Myth of Billy the Kid

In the Wild West of New Mexico Territory, the myth of Billy the Kid obscures who he really was.

AIRED: March 14, 2020 | 0:26:55

Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation...

...New Mexico Arts,

a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs,

and by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Art works.

...and Viewers Like You




This young charming boyish outlaw defending

the local community









>>Gwyneth Doland: We all know these cowboy stories

from the movies-the Wild West.

But, what was territorial New Mexico really like at

the time that Billy the Kid was here?

>> Paul Hutton: I doubt if there was a place any wilder.

>>Doland: There were all these factions sort of

struggling for power and dominance at the time.

>>Hutton: There sure were, and especially in Lincoln

County which is cattle country.

The only going concern was the Mescalero Apache

Reservation and it was guarded by nearby Fort Stanton.

Those contracts-those beef contracts-to supply the Indian

Reservation and the Fort, well, that was where the money was.

They were controlled by what was called the House,

run by a couple of characters called Murphy

and Dolan who were very well connected with the

infamous Santa Fe Ring.

An Englishman comes in, and he challenges them for

these beef contracts and opens up a ranch and-this

young, itinerate kinda cowboy gunman named

William Bonney-that was his alias that he was using.

His real name seems to be McCarty.

But everyone just called him "The Kid"-signs on

with John Tunstall, this young Englishman's ranch

and they challenge the House.

And the House controlled all of the county and they controlled

the law, and so they used the law to kill John Tunstall.

They murdered him, shot him down "like a dog" as

they said in those days.

And Billy swore vengeance, and thus began the Lincoln

County War in which some 200 people were killed.

There weren't that many people in New Mexico.


That was unbelievable.

Billy later said, "I didn't kill 'em all" but

he got blamed for so much of it.

>>Doland: Well, you know, that's the interesting

part about him is that we see him as this underdog.

He's fighting for justice, he's fighting for vengeance.

>>Hutton: Well he is in some ways the perfect

social bandit and that's his charm.

That's his allure.

That's why his legend has lived on and speaks across

generations to different time periods in our

history and also around the world.

He was fighting against a corrupt law that

existed at the time.

His side lost in the Lincoln County War,

everyone gave up except him, he kept fighting for justice

that he delivered out of the barrels of his pistols.

I mean, it was gun smoke justice.

And, of course, he did kill several people

including a sheriff and two U.S. Deputy Marshals.

So he was an outlaw but always sort of this

fighter for social justice, a Robin Hood character.

And he also was fighting for the local small

ranchers, the Hispanics-he spoke fluent Spanish-he

loved the ladies and was wildly popular and so a

folk lore emerged around him even during his own

lifetime and people protected him and tried to help him.

But he was doomed by his own refusal to compromise.

>>Doland: So was he famous in his own time?

>>Hutton: There's been a recent discovery of an

interview with him in the Las Vegas Gazette.

He was in jail in Santa Fe awaiting trial.

And of all the participants in the

Lincoln County War, only Billy the Kid was charged

with a crime, charged with the killing of Sheriff

William Brady-and he sure did it, no question about

it-but everyone else was given amnesty by Governor Lew Wallace.

And the Kid was supposed to get amnesty but Wallace

reneged on it.

So he's in jail and they come and they interview him.

The interviewer says "Did you see the picture of you?"

Here's our first appearance back in New

York in this tabloid, very much like the National

Enquirer, but it had a very, very wide circulation.

And one of the fun things about the interview you

can just-he exudes charm.

Here he is in this jail cell, in the most

desperate of situations, and in fact we know now

that they were digging a tunnel to try and escape

and they almost got out but they got caught.

But nevertheless, he is in this desperate situation

and he refers to the picture of him in The

Police News, he says, "Oh wasn't that savage?"

You know, it's so crazy and glamorous.

He says, "I wish I'd had a señorita with me but

I was on my own."

And the reporter says, "Well you know you're

famous and you could be like Buffalo Bill!"

And Billy responds, "There's no money in it."

He says, "Well, if you get out- "and Billy goes



So, there's that humor and he understands the fame

that he has but there's still that fatalism.

He appears two more times in the same tabloid, but

in each of these times it's the famous tintype of

him that recently sold for $2 ½ million-now, you

couldn't publish photographs in those days

so it's an engraving of the tintype.

I think Pat Garrett took that tin type off the Kid

when he arrested him and sent it back to New York

so they could publish it because both of these

appear while the Kid's still alive.

And of course he is gonna be taken down to Mesilla.

He's gonna be sentenced to hang.

And then he's gonna make that daring escape from

his jail cell in Lincoln, kill the two deputies, and

then be hunted down by Pat Garrett.

