How much do you know about Billy the Kid? On the popular Infamous America podcast, Chris Wimmer has dug deep into the life of one of most famous outlaws in the Old West. He joins us today to separate fact from the fiction we saw in the 1988 movie about Billy the Kid, Young Guns.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use it for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre: I’d like to start by establishing the setting cause I didn’t really think that the movie did a very good job of doing that. We don’t really see a mention of a date or location, although there was a mention of president Rutherford B Hayes and a mention of a town called Lincoln that doesn’t really say where, maybe Lincoln, Nebraska, I don’t know.
Movie doesn’t really say that’s the first Lincoln that comes to my mind now. And we know that from history. President Hayes was an office from 1877 to 1881 so that gives us a little bit of help with the date range if you happen to know that history. But the movie’s pretty vague with the overall setting.
So can you give us a bit of historical background about when and where Billy, the kid’s story took place.
Chris Wimmer: [00:03:09] Yeah. Those date ranges are good and are accurate. So it’s funny you mentioned Lincoln, Nebraska, because I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. So Lincoln, Nebraska would have been the first Lincoln I would’ve thought of as well, having actually been there.
I spend a lot of time in Omaha as well. but yeah, so the story of the film takes place in Lincoln County, New Mexico, which is for anyone who’s been in New Mexico, it’s the South Eastern quadrant of the, of the, what was then a territory, what is now a state. It’s a huge sprawling area, especially at the time it was about the size in terms of total land of the state of South Carolina.
It was a massive place, so there was a lot of land. Very few people, even less law, and yes, it did. The events of the film take place between. Well, they’re all about 1878 to 1879 but as you mentioned, they don’t really say that in the film, but the presidency of Hayes really covers the time span of the events that are commonly called the Lincoln County war.
And 1877 to 1881 is really the peak years of Billy the kid as the outlaw and mythological character that we know him as.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:20] Okay. So the movie does get at least that part of it, right? Setting up that time and place at least.
Chris Wimmer: [00:04:25] Yeah. It’s in that range without a doubt. and then yes, they don’t really specify, I guess.
I don’t even know. I just wanted, I just wanted rewatch the movie, but I was not, I guess I didn’t really pay attention to, if they even say the words New Mexico in the film now, I’m not 100% sure. That’s interesting.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:42] I was listening for that, and I don’t ever remember if you’re listening to this and you notice a, a spot where they mentioned that, by all means, let me know, but I didn’t notice that.
I only heard them mention Lincoln.
Chris Wimmer: [00:04:52] Yeah. And it’s, it gets slightly more complicated because Lincoln is a town and a County. So the County seat of Lincoln is the town of Lincoln. So, you know, the, the town that you see in the film is, I believe that’s actually the old Tucson movie set in Arizona. But it’s, you know, the, the events are centered around the town of Lincoln in the County of Lincoln.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:14] Know, clear as mud, right?
Chris Wimmer: [00:05:16] Yeah, exactly. Of course.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:19] Okay. But now that we kind of have a better idea of the, the when and where, I’m curious about the who in the movie alongside William, Bonnie or Billy the kid. There are names like doc Scurlock, Kiefer Sutherland character, Jose Chavez, Chavez, Lou diamond, Phillips character, Dick brewer, who’s played by Charlie sheen, dirty Steve Stephens, and Charlie Beaudry.
How accurate was the movie depicting the gang that we see around Billy the kid.
Chris Wimmer: [00:05:47] Okay, so this is an interesting question, and it’s again, like we did with the tombstone. I’ll try to keep the answer simple. Even though it’s actually a fairly sizable question. The writer of the film has pared down the gang that was known as the regulators.
So basically these five or six guys, it was a much larger gang than that. It was 10 1112 in the early stages, it blossomed into 19 to 20 later, and they would add recruits when we got really into the depth of the Lincoln County war. So they were like 60 guys a part of this. So it was a much larger force at various points in time.
But the menu just mentioned are all real people. Doc Scurlock, Chavez, Dick brewer, dirty Steve Stevens and Charlie Beaudry are all real people and they were all connected. They were all regulators, and they were all connected to Billy, the kid and all connected through John Tunstall. They all worked for John Tunstall in various ways.
So just like you see in the movie, Dick brewer was the foreman for John operation. And was therefore, then the first captain of the regulators, doc Scurlock ended up also being a captain of the regulators, and his character is a little bit different than the character that’s portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland, but has some similarities.
Chavez is another regulator who is, I feel like he’s a lesser part of it. He moves into the gang for one really big section of the overall historical events. But then really it isn’t as much of a part of the ongoing war as some of the other guys and dirty Steve Stevens is, is somewhat interesting. You know, from what I’ve read, he is kind of a mystery.
He’s always referred to as dirty Steve Stevens. That is real. That’s not a movie concoction. He was called dirty Steve Stevens, but I really don’t know that much about it. There’s not a whole lot of information about that guy in real life. And then Charlie Beaudry, who is one of the early regulators who was actually partners with doc Scurlock in a farming operation in real life.
They were neighbors with Dick brewer. And so that’s how they got involved in everything. They were neighbors and friends with Dick brewer. They then joined the regulators with him or participated in a lot of things. And then Charlie Beaudry stayed with Billy pretty much until the end of their lives.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:13] I can only imagine what it must be like living in a time where I’m sure they maybe took Baz once every week to be called dirty Steve to get that nickname.
