Do You Know This Man?: portrait of William Bonney
Steven W. Justice
68×30, Oil on Wood 2022
I’ve said elsewhen, that the past is history and the future is mystery, and we’ve got to correctly interpret the former in order to effectively prepare for the latter. History never moves in a straight line, you see because Einstein said there is no such thing as a straight line.
Let’s set the record straight about Billy the Kid, AKA William Bonney, Henry McCarty, Kid Antrim, and William Antrim. Contrary to most assumptions, the NYC native/New Mexico resident was intelligent, educated and well-read, he wrote long letters to his mother, he liked to sing and dance, and he was a big-time lady charmer. He was also an excellent horse thief. His M.O. was to select a horse, buy it a drink, then gallop off to the next town, where he’d trade or sell the horse and steal another, ride to the next town, and repeat the procedure. The horse’s owner would stop pursuing once they recovered their horse, and the law always seemed to have bigger fish to fry. BUT, the Kid’s fatal flaw was that he’d sometimes get busted and jailed, then he’d escape. It was kinda cute at first — he was such a runt that he could escape by crawling through a drain trap – but he was Billy the Kid, not Winnie the Pooh, and, psychopath that he was, his escapes became more violent as security was tightened. So, Winnie kept digging himself deeper and deeper. By the time he died, at age 21, he’d scored 9 murders and 4 assists. Billy, I mean – not Winnie. With his knowledge and respect for Mexican culture and their language, Billy could have disappeared into Mexico, but he never left the county and was found and shot at his girlfriend’s father’s friend’s girlfriend’s ranch, in the dark, as he was making a sandwich. His final words were “Quien es?” meaning “Who’s there?” He was responding to Pat Garrett’s funny knock-knock joke: “Knock-knock.” “Quien es?” “Knock-knock knocking on Heaven’s door!” BANG !
This painting shows the casual, Praxitelean pose assumed by the Kid in his only known photograph, reminding us that he really was just a kid. (*There may be a second photo of him, in a group of men that includes Pat Garrett.) The bright colors are drawn from the retail chains Kids-R-Us or GAP Kids (get it?), and also from a bizarre cowboy in a dream I once had.