Growing up on the Texas-New Mexico line, I can't remember the first time I heard of Billy The Kid. His is just one of those stories I always knew. Of course, like every young boy growing up in the '50's I had a steady diet of the movie and T.V. Billys, from Roy Rogers to Audie Murphy. I have great respect for those actors but we country boys knew the stories they portrayed were just "movie cowboy" stuff (a term we learned from the adults in the community who usually said it in a pretty derogatory way). Now, some of these community folks were "real" cowboys and they knew and we knew the difference between Hollywood fluff and the truth. After all, some of these folks were only one generation removed from the life and times of Billy The Kid and Pat Garrett and if you believe the Brushy Bill Roberts story possibly Billy, himself was still around.
I never took a serious interest in the history of Billy The Kid until I was grown. I was farming in the Floyd, NM community and playing a little music on the side when a fellow by the name of Don McAlavy came onto the scene. Don is an historian and is and has been involved in several projects to preserve the history of eastern New Mexico. At that time he was working with a group that was restoring the Old Lyceum Theater in Clovis and they were having a talent show as a fundraiser. As things turned out, my sons and I played on their talent show and it was there I became acquainted with Don (who later wrote the Billy The Kid play), Bob Lockwood (who later directed the Billy The Kid play) and Harold Kilmer (who later became manager of the Lyceum and a great supporter of my music). The Lyceum was not the only theater in which Don had an interest. He was also involved with the Caprock Amphitheatre at San Jon, NM. The board that runs that theater had asked Don to write a play about Billy to be produced the next summer season. Don was adamant about having live, acoustic, authentic, cowboy music for his production and he chose me to write and perform it. That started an association that has gone on for ten years now with the production of nine Billy The Kid shows.
I started studying Billy The Kid history in earnest after Don chose me to help with his play. I have been fortunate enough to get to meet and talk with several of the leading Billy historians as well as community people who have family stories to tell. They all are fascinating and whether recorded as a result of scholarly research or passed down by family tradition they all are part of, and build on, the Billy The Kid legend.
In 1986 while visiting my parents in Comanche, Texas I became aware of the Brushy Bill Roberts story that was resurfacing in nearby Hico. My dad drove over to Hico and bought a pamphlet written by a local judge by the name of Bob Hefner. I brought it back to New Mexico and showed it to Don and other folks involved in Billy The Kid history. Don wasted no time in pronouncing it "Hogwash." It would have died with that but we weren't prepared for the media onslaught the Judge was preparing for us. His story caught on like wildfire! He was making national and international news with "our" outlaw. The next thing I knew I was in a van with a group of musicians headed for Hico to participate in the first ever "Brushy Bill Day Celebration." I'll admit that at first there was a little animosity. I remember Don saying, "First those Texans want to steal our water and now they want to steal our outlaws!" There was a group at Fort Sumner, New Mexico who formed the Billy The Kid Outlaw Gang historical organization to refute this wanton rewrite of history. The Judge came to the theater at San Jon and debated Don on the subject of Brushy Bill. We had T.V. news people and "noted historians" expressing opinions all over the place. Well, soon we all got to know Judge Hefner and with his hospitable ways and Texas charm he won us over and we have become great friends. We still don't necessarily believe the Brushy Bill story but we have conceded that Brushy is part of the legend. The Judge and I have become good friends and business associates. He was the executive producer of the last album I recorded entitled "Billy The Kid in Song and Verse." It tells the Billy The Kid/Brushy Bill story through a series of songs. The judge also wrote a companion book entitled "The Trial Of Billy The Kid" which points out the inconsistences of the traditional Billy story.
In the winter of 1988 I was still farming at Floyd but had been doing some temporary work for some of the movie companies that were coming into Santa Fe to film westerns. I mostly worked as an extra, rode horses etc. but I heard they were going to shoot a Billy The Kid movie called "Young Guns." Through the contacts I had made and a little persistence I was able to land a part as one of the Dona Ana gang (The meanest "sons of a guns" in the whole movie). We robbed, killed, burned, and terrorized the territory led by that baddest of bad guys, Jack Palance. Unfortunately, we were too mean. When they edited the movie in order to balance out the goodness of the good guys with the badness of the bad guys they cut out most of our footage along with our credits for the film. But I'm in there and you can see me ride across the scene occasionally. (I never wanted to be a "movie cowboy" anyway. Real ones have more fun).
Part of the Dona Ana Gang from "Young Guns." Larry far left.
Along about this time, the Brushy Bill story was getting a lot of attention in the national media. Marylin Bowlin, president and founder of The Billy The Kid Outlaw Gang (BTKOG) invited me to come to Taiban (BTKOG headquarters and the site of Stinking Springs where Garrett captured Billy) and play for the folks from the T.V. news show "Prime Time Live". Sam Donaldson, one of the hosts of the show and a New Mexcio native was doing a piece on Billy and they wanted the Outlaw Gang members there. "Anyway, I got to play for the crew and they used footage of me singing the Ballad Of Billy The Kid to open the piece. They also used mine and my fiddle playing friend Valerie Moss's music for the background. It was a real honor and a treat for me. After the filming, we had a social. The T.V. crew was primarily from New York and were interested in the western culture, dances, etc. Valerie had already gone home so I became the band. No amps, no P.A., just me and my guitar standing in the corner of the Taiban Post Office playing and singing while the local people showed our guests how to "two step" around the floor. I never sang so many choruses of "Cheatin Heart" in my life.
My association with the various Billy The Kid groups has been very gratifying for me. I have had the opportunity to meet and make friends with people from all over the world. This association has brought me television interviews, movie parts, newspaper write-ups, work composing music, and school programs where I tell the students about the west and Billy (Of course, I always take a guitar along).
As far as the history of Billy The Kid is concerned there is too much to write about here. The Billy The Kid story could fill several volumes and has! I do enjoy discussing the various Billy stories and am always interested in new tidbits of information about the young outlaw. If you have a question or information you would like to relate please feel free to contact me by e-mail at larryb@PDRpip.com. For factual background information I recommend you contact The Billy The Kid Outlaw Gang or The Lincoln County Trust. When in Fort Sumner, New Mexico be sure to visit Billy's grave site and tour the Old Fort Sumner Museum (sometimes there is a certain balladeer sitting on the porch, singing for and visiting with the people passing by). To learn more about the Brushy Bill Story contact Judge Bob Hefner in Hico, Texas. When in Hico be sure to visit the Billy The Kid Museum (the judge might just be there and you can ask him questions directly). The Sagebrush Book Store has for sale several Billy related items including Judge Hefner's Book and the aforementioned recording "Billy The Kid In Song And Verse." This CD has a booklet in the cover containing historical information about Billy written by Don McAlavy, Bob Hefner, and myself.
Thanks for allowing me to tell you my Billy The Kid story and feel free to contact me by e- mail at larryb@PDRpip.com or by regular mail at Larry Buchanan, %Sagebrush Productions, PO Box 1, Floyd, NM 88118, USA.
Larry and Red Dog/ Jack Palance and Larry/ Larry and Doug Cook/ Larry and Monty Bilberry.
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