Sunday, April 28, 2024

My Favorite Book, Part 30.

Certain things from the Old West are so firmly embedded in history—both scholarly and popular—that they are ever-present. You don’t have to look far to find a book, magazine article, movie, documentary, or debate about the gunfight at the OK Corral, Wild Bill Hickok, the battle at the Little Big Horn, Buffalo Bill Cody, the siege at the Alamo, Crazy Horse, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull . . .

And, as popular a subject as any of the above, Billy the Kid.

I recently re-read a book on that subject I had enjoyed before: To Hell on a Fast Horse – Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West by Mark Lee Gardner. The book traces the histories of William Bonney and Pat Garrett, both as individuals and their shared history. While widely researched and carefully documented, the book—unlike so many nonfiction books—is not a dense parade of names and dates and facts.

Gardner does not paint Billy the Kid as a tortured, misunderstood, widely loved victim of circumstance. Neither does he portray him as totally uncaring, cold-blooded, ruthless, and imbued with evil. Garrett gets the same multi-faceted treatment, covering his heroics and relentless pursuit of justice, as well as his gambling, drinking, and economic shenanigans. We come to know both men as fully formed, complex human beings, driven by and responding to (as we all are) complicated and sometimes conflicting forces.

The violence of their lives is chronicled in vivid detail, as are the friendships and romantic relationships of the Kid and the sheriff. Throughout the pages of this engaging account, readers are left to form their own conclusions concerning the mysteries surrounding the lives and deaths of two of the Old West’s most compelling men, forever entwined in our history and imaginations.


  1. Nice review. I’m forwarding to Mark!

  2. Thanks, Rod. That book now feels like it was written by someone else! Glad you like it, and appreciate your good words.

    Mark Lee Gardner

    1. You are welcome, Mark. And thank you for your fine writing.