Chris Wimmer: [00:08:24] Yeah, I, yes. Bathing once a week would’ve been hygienic. You would have been considered clean at that voice. I have no idea. So they, they might’ve, with all the makeup and the tobacco chewing of dermal Ronnie’s character of dirty Steve, that might not have been too far from the truth. It’s, it’s hard to tell, but.
as gross as it might look on film, that might’ve been pretty close.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:46] Just glad you can’t smell movies. Sam invented that technology.
Chris Wimmer: [00:08:50] Oh man. I could only imagine. And that’s what I think about all the time. Not to get too deep into the weeds, but when you watch movies like this, or when you watch, the TV show Deadwood.
Can you just imagine sitting in a saloon with men who are all, who’ve been on the trail for weeks driving cattle and they bathed when they reach a river and that’s about it, and they’re coming out of the mines and must, the smell must have been overwhelming. It must have been crazy. Yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:09:15] All right. Let’s move on.
I don’t really want to think too much about,
Chris Wimmer: [00:09:19] yeah. And we don’t have to, we don’t want her to lose all your listeners with that.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:09:24] Well, you mentioned the Lincoln war, and we start to see this as the movie sets it up. There’s kind of a few that starts to brew between two cattlemen there in Lincoln. One of them is LG Murphy and the other one is someone that you mentioned, John Tunstall.
And why? I guess I don’t, I’m not sure a feud is the right word to describe that, but we kind of see, at least as far as the movie depicts it, all of these hostilities are really kind of going one way from Murphy to ton stall. Tunstall kind of seems to be almost trying to be a peacekeeper, but because Murphy is also a cattleman and they’re a competing business, he’s trying to essentially get rid of Tunstall.
Regardless, we start to see this climax when some of Murphy’s men ambush John Tunstall and kill him. Now, is there any truth to this beef between Murphy and Tunsil?
Chris Wimmer: [00:10:14] Yeah, there’s a lot of truth to the beef and truth to that very, you know, unfortunate almost execution scene. And you’re right, it is a feud.
And the quick history is that LG Murphy formed this operation. He had a, he had beef contracts with the government, which you will hear him talk about early in the film when he in the first confrontation between ton stolen Murphy, he talks about having beef contracts and them being in competition. He did have beef contracts with the government to supply the army with beef and to supply the Apache reservation in the area with beef.
He had all kinds of things going at a store in town. He had a lot of racquets and he was very corrupt. And John, Tom still comes to town, and this is where there’s a big departure in accuracy in the film in that Jack Palance who played LG Murphy in the film, is roughly the same age that Murphy would have been at the time.
Murphy was in his mid fifties Jack Palin’s, I believe was 68 at the time the movie was made, or at least at the time it was released. But then you look over to John Tunstall played by Terence stamp, and he, I believe was around Taryn stamp was around 50 or in his mid fifties when he was playing John Tunstall.
In reality, Tunstall was a very young man. He was 23 when he came to Lincoln and he was 24 through the events, so he was half the age of the real LG Murphy. and so you had this, and he was English and Murphy was Irish and all of Murphy’s inner group, his core supporters were all Irish. They were all served in the army together.
They were very close and they basically ran Lincoln County through their corrupt network that was typically called the Murphy faction, and sometimes the Murphy Dolan faction and nicknamed the house and their little faction was part of what you hear in the film called the Santa Fe ring. Which was a big political machine, maybe akin to Tammany hall in New York.
It was a group of politicians and legislators and judicial officials who were, you know, all working in league together to benefit themselves. So they ran everything. So Murphy ran everything and here comes this young Englishman to town who wants to do exactly that. John Tunstall, his goal was to unseat LG Murphy and take over.
Lincoln County. He was just as greedy as LG Murphy. He just wasn’t as evil and ruthless about it. Like LG Murphy was. So Murphy very much viewed Tunstall as a threat. And then his protege, Jimmy Dolan, started organizing ways to take down Tunstall and push him out of Lincoln. Or then eventually just kill him.
So yes, there was absolutely a feud that eventually turned violent.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:13:02] It sounds like from what you’re saying, it was, it was going both ways. Why has the movie really kind of depicts it going one way from Murphy to tun stolons but it sounds like Tunstall was as much an aggressor as Murphy
Chris Wimmer: [00:13:13] to an extent.
From what I’ve read, Tunstall had no fear of, and no problem using violence. He just actually never did. He hired gunman. He stocked his ranch, Billy Bonnie, Dick brewer, the men that he hired, some of them were actual good Cowboys. Dick brewer seems to be the classic example of an old school cowboy. You know, he was, he was tough.
He was strong. He was a cowboy. He knew cattle. He knew horses. He knew ranch work. But some of the other guys that Tunstall hired were basically just gunman. They were there in case of violence was needed and they would do some work around the ranch. So Tunstall had no problem using violence, but at the same time, he consistently pulled back from using it.
There were times where he could have just unleashed his forces and he chose not to. So he was kind of somewhere in the middle. It seemed like he didn’t have a problem with it, and he wrote letters back home to his family. Continuously saying, look, it’s, it looks like it’s getting bad here. Things are going to get bad, but I think I’ve made my preparations, but yet at the last second, he would always say, now I don’t want to fight.
I don’t, this is not the right way to go. Whereas Murphy and Dolan, Jimmy Dolan was LG Murphy’s protege is, I think I may have mentioned they ultimately had no problem using violence. It’s maybe like a one and a halfway street. tone still never actually took any aggressive action, but it really seemed like he could have.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:41] And you mentioned writing home to his family. I don’t remember a mention of Tunstall having a family. It’s somewhere else in the country.
Chris Wimmer: [00:14:48] I guess what I mean by his family is his parents. Oh, okay. So he’s parents are in London. His, his father’s fairly well off, and his father is who basically staked him.
