He Only Killed Four Men: Interview with Billy the Kid Expert Fred Nolan

“He came right at me. Before I got to the bed, I whispered, ‘Who is it, Pete?’ but I got no answer for a moment. It occurred to me that it might be Pete’s brother-in-law, Manuel Abreu, who had seen Poe and McKinney, and wanted to know what it was. The intruder came over to me, put both hands on the bed, his right hand almost touching my knee, and asked, quietly, “Who are they, Pete?” at the same instant Maxwell whispered to me. Simultaneously, the Kid must have seen, or felt, the presence of a third person at the head of the bed. He quickly raised his pistol, a self-hammering one, a foot from my chest. Quickly across the room, he yelled, ‘Who is it?’ Who is that? Who is that?”) All this happened in a moment. As quickly as possible I drew my revolver and fired, threw my body aside and fired again. The second shot was useless, the Child fell dead. He never spoke. fight or two, a little choking sound as he gasped, and Kid was with his many victims.”

Pat Garrett’s testimony.


Fred Nolan is considered one of the world’s leading Billy the Kid experts. His book The West of Billy The Kid is considered one of the best studies of the legend ever published. As a novelist he has written many westerns, as well as working successfully in other genres. He added five installations to the Sudden series, a Western character originally created by Oliver Strange. Among his thrillers is The Oshawa Project, filmed by MGM and starring Sophia Loren and Robert Vaughn. In total, the author is responsible for more than 70 books.

However, when The Archive cornered the writer, we were concerned with the legend of Billy The Kid.

What is the continuing fascination with Billy the KID?

“The answer would depend on how deeply you want to delve into the mechanics of the illusions, our hero’s place in history and reality, the implied challenge and the simultaneous impossibility of solving an insoluble historical puzzle, of correctly establishing who he was, where where he was born, who his father was, where he spent the first ten years of his life… but I think there are broader issues as well, having to do with our need for heroes and myths (and, oddly enough, hope), with preconceptions shaped by where we grew up and who we grew up with, what we read and saw on TV or in the movies when we were of an impressionable age. Billy is truly a young man for all seasons; life short and violent, that transformation from homeless boy to immortal myth who remodels himself anew for each successive generation”

In your opinion, have any of the film versions of The Kid come close to reality?

“The short answer is no. I think maybe if Jack Beutel, who played the Kid in The Outlaw, could have played the role of Kris Kristofferson in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, we could have had the ultimate picture.”

Was Billy psychotic?

“I am quite sure that he did not suffer from a mental disorder in which thinking and emotions are so impaired that contact with external reality is lost” (OED). But he knew how to stay alive in a world and a time that you and we may find ourselves unable to cope with. If you want to try it, read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.”

There is only one authenticated image of Billy the Kid, but many others claim to be the outlaw. Do you think any of these other photographs are genuine?

“Further illusions: surely there must be another picture of him somewhere, something that doesn’t make him seem (as Burton Rascoe put it)” a nondescript, adenoidal, weasel-eyed, narrow-chested, shouldered, repulsive-looking creature with all outward appearance of a cretin”? Of course, I’ve seen quite a few photos that could very well be El Nino, but they all lack that vital factor: a provenance, proof that they are the real thing.”

The nickname “THE KID” was a generic term in the Old West and was often given to any young man in trouble with the law. Obviously, there were a lot of murders attributed to Billy that he committed now, that in fact he could not have committed. How many men, in his opinion, did he kill?

“As far as we know, he only killed four men one by one: Frank Cahill, James Bell, Bob Olinger and Red Grant. He was involved, to what exact extent we cannot be sure, in several others, essentially gang members.” murders: Morton, Baker, McCloskey, Brady, Hindman, Roberts, Bernstein, etc. It is unlikely at this late stage that evidence will ever emerge linking it to others we don’t know about. And, after all, there is enough irony. in the phrase “he killed four men alone” … alone ???? “

What is your opinion on Brushy Bill, who claimed to be Billy the Kid and still generates much debate about his true identity?

“Oliver P. “Brushy Bill” Roberts was just a sad, simple old man who got caught up in something whose ramifications were far beyond his mental capacity—and the strain of doing so probably killed him. His family Bible shows he was born in 1879, which means he would have been two years old when Billy the Kid was killed. He had previously claimed to be a member of Jesse James’s gang. He was just a nobody who wanted so badly to be somebody, but that hasn’t stopped thinkers. desirous of illusions”.

So why are the authorities loathe to allow Billy’s grave to be dug up for DNA testing to solve the mystery once and for all?