>>Doland: So do you think, you know if he was aware of

this coverage and he sort of engaged in it, do you think

he cared about his reputation or what his legacy would be?

>>Hutton: I don't think he-he's 21-I don't think

he's really thinking about legacy but he certainly

cared about his reputation and he wanted people to

know that his exploits had been wildly exaggerated,

and they had been by the territorial newspapers who

just painted him as the leader of this devilish

band of brigands, you know.

And everyone who knew the Kid, including Pat Garrett

who had been his friend and who hunted him down

and killed him, just said he was just so charming.

That's what you hear about him all the time-this

great sense of humor-but he could turn on a dime.

And he could be laughing, devil may care, and all of

a sudden he's a cold-blooded killer.

He certainly believed that everything he did was

justified by circumstances.

And certainly when you look at the Kid and you

look at his career, you look at what was going on

in territorial New Mexico and certainly down in

Lincoln County, well he's on the side of the angels.

But those are pretty rough angels that he rode with.

>>Doland: It's pretty complicated.

>>Hutton: It's very complicated, it's very complicated.

But still the essence of it is this young,

charming, boyish outlaw defending the local

community against the coming of the railroad and

outside money and a corrupt government, and

who fights for social justice, that's why he

remains such an incredible hero.


I love telling stories and I think it's so much fun

that I get to come to work everyday and play make

believe and dress up.

This is one of nine costume storage rooms that we have here.

On this side are women's costumes, the other side

are men's costumes.

These are ladies five, five and a halfs, they're

all in a section and labeled and men's 10's and

men's 11's are all right here and also this is just

our show rack when we're building a show.

The actor has a nameplate with their name on it and

the costumes that actor will wear are directly

behind the garment bag.

I think what's really special about this

organization is that it was built on a culture of yes.

If the artists can envision it, we can manifest it.

When you first start thinking about a show,

you're thinking about the design, the visual design of the

whole thing and that's all tied into the core of the story.

"A Doll's House" the original, that's the one that

I'm working on.

I wanted it to happen in 1879 when it was written.

I wanted it to be photographic.

Sometimes we shop things, sometimes we thrift things.

Usually for contemporary shows, we tend to kind of

shop and thrift so it looks more authentic.

For period pieces, there's not a store that sells things

for "A Doll's House" so we're fortunate to have the skills

of our costume shop to build more of our period pieces.

I will, once I fit this, do a whole bunch of hand

stitching to make sure that this all stays in place.

When we build a costume from scratch, we work with

a team of people.

It really does take a village.

The process for designing an entire production

starts about six to nine months before we even hit the stage.

The costumer will bring you renderings, sketches

of the costumes.

This is the sketch that Meghan has done and this

is the skirt, the overskirt for that sketch.

And then we talk to a team of drapers who make

women's clothes or tailors who make men's clothes and

they kind of figure out how to translate that two

dimensional drawing into a three dimensional outfit.

We do the pattern making, we do all the fitting.

We have to figure out how to make an actual garment

from the page to an actual person.

So they'll do a mock up which is basically like a

rough draft in inexpensive cotton fabric called

muslin and we fit that to the actor and make all the

changes in the rough draft essentially.

Easy to work with, inexpensive is the key.

>>Meghan: And then we make it out of the real fabric

so it takes a few steps but that's how we get the

great product that we do.

It's actually quite comfortable.

One of the most fun moments in the process is

when you actually see the costumes on stage on the

set for the first time because that's the first

time that the whole visual world comes together and it

feels like you're actually stepping into this story.

I'm sorry, I've just become so bitter.

I have to think about myself all the time.

I love seeing it happen from page to stage.

All my work up there on the stage, helping to tell a story.

Believe me this will be the best thing for you.

We do keep all of our costumes because they're a

huge investment and it's kind of fun to repurpose

garments from another show and give them a new life

in a different show five, ten years down the line.

There are very few costume departments in the country

that can equal what the Denver Center can do.

The Denver Center has always been kind of this

like beacon of arts and things like that so this

really is a dream come true to get to work here

and be part of this incredible place.


Reporter: The 1970s were an exciting time in

Lafayette, Louisiana.

Cajun culture, language, music, and cuisine were

being reclaimed by a young generation.

After decades where the emphasis was to cast aside

traditions and become more homogenized Americans.

Artist Robert Dafford grew up in Lafayette where he

was immersed in Cajun culture.

>>Robert Dafford: At the time of the Acadian

Renaissance, there was a huge emphasis on trying to

save what was left of Cajun culture, and I

realized I needed to provide the visual

background, the visual history, it didn't exist.