To try to make his fortune in America. Tunstall was, it was a dreamer and an adventurer. He came to America, he wanted to buy land and build a fortune of his own, but he was gonna use his father’s money to get him started. So he’s continuously writing letters home to his mother and father. I think he might’ve had a sibling, but now my memory’s failing me on that.
But yeah, when I say family, I just mean his immediate family back home in London.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:15:23] Okay. Okay. Yeah. I appreciate clarifying that. Cause that my, I was thinking, you know. Wife and children, or you know, something like that.
Chris Wimmer: [00:15:30] Yeah, no. Well,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:15:32] going back to the movie, it’s after Tunstall is killed that we start to see Billy the kid start his outlying ways as he starts to seek vengeance for Tunstall his death.
Although it’s interesting that he doesn’t actually start as an outline. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. According to the movie, the gang is deputized and given warrants to track down some of the men responsible for death. And that’s kind of the point of the movie and a lot of the plot points that we see is kind of how the gang tracks them down and then they end up going a little bit beyond capturing them and just kill them.
But is that how Billy the kid and his gang began down this path towards becoming Outlaws?
Chris Wimmer: [00:16:14] Somewhat. Yes. Like a lot of the questions, it’s going to be kind of a two part question so. Billy was an outlaw already when he became a regulator, when he got involved in the events of the Lincoln County war. I won’t get into his whole history.
he is one of the most fascinating characters in American history. Part, partially, maybe mostly because his life is really a mystery. That’s one of the first things you learn when you start looking up. Billy, the kid. There were very few things about Billy, the kid’s life that can be verified 100%. Even the events that I’m talking about here, they’re verified to the best of our ability and the film, you know, it’s, it’s very difficult to verify anything.
So his early years, he flees. He’s groomed, he, he spends his formative years down in the other corner of New Mexico and silver city, and then it gets a little trouble with the law and he flees to Arizona in Arizona. He ends up killing a man in a, in an event that could be judged as self-defense. So then he comes back to New Mexico, and that’s when he gets involved in the Lincoln County war events.
And when he comes back, he rides with an outlaw gang for a while. So he really is kind of a very young, I would say, almost pseudo outlaw. He has committed some crimes. He killed a man for sure, but it wasn’t really like a cold blooded thrill killing. But he comes back to New Mexico was an Outlaws. So. He’s on the fringe of outlaw Korea, I guess we could say, even though he technically has this murder warrant out for him when he becomes a member of the regulators, and then, yeah, the regulators themselves are deputized.
They are, they are constables. They are deputized to go serve, I believe 18 warrants against the posse that is charged with having killed John Tunstall. And I don’t think they bring any of them in that they do. Or they do find some of the men on their list that they want to bring in and they ended up killing all of
Dan LeFebvre: [00:18:14] them.
Wow. So it really was just going out for revenge and not really trying to serve those warrants.
Chris Wimmer: [00:18:20] Yeah. And it, but it’s also, you do see a little bit of that in the second murder slash capture attempt, I guess, in the film. When the regulators find two guys named Morton and Baker, and those guys are very small parts in the movie, but they’re actually very big parts of the real life events.
And actually it’s kind of odd. I still don’t, I, you know, I, and unfortunately I should have done more reading about the film. I don’t fully know where the first escapade with Henry Hill comes in when the regulators spine to this. Guy in this terrible, ugly little shack near a river. I don’t really understand where that comes from.
I’ve got some theories on it, but there was no prominent person named Henry Hill who the regulators were trying to track down. So that could be an entire invention of the filmmakers, or it could have some very loose truth to it. But when the regulators find Morton and Baker, those are the first guys that the real regulators tracked down, and they did capture them.
And they were trying to take them back to Lincoln. But those two men end up dying along with McCloskey, just like more or less like you see in the movie, those three men do end up dead in the same event. And the common wisdom is that Billy was one of the primary instigators in killing those three men.
But Dick brewer played by Charlie sheen did not want that to happen. So while the regulators constantly ended up killing the men, they were trying to capture. Dick brewer seems like he really did want to bring them in. He was the one who, who took his job as a deputy, as a Constable, seriously, but it also didn’t stop him from really preventing all these killings.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:20:05] Hmm. Yeah. The movie seems to portray that pretty well. Then it sounds like it’s at least as far as some of the dynamic between the gang themselves.
Chris Wimmer: [00:20:13] Yeah. For the very little space they had to, to tackle all these events. Yeah. Dick brewer seemed to be the kind of. Stalwart, honorable man who didn’t want to kill all these people.
Billy was a little more aggressive, but. You know, it’s always hard to tell because like I said, the only people who were actually there at the time didn’t really give us any information about those times.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:20:36] Yeah. Well, you mentioned Henry Hill, and that brings me into my next question because that was something that we do see in the movie, but then after that gunfight with Henry Hill.
In the movie, we see doc reading an account from a newspaper. And in that account it mentions, I think there were nine men left dead from the gunfight. And then a local minor identified the leader of the deputized gang as a kid. And the key plot points that I kinda took away from this as they’re reading the newspaper is, well, one, I guess is that, the newspaper is, is feeding a lot of that information.
But then also that, that’s where the nickname Billy, the kid comes from. And then I guess a third one would be that Billy the kid was the leader of the gang cause the newspaper article mentions that was the movie, right. By implying that newspapers are kind of where we get a lot of that information from.
And they gave him the nickname Billy the kid.
