Billy The Kid Liked To Play Croquet

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott

He was an outlaw, that's for sure and a cop killer.  It is said that he killed his first man after a "bullying" incident.  His physical appearance was unimpressive – a wiry 5'7", 135 lb. frame. He was overly fixated on guns in a culture where guns were commonplace.  He was a gang member. He has been perceived as a hero and a villain at different points in American history.  He was an Irishman who sided with an Englishman in the LincolnCountyWar.  He was an escape artist. His last words were in Spanish, Quien es? (Who is it?)  Historians never thought much of him.  The New Mexico Tourist Board reveres and promotes him.  That's some of what we know, there's a lot we don't or ever will know. Of course, we're talking about Henry Antrim a.k.a. William H. Bonney better known as Billy The Kid, the biggest, baddest, desperado of all time if you believe the hype.  That oft quoted line from the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance could very well have been said about Billy The Kid, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

Because of some gaps in the historical record, writers and film makers alike have used the semi-blank canvas of the Kid's life to project their own psychoses, pathologies, ideologies, and whatever else malingers in their collective brains.  From the earliest silent films, King Vidor's 1930 epic, Paul Newman's turn as Billy in The Left Handed Gun, Sam Peckinpah's vision in Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, to Gore Vidal's 1989 take on the subject, you can see competing versions and characterizations of history and the man himself.  Even the creepy, bizarre Billy The Kid Versus Dracula doesn't seem out of place.  You see, everything is possible in Billy World.

Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid remains a favorite despite the premise that Billy and Sheriff Pat Garrett were close pals.  But like so many other things believed to be true, there is no basis in fact for this assertion.  The studio took the finished product out of Peckinpah's hands and sliced it and diced it to the point that it was universally dismissed by the critics at the time it was originally released in 1973.  The restored 1988 release is more coherent and easier to follow – now a critic's choice.  Plus it yielded a Bob Dylan soundtrack and one of his most enduring songs Knocking On Heaven's Door. Studio honchos also butchered The Left Handed Gun to the point that Gore Vidal who wrote the original screenplay felt the need to rework it with Val Kilmer in the starring role.  Leave it up to the studios to rehab the image of Billy The Kid for public consumption.

Everyone from dime store novelists to esteemed writers like Larry McMurtry has also added to the mythmaking down through the years. Songwriters have been no exception. Woody Guthrie put his populist stamp on the outlaw.  Joe Ely played around with the myth in his insanely funny Me and Billy The Kid. An authenticated photo of Billy playing croquet in 2015 set my imagination in motion yielding the song Billy The Kid Liked To Play Croquet.


And while it is understandable that the artistic types could find connections and come to conclusions not based on fact, historians have tended to minimalize The Kid's relevance as a historic figure.  They point to men such as Coronado, Kit Carson, and Diego de Vargas (Diego who?  Look him up, I had to.) as figuring more prominently in the settling of the West. But the Kid figured more prominently in the unsettling of the West and historians have never forgiven him of that indiscretion. But many of the issues and controversies, Billy The Kid faced are some of the same issues and controversies we face today. Bullying, gang violence, gun violence are still front page news.  It doesn't matter if the gang member rides a steed or drives a tricked out Escalade, the reasons why people join gangs and join criminal enterprises are still the same today as they were then.  Racism still persists today as it existed between the Dolan brothers and John Tunstall the protagonists of the LincolnCountyWar.  It was essentially the centuries long Anglo/Irish feud played out in the American West.  It still simmers today in Northern Ireland.  And the Mexican peasants who harbored Billy The Kid and kept him safe during his stints on the lam were looked down upon by the culture in power.  It's really no different today, is it?  Talk of immigration reform, the border fence, and carrying the proper identification is nothing new.  America has always been built upon the backs of people not carrying the proper papers.

You see, Billy The Kid is still relevant.  The truth is fascinating. 


Billy The Kid Liked To Play Croquet
Song by Les Marcott

Billy The Kid liked to play croquet
At the end of a hard working outlaw day
'Cause every desperado's got to blow off steam
Have a drink, have a dream and play croquet

chorus:  Everything is fair in love and range wars
              Paulita why don't you hold me once more
              Before the day fades away
              How 'bout a game of croquet

Down at that Tunstall Ranch
Beneath that hanging tree branch
Those croquet balls would roll and roll
There's a certain ebb and a certain flow  to croquet


Well I saw it all there in black and white
Hanging on the wall was an old tintype
There was Billy with a mallet in his hand
Playing with all of his outlaw band...croquet


I wish we could all play a gentleman's game
Nothing to lose and no one to blame
Just shake hands and walk away
But Pat Garrett never liked the game of croquet



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Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2022 Les Marcott
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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