Essential Books on Billy the Kid
There are countless books on Billy the Kid, and it comes with good reason, he was an American outlaw and gunfighter of the Old West who is alleged to have killed 21 men before he was shot and killed at the age of 21.
In order to explore the inner workings and notorious deeds of one of America’s most infamous figures, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Billy the Kid.
Billy the Kid by Robert M. Utley
Robert M. Utley does what countless books, movies, television shows, musical compositions, and paintings have failed to do: he successfully strips off the veneer of legendry to expose the reality of Billy the Kid. Using previously untapped sources, he presents an engrossing story – the most complete and accurate ever – of a youthful hoodlum and sometimes killer who found his calling in New Mexico’s bloody power struggle known as the Lincoln County War. In unmasking the legend Utley also tells us much about our heritage of frontier vigilantism and violence.
Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis
Award-winning historian Michael Wallis has spent several years re-creating the rich, anecdotal saga of Billy the Kid, a deeply mythologized young man who became a legend in his own time and yet remains an enigma to this day. With the Gilded Age in full swing and the Industrial Revolution reshaping the American landscape, “the Kid,” who was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett in the New Mexico Territory at the age of twenty-one, became a new breed of celebrity outlaw.
He arose amid the mystery and myth of the swiftly vanishing frontier and, sensationalized beyond recognition by the tabloids and dime-store romances of the day, emerged as one of the most enduring icons of the American West – not to mention one of Hollywood’s most misrepresented characters. This hallmark among books on Billy the Kid, filled with dozens of rare images and period photographs, separates myth from reality and presents an unforgettable portrait of his brief and violent life.
To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardner
Billy the Kid – a.k.a. Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, and William Bonney – was a horse thief, cattle rustler, charismatic rogue, and cold-blooded killer. A superb shot, the Kid gunned down four men single-handedly and five others with the help of cronies. Two of his victims were Lincoln County, New Mexico, deputies killed during the Kid’s brazen daylight escape from the courthouse jail on April 28, 1881.
For new sheriff Pat Garrett, an acquaintance of Billy’s, the chase was on…
The first dual biography of the Kid and Garrett, To Hell on a Fast Horse re-creates the thrilling manhunt for the Wild West’s most iconic outlaw. Mark Lee Gardner digs beneath the myth to take a fresh look at these two men, their relationship, and their epic ride to immortality.
The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid by Pat F. Garrett
William H. Bonney, born in November of 1859, began his criminal career early. At the age of twelve, Billy stabbed a man in a bar fight, then spent his teenage years stealing and gambling. At seventeen he committed his first murder and earned the nickname “Billy the Kid” from the news reporters who followed his exploits and helped his reputation reach epic heights. Here, Pat F. Garrett, the Sheriff of Lincoln County, does his best to tell us the incredible story of the kid who became a cold-blooded outlaw.
Written just eight months after he shot Billy in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in 1881 – a happenstance meeting at the home of Pete Maxwell – Garrett takes us through Billy’s earliest days in New York, his move west, adventures in Mexico, and Billy’s repeated arrests and escapes – all of which led to the Kid’s eventual death.
In the Shadow of Billy the Kid by Kathleen P. Chamberlain
The events of July 19, 1878, marked the beginning of what became known as the Lincoln County War and catapulted Susan McSween and a young cowboy named Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid, into the history books. The so-called war, a fight for control of the mercantile economy of southeastern New Mexico, is one of the most documented conflicts in the history of the American West, but it is an event that up to now has been interpreted through the eyes of men.
As a woman in a man’s story, Susan McSween has been all but ignored. This is the first book to place her in a larger context. Clearly, the Lincoln County War was not her finest hour, just her best known. For decades afterward, she ran a successful cattle ranch. She watched New Mexico modernize and become a state. And she lived to tell the tales of the anarchistic territorial period many times.
Billy the Kid: An Autobiography by Daniel A. Edwards
In 1882 a notorious outlaw and a childhood friend of Billy the Kid was released from prison where he had been serving time for killing a Texas Ranger. His freedom finally secured, the outlaw disappeared and was never heard from again. Never, that is, until 1948 when he came out of hiding after almost 70 years.
In the course of proving his identity to a court of law, the outlaw revealed that his friend Billy the Kid was not killed by Pat Garrett but was still alive even to that day. After a period of research and persistence, the young lawyer was finally led to a destitute old man in Texas who was named not William H. Bonney but William H. Roberts, although Bonney had been an alias that he had used.
Roberts agreed to reveal himself as Billy the Kid if the lawyer would help him obtain a pardon so he could die a free man. You see, the Kid was still wanted for murder so to come forward was to risk being sentenced and put to death, but this was a risk that William H. Roberts was willing to take. He told his story only one time, to one man. This is his story, now presented for the first time with new photographic evidence and research that supports his claim that he was the one true Billy the Kid of legend.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Billy the Kid, check out our list of The 5 Best Books on Crazy Horse!