Chris Wimmer: [00:21:30] Yes. In very strict terms. Yes. A newspaper, the Las Vegas Gazette, newspaper, Las Vegas, New Mexico had a newspaper called the Las Vegas Gazette. The publisher, a man named J H Coogler is the first person to write the word, the three words. Billy the kid in print, in an editorial that he wrote.
About the just vast network of crime that plagued Eastern New Mexico, and he called Billy the kid, the captain of this huge gang of rustlers and thieves and killers. There was terrorizing Eastern New Mexico. So he is the first man to put those three words together, but it doesn’t happen as fast as it does in the film.
That newspaper article happens a year or two after the events that you see in the film. So they’ve just taken that event and moved it up in time so that it fits into the film. So he, and he was, you know, the, the leader of the regulators for a very brief period of time after the regulators disbanded, he was the leader of a very small group of gang, like five to six men.
But he was not necessarily there or the leader of this huge gang of people. The publisher of the newspaper just heaped all the crime in Eastern New Mexico onto Billy shoulders because he was probably the most prominent of the gang members. So they just theorize, well, you know, he’s part of a gang.
There’s a huge gang of rustlers and things in the area. He must be the captain of this gang. So they did a little bit of transference in there. But it is true that a newspaper did call him Billy the kid for the first time.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:23:06] Hmm. And then did that nickname in the movie, at least we see that that nickname sticks with him, even within the gang.
Was that something that stuck for him himself or was that something that really only the newspapers started to call him.
Chris Wimmer: [00:23:17] That was mostly a newspaper invention, and it’s interesting that there’s a little bit of evolution of it, right? There’s even some mystery about what his original name was, but if we just go with the fact that his original name was Henry McCarty, he then, his mother married a man named antrum, so he became Henry Henry, and from he then adopted the alias William H Bonnie.
He was frequently called. Billy, Billy Bonnie kid, the kid, but no one had ever put Billy the kid together until this newspaper editor. Sometimes they would even call him Billy kid. He was just every variation other than Billy the kid. But then as far as I understand, after this newspaper article came out, you know, his friends just called him whatever they had been calling him, whether it was Billy or Billy Bonnie or kid or whatever it was.
it doesn’t seem like that really took on this grand, this mythological nickname that we think of now until later years in the next 20 to 50 years when the dime novel start coming out and all those kinds of things, then they start to really romanticize this character.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:25] You can’t really start to put that name together.
Chris Wimmer: [00:24:27] Yeah, exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:29] That reminds me of his kind of funny, I was talking with my daughter about, you know, we’re going to be talking about Billy the kid, and she’s like, what is that? Some kind of a goat?
Chris Wimmer: [00:24:37] Oh Lord.
At least she knows it’s a goat. I mean, I don’t know if I would have known that.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:46] I didn’t put those together until she mentioned that, but that, that was pretty funny.
Chris Wimmer: [00:24:50] That’s great. Oh man, you got to get her on that show. I was a kid. Say the darndest things or something like that. That’s a solid entry right there.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:57] Yeah. Well, speaking of the newspapers, there’s another point that we see through the newspapers in the movie. And that’s where they actually have a picture of Dick brewer, Charlie Sheen’s character in the newspaper, alongside the name Billy the kid. And there’s also this Farfetch story of Billy the kid killing one of Murphy’s men with a miraculous 50 yard shot.
And the gang laughs this off as newspapers, you know, they, they never get it right. They never tell the truth. And you mentioned earlier that we don’t really know a lot, so it may be hard to even know, but. Was it something often that the newspapers would stretch the truth when it came to stories of Billy the kid?
Chris Wimmer: [00:25:37] Yeah, they would. I think in the, in this specific case, it’s hard to tell whether they were doing it specifically and intentionally to sensationalize the details to sell newspapers and in effect lying or whether they just printed what they believe to be the truth because it was so hard to gather information back then.
Like I said with the, you know, with Billy being accused of being the captain of this huge gang, they might have genuinely thought he was the captain of this huge gang. He was a prominent name. There were a lot of rustlers and thieves. They might’ve just assumed it made logical sense that he was the leader of this huge gang.
Meanwhile, he wasn’t. Of course, he was holding the leader of a race, small group of men. So they, they could have just made these little jumps in their logic that would have seemed perfectly normal at the time. But in hindsight, we view them as fiction. So it’s hard to tell how much of it was pure sensationalism and how much of it was just trying to think of, put yourself in that place and that time that they would have really genuinely thought these things were true.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:44] Do we know if just generally speaking, newspapers at the time would often print things that they now know were fiction even made me, not around Billy the kid, but just kind of trying to get an idea of newspapers at the time, trying to tell the stories of these Outlaws and, you know, sensationalize things.
Just curious if that was something that we know more or less happened more often than not.
Chris Wimmer: [00:27:06] Oh yeah, it definitely did. Yeah. The, the American press is a very interesting thing. You’ll probably do a whole podcast series on that, but there was, yeah, there was a lot of sensationalism. There was a lot of outright lying.
There was a lot of, you know, colorful shading of the truth, like insinuating something without stating it outright. There were a lot of just purely partisan newspapers back in this era. You know, we, one thing we probably didn’t talk about when we came to tombstone, but tombstone had two big newspapers that were rivaled newspapers and one was clearly partisan for one side, and one was clearly partisan for the other one clearly supported the ERPs.
One clearly hated the herbs and they spun everything that happened in their own way based on who they supported. And there was a lot of that, you know, people would. Start up their own newspapers just to push a certain cause. And so yeah, newspapers were were there are really interesting, almost paradox there were some people who genuinely wanted to just tell the events and tell the truth.