I went to do research on the Acadian exile and

found that there wasn't anything.

>>Reporter: Dafford became a dedicated researcher and

not just of the political history.

He sought information on the styles of clothing,

tools, transportation, and other physical details

that contribute authenticity to historic paintings.

>>Dafford: I had to do quite a bit of work to

figure out how to visualize and paint that,

paint that visual history.

I've spent 30 years and I've done probably 20

large pieces about the Acadian exile.

>>Reporter: At that time, Lafayette was also

undergoing a downtown revitalization effort.

>>Dafford: And then got commissions to do a 12 story

tall picture, uh, it, and it was, um, parts of cars,

50s cars.

This building had been a parking garage in the 50s.

So we painted 50s cars on it.

>>Reporter: In a clever touch, Dafford included reflections

of local Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the chrome.

>>Dafford: By then I knew that was exactly what I wanted to

do, very big illusionary pieces, very realistic.

So I became a, a public artist and, and also,

unexpectedly, a historical artist.

>>Reporter: Another crusade in the region was

to preserve natural environments like the

nearby Atchafalaya Basin.

Dafford's 100 foot long mural titled, Till All

That's Left Is A Postcard, was surreal, beautiful,

and larger than life.

>>Dafford: There's a three dimensional illusions of

plants, animals, insects, birds emerging, escaping

from the postcards to note we want to have a life out

here in the world, we don't want to be relegated

till nothing's left.

And it was a, a way of saying we need to pay

attention to the basin or it's going to be gone.

It was in the same spirit of we've got to save our

culture, we've got to save our, our landscape.

We've got to save our downtown.

We all wanted to find a way to hold on to what we have before

it's all swept away with the great American bulldozer.

>>Reporter: Dafford's work on historic imagery of the

Acadian exile culminated in the mid 90s with a

mural for the Acadian memorial in St. Martinville.

>>Dafford: They wanted to paint a mural that would

represent each of the original 82 Acadian

families that they had identified as being

important to Cajun culture.

The families got together and, and selected a person

from their family to represent that ancestor in the mural.

And over a period of time developed this painting,

it's got close to 100 people in it, all of whom

are representing an ancestor that came here in the 1700's.

>>Reporter: Across the Atlantic, a twin painting

depicting the Acadians leaving France was

completed in the port city of Nantes.

Dafford also tackled other international projects.

His series of flying fiddles began in Lafayette

for the Festival International de Louisiane.

The city of Lafayette then bestowed a gift of art to

sister cities with international festivals in

France, Belgium, England, and Canada.

By now Dafford had accumulated an impressive

portfolio and received four commissions in

Washington state.

He was invited to the renowned Chemainus

Festival of Murals on Vancouver Island where his

work caught the attention of other markets.

Towns along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, many

of them looking to revitalize their downtown areas.

>>Dafford: I think I'd be regarded as very site

specific in my work and not only that, community

specific and that's a very important thing that, when

I meet with the group in, in the town that wants to

do the project, I make them get a historian on

board along with the downtown merchants, the

visitors bureau, the, uh, downtown residents, um, or

any other organizations that have a stake in

preserving their downtown.

We come up with a list of subjects that are

important to them and for me, being, taking part in

that process, I get images from that, I get images

and images come to me from the intuitive process of

talking with them about what they want, but

they're telling me how they need to feel about themselves,

you know, and what images are gonna present that.

So these images then evolve.

We go into their archives.

We go into their family photo albums.

We go into the business record.

We find stuff to illustrate those subjects

that they choose.

That's very different from me and modern, cause I

have people tell me all, Robert how can you stand

to have a farm insurance guy telling you what to paint?

And I've always explained, they're not telling

me what to paint.

I'm asking them what do they need to see.

And that's far more important than you telling

them what you need to give them.

>>Reporter: Over the course of 40 years, Robert

Dafford brought art to the larger public, expressing

local histories, legacies, and personalities.

And by re-visioning their floodwalls as a natural

canvas, giving towns a tool for economic

development while bringing beauty and a sense of

public pride to each community.


>>Clayton Singleton: It's just like, I'm just gonna

let this happen.

It was like 2 in the morning in the studio.

Barkley Sheets, the professor, had told us

that we need it to be bolder or not bring him

something that was just regular.

This was like during college, it just hit me.

I'm gonna use straight color, gesso, just use it

straight from the tube.

And I said, this is what I need to do is paint these

figures in these almost story like ways.

If a person is blue, that person's a person.

If the person is green, the person's a person.

You don't have to attach or rather you can't really

attach your baggage to that person.

