To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett Paperback – Feb 8 2011
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“The double-helix relationship between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett is one of the abiding fascinations of the West. No one has come closer than Mark Lee Gardner to capturing their twin destinies and their inevitable final collision....you can almost smell the gunsmoke and the sweat of the saddles. ” (Hampton Sides, author of the New York Times bestsellers Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers)
“A masterpiece! Mark Gardner’s dual biography of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett cuts through the myth to tell the real story of two real figures in the Wild West. Gardner’s scholarship is superb. This work can only be called a classic.” (David Dary)
“Incredibly deep research combines with the talents of a fine historian and writer to produce superb narrative history. The true character and relationship of these two iconic westerners emerge to suppress myth and correct more than a century of tomes laden with bad history.” (Robert M. Utley)
“Digging beneath the myths and melodrama, [Gardner] begins in Las Vegas during Christmas week, 1880, when the capture and confinement of Billy the Kid made national headlines... Gardner’s extensive research and authoritative approach ground this compelling historical recreation.” (Publishers Weekly)
“As gripping as any thriller.” (Library Journal)
From the Back Cover
Billy the Kid—a.k.a. Henry McCarty,Henry Antrim, and William Bonney—was a horse thief, cattle rustler, charismaticrogue, and cold-blooded killer. Asuperb shot, the Kid gunned down four mensingle-handedly and five others with the helpof cronies. Two of his victims were LincolnCounty, New Mexico, deputies killed duringthe Kid’s brazen daylight escape from thecourthouse jail on April 28, 1881.
For new sheriff Pat Garrett, an acquaintanceof Billy’s, the chase was on. . . .
As the first dual biography of the Kid andGarrett, To Hell on a Fast Horse re-createsthe thrilling manhunt for the Wild West’smost iconic outlaw. Mark Lee Gardner digsbeneath the myth to take a fresh look at thesetwo men, their relationship, and their epicride to immortality.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The details of the Kid's life are sparse, primarily because his origins were obscure and his time in the public eye was so fleeting. This book focuses on the crimes committed by the Kid, mostly murders, and Garrett's efforts to bring him to justice or, to use President Bush's words, bring justice to him.
Pat Garrett is an interesting Wild West character. Remembered mostly for killing Billy the Kid, he was one of those men who lived out their lives on the edge of civilization where their talents and efforts enabled them to achieve a degree of prosperity and social status. Residing in New Mexico with forays into Texas, Arizona and Mexico, Garret made a living out of being County Sheriff, U.S. Marshall, Customs Collector, rancher, gambler and a few other things on the side. Besides Billy The Kid, shared the world's stage with Theodore Roosevelt, who was impressed enough during their meeting to appoint Garrett Customs Collector at El Paso, and Albert Fall, a New Mexico attorney and politician who would later serve as U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior before going to prison in the Teapot Dome scandal.
Author Mark Lee Gardner has written a very good history of a slice of the Old West. While his writing style does not exhibit the enticing detail of Zane Grey or Louis L'Amour, he more than makes up for it with extensive research. The notes and resources included in the back provide sufficient detail for any aficionado of Western Lore.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"To Hell On A Fast Horse" scores points for sticking to the facts, but loses them for...sticking to the facts. I come away from reading this 2010 history satisfied I know a lot more about Billy and Pat, but as to what made them so important to be worth reading about 130 years later, I can't honestly say. What was it about them that resonates so, now, then, and in all the decades between?
It sure wasn't the vast trove of reliable historical testimony they left behind. Gardner makes clear that available records are scant at best, and often unreliable. Instead of compensating by printing the legend, a la John Ford, he goes to census records and newspaper accounts, synthesizing what is out there with a gimlet eye but not much in the way of a discernable point of view.
Gardner does favor Garrett to Billy, perhaps because there's more data on the lawman, but mostly because he views Billy as a charming thug. "Billy's real and deadly talent was fooling people," he writes. "Billy joked and smiled, but his quick mind was always sizing up the situation, looking for a sign of weakness, a slight mental error, something that would give him an edge."
Garrett stood for something more than using people. Gardner portrays him in the opening chapter, which flash-forwards to Billy in Pat's custody, as a stolid character standing up to a mob to see to it Billy and his other prisoners receive honest justice, not the frontier variety. Later on, after Billy's death, he pursues an investigation with possibly dangerous political repercussions. Even when documenting Garrett's foibles, you get a feeling Gardner is on his side, trying in a non-partisan way to adjust the scales of remembrance which have tipped Billy's way too long.
The legend doesn't get aired out much, except a little in the footnotes. There, Gardner refutes popular misconceptions that Pat and Billy were friends (they knew each other, had mutual pals, but were never buddies) and that Billy was left-handed (the one picture we have of Billy was, like all ferrotypes, a reverse image). Frankly, I wish he had carried over some of this voice to the main text, which is dry as an arroyo at high noon. With such a great title, you expect more.
How many men did Billy really kill? Gardner doesn't really say. He does offer first-hand accounts of a few killings, as well as a shoplifting and a horse theft. Gardner also introduces a lot of characters, even when they don't serve much point in the ultimate scheme of things. He spends a few sentences introducing a co-leader of one of Garrett's posses, then a few pages later, in an aside, notes the guy skipped the country with stolen money, not to be mentioned again.
It's not exciting reading but gives you a sense of what the Wild West was really about, for good or ill. Gardner wants to tell it like it was. In this case, maybe the legend is better.