And there were others who just wanted to sell newspapers, so they would print whatever was needed to sell that newspaper. So there’s a long history of that in American journalism, unfortunately.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:28:21] Yeah. Well, I was just curious. I mean, I know that’s outside just the story of Billy the kid, but if we’re learning a lot of things or if we know a lot of things about Billy the kid from newspapers, that can be a nice reminder to, like you said earlier, you know.
No, that we don’t know everything. 100%
Chris Wimmer: [00:28:37] yeah. You got to take it with a grain of salt. Unfortunately. You know, it takes a lot of careful study to read these newspapers and try to gauge where maybe their biases, laid. And you know, what, maybe angle they were pushing or maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were genuinely run by people who really wanted to just tell the events in the most objective way possible.
So you gotta take it with a grain of salt. I think for the most part, the events as portrayed were probably portrayed the best in the best way that the people at the time knew how to portray them. And then I think that’s the majority of what’s going on. There were certainly then instances where they just embellished like crazy and didn’t really care, just wanted to sell papers, but I think those were probably the minority.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:29:20] There is one part in the movie, or actually I should say one plot point in the movie that I wanted to ask you about because we talked a little bit about the newspapers and in the movie they play an important part when Billy starts to explain through his dialogue why he’s, why he kills people the way he does.
And as he explains it, he’s basically saying that the more people he kills, the more new stories they’re going to write, the more new stories they write, the more president Hayes will raise an eyebrow to what’s happening and come and see what’s going on for himself. And then according to Billy’s reasoning in the movie, when president Hayes comes to investigate Hill, he’ll see who’s really doing the killing.
And I guess in, in his mind, he’s thinking, he’s thinking, not necessarily Billy doing it right. It’s, it’s all the politicians and bankers and such. But then we also heard earlier, this is an interesting mention of Dick Berger saying something to the effect of how Billy is not Robin hood, but the explanation that Billy is giving in my mind, sort of had a Robin hood ring to it, where he’s becoming an outlaw to do something for the greater good, I guess would be a way to phrase that.
Do we know much about Billy the kid’s motivation for his actions.
Chris Wimmer: [00:30:30] Yeah. There’s actually three things in there, and hopefully I can get through this list in short order and with a a while remembering everything. So you’re kind of, yeah, you’re kind of right on that, that he’s, his motivation was number one, fairly simple vengeance to get vengeance for the murder of John Tom stole.
And then for some other actions that happen later. And yes, the people who were responsible for John tonsils death were the Murphy Dolan faction, this corrupt organization in Lincoln County that was connected to a larger corrupt organization that ran the territory. So to some degree, he wanted to bring them down.
If, if he could attack them and get vengeance, it would naturally bring them down. In my reading of Billy, I don’t think he was worldly enough to really be thinking about what the president in Washington might’ve been thinking about this. So I don’t think his motivations were directly to get the attention of the president, but they were to get vengeance for Tunstall and try to bring down Murphy and Dolan, which might have gotten the attention of the president at some point.
But I think what the filmmakers also added to that was Alex McSweeney’s intention. So they took Alex McSweeney’s real actions and intentions and gave them to Billy while also keeping them with mixed Sween. As you see. Somewhat later in the film, mixed between at various points in the real events between like 1877 and 1879 was writing a flurry of letters to officials in Washington.
I don’t remember if he actually wrote to the president directly. I don’t think I found any reference to that, but he wrote to just about everybody else. They’re trying to explain all the corruption and everything that was happening around Lincoln. So he was trying to get the attention of officials in Washington to look at what was happening.
And then I think, you know, some of that just got melded with Billy for the film
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:27] and mix between being Tunsell’s lawyer that we see in the movie, correct?
Chris Wimmer: [00:32:31] Yeah. Terry O’Quinn, I believe was his name. Yeah. Alex McSwain was Tunstall his lawyer and advisor. They met fairly early in the process. It’s kind of funny that they met just randomly in Santa Fe and it was Alex McSweeney who convinced John Tunstall to go to Lincoln County to buy land and to start a cattle operation to try to make his fortune.
So based on just a total random chance meeting in a rest hotel restaurant in Santa Fe, the tone still had been in hanging out in Santa Fe for a couple months and I want to buy land. I want to start this whole thing up. And lo and behold, here comes a guy from Lincoln County who says, Hey, Lincoln County has got a ton of land for sale and you can graze cattle for free if you want to start an operation, you can do it down there.
And so right after that meeting, John tones still jumped on a wagon and headed for Lincoln County and Alex McSweeney and John Tunstall stole then became partners in name for a while, and I was certainly will not get deep into the weeds here. Those of you who choose to jump over and listen to the full series on the infamous America podcasts can hear all the details.
But they were basically partners. Mixed weed was an adviser and the lawyer for Tunstall and they were going to be actual official legal business partners in the cattle land operation eventually, but then some killing started and then that stopped all those plans. Just
Dan LeFebvre: [00:33:53] as you’re saying, that really makes me wonder what Alex, his motivation was.
Cause he had to have known about Murphy and knowing that if Tunstall goes down there and starts a competing business, that would raise a, that would raise hell essentially. And then if he’s writing to Washington, it almost makes me wonder if he. If he did that on purpose and purposely wanted to stir the pot and wanted to use Tunstall almost as a way of stirring the pot to bring all that to attention, to try to clear out the corruption.
I’m just theorizing there just based on what you had said, but that’s what comes to mind.
Chris Wimmer: [00:34:29] Well, your theory is very good and it’s exactly right. That’s exactly what Alex between had in mind. His pitch to John Tunstall in that restaurant was. Hey, there’s this corrupt group and mixed Sween used to work for Murphy and Dolan.
