Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book 22, 2010: To Hell On A Fast Horse

Billy the Kid had the good fortune to die young. Pat Garrett the misfortune to live many years beyond that fatal night at Fort Sumner when Sheriff and Outlaw clashed.

As Mark Lee Gardner notes in his meticulously researched To Hell On A Fast Horse, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West, the pair "are forever linked . . . in legend, but historically, in the memories of their friends, and enemies."

Sadly, for Garrett, Billy has all the glory. In film and fiction, and popular memory, Bill Bonney is a dashing young gunslinger, while Garrett is generally a footnote -- the man who gunned down Billy the Kid. Some even contend Garrett's action was less than heroic, that he took Billy by surprise and never gave the outlaw a chance to defend himself.

As Gardner notes, Garrett's misfortune extended far beyond such criticism or a lesser role in popular imagination, then or now. As the glory of his exploits faded, Garrett fell on hard times as a result of a series of poor business deals and was ultimately shot in the back while trying to sell some valuable New Mexico land. His murder was never solved.

Gardner's book is a fitting tribute to Garrett and the Kid, providing the reader with a history of this now legendary Western chase that is both edifying and entertaining.

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