The book is laid out in chronological fashion and the story of Billy the Kid is told side by side with the one man that will be forever tied to him - Pat Garrett, the Sheriff that brought Billy down. The bibliography is well worth the time to peruse it. Much of the data and primary reference material is quoted and commented upon by Gardner, making this section of the book very valuable to anyone that is truly interested in the full historical story.
The writing is very good and easy to follow. Of the 250+ pages, the first 200 are dedicated to the story of Garrett and Billy and their intertwined lives. After Billy is killed by Garrett, the book concentrates on the rest of the life of Pat Garrett. Garrett's life after Billy is not a pretty one and is quite sad to read. Gardner works his material and maybe overwrites this portion a little. As a writer of pure history, Gardner attempts to leave no stone unturned and this is one of the two negatives that I have with the book - just too much detail without the interest of Billy the Kid's involvement. With the title as it is written, this reader expected Billy to be a part of the book until the end.
The second negative is that this book does not give to the reader any of the surrounding events that are ongoing during the time frame of this story. I like to obtain more historical information in the era of the biography to complement the immediate story of the biography's main character(s). In this case there are many individuals that are on display for their part in Billy's and Garrett's lives, but little else is discussed. For this reason, I marked down the rating from 5 to 4 stars.
If you are interested in the true events surrounding Billy the Kid, then this is the book for you.
As a standard historical text, you would not be surprised to learn that the author covers each of the two proponent's lives separately and then intertwines their stories as they move towards the climax of the fatal encounter that cemented their relationship - that being the night that Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid dead. I found it interesting that while Pat Garrett's story leading to their interactions in Fort Sumner and Lincoln County was rather short, Billy the Kid's history was much longer and more detailed. Maybe that is because there is and was so much interest more in the background of the outlaw rather than the lawman? In any case, that is what you will see when you read this book. Each of Billy's names and murderous acts are described in minute detail, while Garrett's career spans only a few pages.
The middle part of the book is a very detailed listing of a period of several months in which Billy the Kid is on the run from the law, and Pat Garrett is after him. This part ends with the infamous shooting incident. The latter part of the book covers the next 30 years of Pat Garrett's life until he gets killed in an ambush. Throughout the whole book we read small side stories of what life was like in the Wild West territory of New Mexico and find out just how violent people were back then as well as how intertwined society was! When you read stories about this man or that with seven killings to his name, but who was never prosecuted, you quickly realize how flimsy the reach of the law was back in those days.
The book is meticulously researched, and I am actually taking away one half star for that as the level of detail interferes with the flow of the narrative in many cases. The author seems able to describe each posse and gang member by name and in several cases spells out their interactions with each other and all their family relations. There is simply too much information provided in those areas. Maybe some sort of listing or charts in an Appendix would have been a better treatment for this, but I know that my eyes almost glazed over and I really did not follow the names much - as I said, the denseness of the information detracted from the narrative's flow.
In any case, this book is so detailed and so well researched that if you have any interest at all in that period of the Southwest, or any of the events surrounding Billy the Kid or the Fort Sumner area in the early 1880's then this book belongs on your shelves. If you care about the specifics of the personalities involved and the real story behind their legends, then this is also the book for you. Good reading!
This book dispels those myths and gives a fuller account of the lives of both these men in a well written and documented dual biography.
The book walks through the early life of both men, with William Bonney's (Billy the Kid) being much more mysterious and unclear. He documents the Kid's rambling nature and his involvement in the Lincoln's County wars in New Mexico, where he comes off looking not quite as narcissistic and craven as one would think. It is clear that Bonney had little few skills except with his gun, which is the only way he could really make a living. His unbelievable, daring, and bloody escapes are even more dramatic than the movies that portray them. The author does an outstanding job at using what little documentary evidence exists to bring to life, real life, Billy the Kid.
But the book also has done a great service to the ill fated Pat Garrett. I knew absolutely nothing about Garrett before reading this book and the author provides a very vivid, full biography of this misunderstood Western lawman. Far from the cowardly person often portrayed in the movies, he was a man of honor, kept his word (mostly), and was equally the epitome of the fearless, tough lawman as the more famous and renowned Wyatt Earp. He did fall on hard times and was a rather bad business man, which ultimately lead to his downfall and possibly murder. The author does a splendid job of exploring his life and the mysterious events surrounding his death.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the American West that is not based on myth.
Mark Lee Gardiner tells the story of Billy the Kid (a.k.a. Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, and William Bonney) very well. He provides background on where he came from and how he became a notorious outlaw, at least as far as is reliably known, which is sketchy at best (the Marty Robbins song says Billy "at the age of 12 years he did kill his first man," but the book says he was 17). He also tells of Pat Garrett, the all-but-forgotten Sheriff, who tracked Billy down and arrested him, and later killed him after a brazen and bloody escape (the song also says the two were friends, but the book says no). In doing so Gardiner brings the Old West of New Mexico alive in a very readable way - the chapter where Garrett kills Billy was particularly exciting. I noticed another review complain that Billy is romanticized too much, but I saw it differently; that Gardiner was trying to convey how Billy was viewed by the people, some of which saw him as a hero instead of an outlaw. My only complaint would be that the text and editing is a little uneven, and in some parts (not quotations) the language is a bit colloquial and salty. Also, the book drags a little after Billy's death, and the 100 pages that continue discussing Pat Garrett's latter history could have been shorter. But these complaints are minor, and I found the book to be an excellent and fun history.
(I also recommend Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West for those who enjoy this book.)