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Billy the Kid today: The Right-Handed Gun


It was a great personal disappointment some years ago when it was confirmed that the world’s most famous bad guy, Billy the Kid, wasn’t left-handed, as I am (southpaw, not outlaw).

A tintype taken of the Kid in either 1879 or 1880 showed him with his holster and pistol on the left side. There was even a 1958 movie starring Paul Newman as “The Left-Handed Gun.” (It was all about New Mexico, but filmed in Thousand Oaks and Burbank, California, so what can you expect?) It turns out that Billy was actually righthanded; the famous tintype (it sold for $2.3 million) was reversed. All this likely proves is that Billy the Kid wasn’t in his right mind.

There is no disputing – despite all the Brushy Bill nonsense of some years ago – that then Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy in Fort Sumner, New Mexico on July 14, 1881 – 138 years ago this Sunday. And all these years later, Billy and Pat seem to be as popular as ever.

Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner, where the annual World’s Richest Billy the Kid Tombstone Race continues to celebrate the multiple thefts (and returns) of the Kid’s grave marker. The 43rd annual race was held in June, with participants in different categories actually carrying tombstone replicas as they race.

A little closer to home, the Kid’s mother, Catherine Devine Antrim, is buried in Memory Lane Cemetery in Silver City, New Mexico. She died of tuberculosis on Sept. 16, 1874. Billy was born (in New York City) either Sept. 17 or Nov. 23, 1859. Hopefully, it was in November; otherwise, the Kid celebrated his 14th birthday the day after his mother’s death.

In addition to July 14, 1881, here are some other iconic dates for famous New Mexicans:

• Pat Garrett: June 5, 1850-Feb. 29, 1908. Garrett is buried in the Masonic Cemetery on Compress Road in Las Cruces.

• Doña Ana Robledo: 160480. Ana Gomez Robledo’s father was a colonist who accompanied Don Juan de Oñate to what would become New Mexico. She survived the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, fled south and died near present-day Las Cruces that same year. Renown for her acts of kindness, Doña Ana’s name was given to the county when it was created in 1852.

• Geronimo: June 1829Feb. 17, 1909. A Mescalero Apache medicine man, his real name was Goyaałé, which means “one who yawns.”

• Albert J. Fountain: Oct. 23, 1838-Feb. 1, 1896 (disappeared with his 8-year-old son, Henry, near White Sands Missile Range). There is a monument to Fountain in that same Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces.

• Smokey Bear: Spring 1950-Aug. 11, 1990. (This raises an interesting side question: How come it’s Billy THE Kid but not Smokey THE Bear?)

• RALF (Roswell Alien Life Form): Early July (likely) 1947: William “Mac” Brazel found debris on a ranch near Corona, New Mexico, the start of what became the world-famous Roswell UFO Incident. (The Roswell Army Air Field was about 30 miles south of the alleged UFO crash site.) The 23rd annual Roswell UFO Festival was July 7, proving that RALF will live forever.

You will agree that Brazel is an uncommon last name. And yet it’s shared by the man who discovered the debris that led to the Roswell UFO phenomenon and Wayne Brazel, who was tried for and found not guilty of killing Pat Garrett. Mac was apparently Wayne’s nephew.

I wonder how many other states can claim so many major American icons, including Billy the Kid, Smokey (the) Bear, Geronimo and RALF. And, while there is a famous photo (by the same photographer who took the tintype of Billy the Kid) holding a rifle in his right hand, I am convinced that both Smokey and RALF were, if not left-handed, at least left-pawed and left tentacled, respectively.

Anyway, as we cling to the iconic legends of the Old West, Happy July 14!

Mike Cook is a Bulletin reporter. He may be contacted at mike@lascrucesbulletin.com.