Billy the Kid in 1879-80.

Billy the Kid: Baddest Punk in the West

Billy the Kid has been dead for nearly 140 years, yet he still manages to corral his share of bad-boy admirers. He's an odd choice. The only generally accepted photo of the Kid shows him to be a snaggletoothed, jug-eared, beardless teenager, closer to a Mortimer Snerd Muffler Man than a Wild West desperado. This dweeb, according to legend, was a killer of 21 men, yet he was bumped off with a single shot, in a friend's house, while getting a late night snack.

Long after the Kid's supposed death, over two dozen men claimed to be Billy, apparently unconcerned that, if true, their claims would also make them all convicted murderers. Brushy Bill Roberts is the one best-remembered on the travel landscape. It's a testament to the Kid's appeal that Brushy, like Billy, has his own museum, pilgrimage death spot, and visitor-friendly grave.

Part of the allure of Billy the Kid is that no one really knows much about him, other than that he killed people. The Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, emphasizes this ambiguity, encouraging visitors to read all of its exhibit signage, then decide for themselves if Billy was a victimizer or just a victim. It's an approach that also helps when confronting the occasional critic, upset that a community could commemorate a lowlife like Billy the Kid. Well, maybe he wasn't such a bad little feller after all!

Billy the Kid points of interest.

If towns can embrace monsters as their claim to fame -- and some have -- then it's really not much of a stretch to celebrate a human monster. Even one as unlikely as Billy the Kid.

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October 26, 2020

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