So that's what really got me going with these

strong, bold, large scale paintings that people

would just were like, "oh, that's weird.

I'm digging it, though." Because if the paints

aren't diluted, they're just what they are, and

it's kind of like that's how we as people want to

be seen, is just what we are, just who we are.

So, you don't need to alter me in any way to fit

your palette.

So that, that, that's what really got that going.

>>Kim Singleton: Clayton's just an amazingly

spectacular, genuine person, and to have him as

a friend or a companion or to know him in any

capacity is a gift.

So, this is me, writing my vows looking at a picture

of us from our first date.

>>Clayton: That was the first official date.

>>Kim: We actually worked at the same school and

Clayton would walk by and he'd speak, and I'd speak.

And, you know, I would just, you know, head back down,

keep working.

According to him, you know, he was making moves

on me that I, that I clearly didn't get the

signals on cause I just thought we were just, you

know, cordial friends, but I, I got the picture, so.

Very happy I got the picture.

>>Clayton: This painting is from a show called

Cultural Shift.

That show was basically about we as a society need

to change the way we're doing things, you know,

cause we're not doing too well.

Stop throwing daggers.

You know, um, people should just be happy.

And that picture of Kim that I used as a picture

of like, was just total happiness.

I don't know about, you know, everybody else in the

world, but there's not too many times in life I felt safe.

I can just show up and, um, Kim would know that

I've had a bad day, you know, and that's just paramount.

I mean, like, who doesn't want that?

>>Kim: He brings a, a lot of calm to people and his

foresight and insight into life things, um, it's just

very helpful to people, and people are drawn to that.

People are always like, you know, looking for hugs

or just want to share a story or want to tell

them, tell him something.

And it's just, it's just great to be around just

this awesomeness all the time.

>>Clayton: It's too soft, so like you need to

burnish that some.

What does that feel like if you had to put an

emotion to that particular still, what would it be?

>>Kenneth Fentress: I like how he makes everything

look real and he uses his own, um, shapes and stuff

and makes it his own.

Like when you look at his paintings,

you can tell they're his.

Uh, I want to be an artist just like him.

>>Clayton: This comes down right here.

It's got a little "U" right there.

Sometimes you have to take their hand and show them

how to move it.

>>Roseline Haydee: Mr. Singleton has taught me that

through art, you can express your emotions in a free way.

>>Kim: My favorite painting of Clayton's is

actually, um, the one that's right behind us.

And amazingly enough, I don't know the title of it.

>>Clayton: Ode to Truth.

>>Kim: Ode to Truth.

He gifted it to me, and it was at my place and I

would walk past it every day and it took me about

two months to realize there's a lady back there.

And it just talks about how the truth is so freeing.

And once you are confident in your truth, and once

you share your truth with others, they can't really hurt

you with it because you've owned it, you've accepted it.

So that's just what it is.

This is me.

So, I really, I really like that.

>>Clayton: I remember learning how to write in

cursive and I was, and my handwriting was horrible,

so I had to practice a lot to make the letters look

the way they needed to look.

So, I would just write and so then it became like,

let me just write what I want to say.

People can sit with words and they can read them and

analyze and come to a new conclusion, and I think

that, that was attractive to me.


This circle was not originally painted by me,

but I replenish red paint regularly.

I take spray cans, crayons, anything I get my

hands on, lipstick, nail polish.

I once scraped gravy from a dog dish, saturated it,

using red food coloring, the finishing red paint regularly.

Everybody needs to make something.

Everyone needs to use his or her innate creativity,

and I feel like when you don't do that, you seek to

destroy things, you know, because you're not being

creative, like it's in your spirit, it's in your

molecules to create, you know, and we should.

Everybody needs to make something.

>>Tyheshia Shand: I like how all the artwork ties

into everyday life and different things that you

go, that you go through, and the inspiration of it.

>>Clayton: This piece right here is called

Brothers, and though it's not actually, um, a

painting of my brother and I, it represents us.

Uh, it kind of gives us our personalities and our

particular role in the relationship.

>>Beverly Myrick: I, I love the colors.

I'm all about colors anyway.

But the colors allow you to really see the, the

main focus, so on these it's the athletes, not

just, uh, you know, regular hurdles, hurdles of life


>>Clayton: Every person needs to make something,

whether you grow it, whether you sew it,

whether you, um, sculpt it, paint it.

You know, I don't, I don't care what it is, whether

it's dinner or whatever.

Make something, create something that did not

exist before you.

That's powerful.


New Mexico PBS dot org and look for COLORES under

What We Do and Local Productions.



Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation

...and Viewers Like You


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