THE AUTHENTIC LIFE OF BILLY THE KID
Facsimile of 1927 Edition
FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
When Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett ended Billy the Kid's life on the night of July 14, 1881 with a shot in the dark, he was catapulted at once into stardom in the annals of Western history.
The killing occurred at old Fort Sumner on the Pecos River. Garrett by pure chance had encountered the Kid in a darkened room of the Pete Maxwell house. As the unsuspecting Billy entered, he was cut down without warning.
Before that fateful night, there was not much in Garrett's career to suggest he was headed for a place in the history books. Alabama-born in 1850, he worked as a cowboy and buffalo hunter in Texas. By 1878 he had drifted to the Pecos in eastern New Mexico.
Perhaps craving excitement, Pat Garrett ran for sheriff of wild Lincoln County in the fall of 1880. He was elected. Winning the office put him on a collision course with the outlaw Billy.
After the sensational shooting at Fort Sumner, there were many in the New Mexico territory who proclaimed Sheriff Garrett a hero. But the Kid had his share of friends and many of them stepped forward to level some harsh criticism against the lawman.
Among them was Deluvina Maxwell, a Navajo servant in the Maxwell household. She had been especially fond of the slain desperado.
New Mexico historian William A. Keleher, whom I interviewed in 1966, claimed that Deluvina had gone into the room carrying a candle soon after the gunfire stopped. She wanted to help Billy, but it was too late. Supposedly, she snarled at Pat Garrett, "You SOB! You didn't have the nerve to kill him to his face." Her implication was that Garrett had staged a cowardly ambush, which was not the case at all.
Garrett's biographer, Leon Metz of El Paso, states that their confrontation took place not on the night of the shooting but rather the next day during Billy's funeral. Deluvina was tearful when she dressed down the sheriff.
It soon became clear that while Pat Garrett was an instant celebrity, he had also come away, at least in some quarters, with a negative image. To address that problem, he began thinking about a book to give the public his side of the story. With the rising popular interest in Billy the Kid, he also thought a little money could be made from such a publication.
Prominent New Mexicans who lauded the removal of the troublesome Kid took up a collection of $1,500 and presented it to Garrett. But he quickly wasted the sum on whiskey and gambling. He was prepared, therefore, to try for some book profits.
The editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Charles Greene, offered to publish a Garrett volume if the sheriff could find someone to ghost write it for him. Pat enlisted his good friend Marshall Ashmun (Ash) Upson, a journalist, to do the job. Upson cranked out a manuscript and it was published in 1882 under the title The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid.
That little book, issued in blue paper covers with ads on the last few pages, was scarcely a bestseller. Indeed, Metz declares that it was a financial flop.
About 1902 Southwestern author Earle Forrest walked past the New Mexican office in the capital and observed a bushel basket full of copies of Garrett's book sitting on the sidewalk. A sign above the basket offered the copies at 25 cents apiece. He plucked out one, took it inside and paid his quarter. Later, after reading the stirring account, he returned to buy several more. But the basket was no longer in sight. Inquiring, he found someone had purchased the lot and carried all the books away in a wheelbarrow. He never learned where they had gone.
Curious, I once checked with a noted Santa Fe bookseller. I wanted to know what Garrett's The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, a first edition, would bring on today's book market. Quoting from a standard guide to pricing, the dealer informed me that, at that time, the blue-backed volume was worth $4,000 or more. Exact value, he told me, is difficult to determine since no copy has come up for sale in recent years.
Wouldn't Garrett have been astonished if he could have seen into the future and known what his 25-cent book would fetch one day?