy the Kid's role in that conflict and the aftermath, but few authors have analyzed the Kid's crimes in the larger context of the political and social corruption that had become a way of life in New Mexico Territory. Wallis describes how the outlaw legend was deliberately manufactured and manipulated -- in fact, really the kid only became known by that name in the last year of his life. Furthermore, we learn how the few killings in which the Kid was actually implicated were used to divert attention from much larger societal corruption and crimes committed by a brotherhood of cunning politicians and power brokers. Wallis's Billy the Kid is more than a riveting story; the book is an extraordinary evocation of the reality of the Old West. With fascinating details of 19th century life, Wallis presents the brief, unhappy ballad of a rootless young man, most likely born to an immigrant Irish woman in New York just before the Civil War. Wallis then uses the story of Billy the Kid to explain the history of the violent settlement of the West and the development of frontier life between 1865 and 1881. We learn of the rise of the gun culture, the dangerous criminal world of New Mexico's Lincoln County, and everyday life at remote frontier outposts. We also meet many of the legendary heroes and antiheroes who, like the Kid, have been mythologized over time. - Jacket flap.
Historian Wallis has spent several years re-creating the rich, anecdotal saga of Billy the Kid (1859-1881), a deeply mythologized young man who became a legend in his own time and yet remains an enigma to this day. With the Gilded Age in full swing and the Industrial Revolution reshaping the American landscape, "the Kid," who was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett in the New Mexico Territory at the age of 21, became a new breed of celebrity outlaw. He arose amid the mystery and myth of the swiftly vanishing frontier and, sensationalized beyond recognition by the tabloids and dime-store romances of the day, emerged as one of the most enduring icons of the American West--not to mention one of Hollywood's most misrepresented characters. This new biography, filled with dozens of rare images and period photographs, separates myth from reality in its portrait of this brief and violent life.--From publisher description.