When McSwain first comes to Lincoln, he’s the only lawyer in town. So he kind of naturally goes to work for the biggest operation in town, which is the Murphy Dolan cattle operations store, their whole organization. And then they had a falling out, so he severed ties with them. And then he finds himself in Santa Fe meeting with this young Englishman who.
Has some money behind him, through his family, and the kid wants to buy land and start a cattle operation and mixed. Wayne says, there’s a lot of land down there and you can raise, you can get a cattle herd really cheap. If someone with enough grit and determination were to challenge Murphy and Dolan, that man could potentially take over Lincoln County.
He could unseat those old, the old guard and take over all of their stuff and. If that certain person had the advice of a lawyer who knew their business inside and out, it would only help him with his operation. So this is basically the pitch that makes we engage the tonsil saying, Hey, I know their business inside out.
I used to work for them. If you have the money and the determination to fight them, let’s go do it together. We can knock them off the throne and we can take it over for ourselves.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:35:55] Wow. Yeah. So it sounds like that much bigger thing at play there.
Chris Wimmer: [00:35:58] Yeah, it’s a, it’s a huge complex story, which I . I knew roughly what the Lincoln County war was when I started my research, but man, I had no idea how, just how big and complex and how many people were involved.
Man, it was, it’s crazy. Well,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:11] heading back to the movie is something I want to get your opinion on was Billy, the kid’s personality. Because the way that we see Emilio Estevez play him in the movie, he see, he seems to get a thrill out of killing his enemies. And he goes up so far, there’s a scene where we see the sheriff in town, sheriff Brady, Billy walks in to town, throws the shares hat in front of Brady in order to distract him, and then he pulls the Sheriff’s own gun from his holster and shoots him point blank.
Based on what we know about Billy the kid. How old do you think the movie did portraying his personality?
Chris Wimmer: [00:36:47] I think it was about halfway there, in my opinion. I didn’t get the, I didn’t read the character or the, the real person of Billy, the kid as quite that, that level of thrill killer, where he would’ve gone to that type of extreme.
And in fact, he is specifically with the killing of sheriff Brady. He did not. It was not that flamboyant, and that’s a pure movie invention that he was walking down the street and tossed his hat overshare of Brady. He and several regulators did ambush sheriff Brady while Brady in his, and some of his deputies were walking down the street, but it was pure ambush.
They were concealed behind a fence. They kicked open a gate and shot Brady and his deputies from concealment, and. Billy does rush out into the street and grab or rifle from share of Brady that Brady had confiscated from Billy a couple months earlier, but it wasn’t the kind of spectacle that they portrayed it in the movie.
That’s definitely a movie moment. So I think the personalities, about half, they are Billy by all accounts, from everybody who you know, who survived the Lincoln County war and knew him at various points in his life, said he was a jovial, fun, loving young man. He was, he loved to laugh. He loved to sing and dance.
You know, you see a scene earlier in the movie right before Tunstall was killed, where he’s, he’s cutting the rug in the middle of, of Lincoln on new year’s Eve apparently. And he’s doing all these crazy dance moves. That really was Billy the kid. He was loved to sing and loved to dance. He was a hit with the ladies.
They all loved them. So I think that kind of fun, loving, almost happy go lucky, carefree side of Emilio West of as his portrayal of Billy the kid is correct. And then I think when you start, when they start pushing it into the more thrill killer aspect of it, that’s probably getting more into movie invention than reality is my guess.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:36] Okay. Essentially, we’re talking about sheriff Brady there. He kind of fell as far as the movie is concerned. I got the implication that he felt justified because sheriff Brady was paid off by Murphy. But in the movie, at least, they, of course, it’s still the murder of a lawman. And so. That is the moment that the movie uses for Billy, the kid and the gang to turn from the deputize lawman that they were into hunted Outlaws themselves.
Again, kind of going back to the personality, we see that it doesn’t bother Billy. He dictates a letter to the governor, and in the letter he mentions that the governor has a bounty out for $200. He invites the governor to come down to Juarez where he’s surrendering. He’s saying that he’s surrendering his, he’s on armed and he’s surrendering, and then in the postscript he writes, P S I changed my mind, kiss my ass.
It kind of gives an indication about how much he cared about the bounty on his head. Of course. That’s all according to the movie. Is there any truth to that?
Chris Wimmer: [00:39:39] Yeah, it’s actually, it’s funny because I haven’t just rewatched the movie again. That part made me laugh even more than it did originally. Of course, when I, when I watched it a long time ago and all the hundreds of watchings after that, there’s a lot of mix of truth and fiction in there.
several parts of the question. He did not seem to care about having a bounty on his head. He did have a price put on his head. It was $500 not 200. And it was not by governor acts, tail, it was by the man who took governor acts tells place. So to slightly skip way ahead, and this one effect any of the things we’re going to talk about in a second.
But at the very end of the movie, when you hear Kiefer Sutherland, voiceover kind of epilogue, you hear that governor acts tell was removed from office. And that was true. Governor Axtell was the governor during the, all the events you see in the movie, all the bloody events of the Lincoln County war. And because of all of that, he was removed from office by president Hayes and replaced by a man named Lou Wallace.
And Lou Wallace has another claim to fame that I’ll save as a secret hidden gem for anybody who wants to listen elsewhere. But he, he was the one, governor Wallace is the one who actually finally puts the price on Billy’s head. And so Billy does write letters, exchanges letters, and actually does meet with governor Wallace in secret, at some point.