“The authorities (and many historians, myself among them) were not so much against the idea of ​​DNA samples being taken, but against the proposal that (a) pinpointing the exact spot where the Kid is buried is not possible. and (b) there is no way to be sure that even if the grave were excavated, the remains, if any, would be Kid, or Bowdre, or Folliard, or just someone else who had been buried there before they were. And (c) what would the DNA be compared to? The Kid’s mother in her Silver City grave? But precisely the same problems exist there: there is no certainty about the location of the grave, or whether she is in it or just close. So (d) what would be the point?”

Hypothetical: Garrett didn’t kill the Kid, what happened next?

“Okay, let’s free our imaginations and proceed with your hypothesis. Garrett kills someone in Pete Maxwell’s room. He/they claim it was the Kid and hastily put him into a coffin that is sealed so no one can see the body and then they quickly bury him next to him.” Now the whole world has to take Garrett and Maxwell’s word that it was the Kid, and none of the families living in Fort Sumner, nor any of their descendants for the next hundred and twenty years, will question it or tell anyone that this was what they were told/agreed to do. Hard to believe, right? (We ignore for a moment that none of this is what Garrett and Poe said happened, or that a coroner’s jury saw the body and certified it to be the Kid.) The same has to be true of the proposition that someone else, a “Billy Barlow”, say, was buried and Billy the Kid escaped. one hundred people. Still, there is no way known to man that you could silence all of them and all of their relatives (then and in the future) so completely that no one, not one, ever told or even hinted at the secret. I once made a list of the families who were registered as having known Billy and whose relatives and descendants would have had to keep this vow of silence and now it would have involved over a thousand people. You know the rule: two people can keep a secret as long as one of them is dead.”

Legend has it that he was only 21 when Garrett killed The Kid, but general opinion these days seems to think he was around 26. What’s your opinion?

“I always thought Billy was younger, no older than 21, and based that proposal on our inability to find a record of his birth, or even his existence, in the census and other records. Lately, I’ve been wondering if that theory should be abandoned. The Kid was in Fort Sumner in 1881 when the census was taken and at the time he said he was 22 years old and was born in Missouri. Why shouldn’t that be true, because we don’t like it? There are Bonney families in the Missouri records that he might have fit in, and there’s at least one McCarty family there that might have been his mother’s But like everything else involving Billy, it can’t be proven and it’s unlikely it ever will “.

Will the mystery of The Kid ever be cleared up?

“What mystery did you have in mind? The mystery of his birth? The mystery of his father’s identity? The mystery of where he grew up? The mystery of what he was really like? The mystery of why he was killed? ( Hypothetical question: Garrett had two armed officers standing behind Billy and he had the opportunity, why didn’t he just arrest him?).


* The Oshawa Project (published in the US as The Algonquin Project, a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, later filmed as Brass Target)
* The Mittenwald Syndicate: Another best-selling thriller about the Reichsbank robbery in Germany at the end of World War II.
* Carver’s Kingdom: a historical novel about the construction of the American transcontinental railroad
* White Nights, Red Dawn – A historical novel set amidst the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.
* A Promise of Glory: A historical novel about an American family during the Revolution.
* Blind Duty – A historical novel about the same family during the Civil War.
* Field of Honor – A historical novel about a family during the Spanish-American War

Wolf Trap – a thriller about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942.
* Red Center – A high-tech espionage thriller.


* Sweet Sister Death: A prescient thriller featuring a terrorist attack in New York
* Alert State Black – Charles Garrett fights terrorism in Germany.
* Designated Assassin: This time the terrorists are Irish.
* Rat Run: Garrett battles a group planning the biggest ecological disaster in history.

As Christine McGuire:

* Until proven guilty
*Until justice is done
* Until death do us part

As Frederick H. Christian:

* Sudden counterattacks
* Sudden in the bay
* Sudden, Apache Fighter
* Sudden – Troubleshooter
* Sudden, dead or alive!

As Daniel Rockfern:

* Showdown in Liberty
* Ride to revenge
* Ambush in Purgatory
* Long trip to hell
*Daranga Ride
* Bad day in Agua Caliente
* Massacre in Madison
* Showdown in Trinidad
* Shooting at Fischer’s Crossing
* Hunting in Quemado
* Duel in Cheyenne

Non-fiction works:

* The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall
* Rodgers & Hammerstein: The Sound of Their Music
* The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History
* Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway
* Billy the Kid’s West
* The Wild West: History, Myth and the Creation of America
* Tascosa, its life and garish times
* Billy the Kid Reader

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