Even before he was shot and killed in 1881, Billy the Kid's
charisma and murderous career were generating stories that belied
his brief life - and that only multiplied, growing to legendary
proportions after his death at age twenty-one. In Thunder in the
West, Richard W. Etulain takes the true measure of Billy, the man
and the legend, and presents the clearest picture yet of his life
and his ever-shifting place and presence in the cultural landscape
of the Old West. Billy the Kid - born Henry McCarty in 1859, and
also known as William H. Bonney - emerges from these pages in all
his complexity, at once a gentleman and gregarious companion, and a
thief and violent murderer. Tapping new depths of research, Etulain
traces Billy's short life from his mysterious origins in the East
through his wanderings in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. As we
move from his peripatetic early years through the wild West to his
fatal involvement in the Lincoln County Wars, we see the
impressionable boy give way to the conflicted young man and,
finally, to the opportunistic and often amoral outlaw who was out
for himself, for revenge, and for whatever he could steal along the
way. Against this deftly drawn portrait, Etulain considers the
stories and myths spawned by Billy's life and death. Beginning with
the dime novels featuring Billy the Kid, even during his lifetime,
and ranging across the myriad newspaper accounts, novels, and
movies that alternately celebrated his outlaw life and condemned
his exploits, Etulain offers a uniquely informed view of the
changing interpretations that have shaped and reshaped the
reputation of this enduring icon of the Old West. In his portrayal,
Billy the Kid lives on, not as a cut-throat desperado or a young
charmer but as both - hero and villain, myth and man, fully
realized in this twenty-first-century interpretation.
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