So there is a long chain of letters between governor Wallace and Billy, the kid in which Billy does write a postscript in one of them. He just doesn’t say, I changed my mind, kiss my ass. That’s the part that’s hurt. It’s really funny because now having read those letters and seeing what he actually did right, and understanding the context and what happened around him.
Yeah. It was really funny to see him pop up out of the bathwater and change his mind. And, I know it was really funny again. So there’s a lot of truth in there. There were letters, there was a bounty. He really didn’t seem to care. But there’s this, some other, some changes that they manipulated just for a lot of, just to make it easier on the listener.
Like I said before, it’s a really complex story. There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of people who come and go and play different roles. So just for the sake of ease of the viewer. They just kept the governor as governor Axtell for the whole time.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:41:54] Yeah, it makes sense. Cause then you don’t have to explain all of this other stuff going on.
It’s, you can focus on the main characters.
Chris Wimmer: [00:42:01] Oh, you’d never be able to do it. Yeah. You’d need a mini series. You’d, you’d need a a 10 part podcast series basically to explain it all.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:42:09] There you go. Somebody, Hey, somebody should do that, right, Chris?
Chris Wimmer: [00:42:12] Hey, somebody should, hopefully we’ll find somebody who will.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:42:15] Thank you. You talked about the end in the movie and moving on to that, we see Alex, ms, sweet mix wean that we talked about earlier, tonnes lawyer that’s at his home, and Billy is told about an ambush there. So he goes to try to save Alex and his wife, but then as it turns out, it’s not really an ambush to try to kill Alex McSweeney.
Rather. It was a trap to try to get everyone in one location to essentially end the war between Billy the kid and Murphy once and for all. So we ended up with this grand battle, a big shootout. On one side, you have Murphy’s men, lawmen, even some soldiers from the army that we see come in. And then there’s Billy the kid and the gang on the other side, and they’re essentially trapped in the house in Alex McQueen’s house.
And there’s some deaths on both sides that we see. It looks like Charlie and Steve from Billy, the kid’s gang, if I’m remembering correctly. And then there’s the ex soldier bounty Hunter that Murphy had hired John Kinney that we see get killed. Plenty of other Murphy’s men are killed as well. And then as for Billy, the kid himself, he manages to escape on a horse.
He just turns back just in time in order to pull a pistol on Murphy, shooting him in the head before riding off. So how does this war between Billy, the kid and LG Murphy really end?
Chris Wimmer: [00:43:39] This is somewhat similar to what you might call a, the end of the Lincoln County war. And I, and again, this is, I don’t want to keep Schilling for my own podcast series, but like it’s, it’s a, this is, there’s a lot of stuff that happens in here.
And so to try to, I won’t, I won’t go through all of it, but one of the interesting things is that it’s really not in real life. It’s not LG Murphy who Alex McSwain and the regulators are fighting. It’s actually Murphy’s protege, Jimmy Dolan. So this would be a fun thing for those of you who want to go back and rewatch young guns, you will actually see a man who was, who was another elderly gentleman in a black top hat, who they refer to as Dolan.
Very briefly, very, he’s in the background of some of the scenes. He’s actually the chief instigator of everything. By this point. LG Murphy in real life is way in the background. So the war is more Jimmy Dolan versus Tunstall mixed swing, and there’s what’s called the five day battle, which is kind of the siege of Lincoln, where all the supporters of Alex McQueen, Billy, and all the regulators who you’ve seen in the movie and everybody else basically occupy all these buildings on one side of town.
Jimmy Dolan’s slash Murphy’s men occupy buildings on the other side, and they basically take over the town of Lincoln for five days, and they shoot back and forth at each other. And very little happens. And then Dolan is able to bring the army to town. So now the army gets involved. And yes, John Kenney and his gang are involved.
He’s not exactly how they portray him in the film, but it’s close enough for our purposes. So there’s. There’s at least a hundred, maybe a hundred closer to 150 men scattered throughout Lincoln in different places. It’s a little bit of a mini war zone there and there does end up being a shootout at Alex McSweeney’s house that essentially ends everything.
And Jimmy Dolan and, and w, you know, if you want to call them the bad guys, the Murphy Dolan faction light Alex McSweeney’s house on fire. Billy and numerous regulators are forced to run out of the house and Alex McSweeney is killed in his own yard as a part of this. That is a real thing. He was shot five times.
He was not shot by a Gatling gun to spoil that. I feel like I did a lot of that previously in the tombstone interview, or I just ruined these amazing scenes for everybody, so I guess I might as well just keep the trend going. He was not shot by the Gatling gun by the army. But he was shot five times and did die in his own yard.
Kind of an innocent man. He was a staunch believer in nonviolence. That was why he wrote all those letters. Tone still seem to be able to embrace violence, even though he didn’t really unleash his regulators. Alex McSweeney, John Tunstall, his lawyer was a firm believer in nonviolence. He didn’t want anything to do with the gunfights and everything.
He wanted to find civil ways to solve all the problems. And then he ended up getting shot and killed in his own backyard as his house burned to the ground.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:46:46] Wow.
Chris Wimmer: [00:46:47] So it’s . There are some parts of that that are close enough to real life. If you want another spoiler. Luckily, none of our, if you fell, if you were attached to dirty Steve or Charlie, they did not die in real life in that moment.
Luckily they lived to continue, so all the, all the big heroes who were alive at that point do live through the end of that five day battle, with the exception of Alex in between.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:14] Well, what about Murphy? We see him get killed at the very end of the movie there, and that’s, that’s how the movie shows the war coming to an end.
Did he survive?
Chris Wimmer: [00:47:23] Yes, to a degree, because he was not really a part of the big events at that point. He would did not fall victim to violence. He actually died of cancer, right around that time period. He was a hard drinking alcoholic. As were all of his men. you know, Jimmy Dolan, his protege was a hard drinking alcoholic.
So was sheriff Brady. So it was Jimmy Dolan’s partner in the store. So I basically, a Murphy ended up drinking himself to death, which is not quite as, not quite as movie moment S as getting shot by Billy the kid. So
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:54] yeah. Well at the very end of the movie, we get some voiceover that explains what happens to these characters.
Jose Chavez moves to California, changes his name, and works on a fruit ranch. Doc Scurlock ends up marrying yen and along with her mother and 14 brothers and sisters moves to the East, Susan McSweeney, who is Alex McSweeney’s wife, becomes the most prominent cattle woman of all time. The Murphy Dolan faction and the Santa Fe ring that we’ve talked about.
Collapse after governor Axtell is forced to resign by the president. And then last but not least, we find out that Billy, the kid continued to ride in New Mexico until he was caught. And killed at Fort Sumner by sheriff Pat Garrett. And then it’s mentioned that his gravestone is marked with an inscription by an unknown person.
And then inscription simply says pals. So that’s how the movie explains the way that the story ends for the characters. But how did they really end?
Chris Wimmer: [00:48:57] Okay, so this is fun. And I guess I might spoil a little bit for anybody, but you know, you can, you can find this stuff online too. So if we just go in order of the way you were talking about in there.
Chavez, his, his seems to be the most, well, there’s, there’s two of them that are, seem to be really different from how they ended in real life. I think Jose Chavez Chavez. Was, as far as I understand, just a Hispanic man. He was a Constable in a small town that you hear referenced in the film though it’s, it’s PR.
It’s glossed over, you know, for sake of simplicity. I don’t know where they are aware or why they decided to make him a hot half Navajo, half Mexican character, but he, in real life, he did not go to California. He stayed in New Mexico. He actually ran a foul of the law after the events of the Lincoln County war in real life.
He spent some time in prison, but he seems to have reformed himself to some degree. And then after his stint in prison, he lived out the rest of his life quietly. From what I understand, doc Scurlock was actually is an interesting character. He does dabble in poetry the way you hear in the film. But he doesn’t seem to be quite the tender hearted person that he’s this kind of, I don’t know how to describe key Priscilla’s care.
He’s very, he’s the nice guy, basically in the group, and he might’ve been a nice guy in real life, but he was also a fierce fighter and he actually, he was married during the whole process. So, as far as I understand it, the character of yen soon is a movie creation. Maybe she has some little piece, you know, somewhere buried in history.
I didn’t come across it anywhere. So that character probably is fiction. So in reality, doc Scurlock participates with the regulators. He’s actually a captain of the regulators before Billy. So he leads the group for a little while, and then as the gang breaks up, he moves to Texas and seems to live out the rest of his life quietly and actually lives a fairly long life.
He doesn’t. He passed away in 1929. if I have that date correct, Susan McSweeney is accurate. She does become a kettle queen in New Mexico. She has a really interesting life. After her husband passes away, she was a go getter her whole life, and she really fought against Colonel Dudley who you see briefly toward the end of the film, the guy who brings all the soldiers to town for the finale of the film, she hated him.
She blamed him for the death of her husband for a whole series of complex reasons. And she actually, she, she ended up taking over Tunstall McSweeney’s operation to some degree. Built up her own cattle operation became very powerful. She married another man and they combined their cattle herds, and she really was this very prominent cattle woman in the Southwest.
And then, let’s see, so the Murphy Dolan faction, it did collapse for all intents and purposes. Governor acts tell, as I mentioned earlier, was removed from office. The man who was considered the leader of the Santa Fe ring was the U S attorney, Thomas Catron. So not the governor, but so the other man, the two men who are the top of the food chain for the Santa Fe ring, the corrupt political machine were both removed from office.
For real. He didn’t suffer that many consequences. So yes, the Murphy Dolan faction did crumble, but nobody was ever arrested. Nobody was ever tried. Nobody was ever convicted. All of the illegal things that Murphy and Dolan and everybody, they were associated with, all the things they did, they never got in trouble for them.
They just got swept under the rug or just passed by because of just the escalation of events afterwards. and then, so if you want to wrap up with Billy, the most commonly understood way that the ability of the kid died was at a ranch in the Fort Sumner area. He was killed by Pat Garrett at the end of the film.
They talk about Billy being unarmed and maybe having his back turned and in the dark, I can’t remember how many of those factors they put in there, but I know a couple of them are. And I think the most commonly understood way that the sequence happened without getting into too much detail was that pet.
The Garrett did shoot Billy the kid, but he shot him in the chest. I believe Billy was armed. I believe he did have a pistol, but I don’t think he had it pointed anywhere. He didn’t realize that he was being confronted by Pat Garrett in this dark room. So Billy enters a dark room. He doesn’t know Pat Garrett is in there.
Pat Garrett shoots him. So he kind of gets the drop on him and, and shoots Billy while he is facing him and probably armed. But in later years, the tables really turn against Pat Garrett. Pat Garrett is initially viewed as a hero for having taken down this notorious outlaw who terrorized in New Mexico.
And then in later years, the story begins to spin and the rumors begin to swirl. That Billy was unarmed and he had his back turned and he didn’t know what was going on. And he was very much the victim. And as his image begins to turn from this criminal to this folk hero, his death takes on this totally different aura.
And so everything spins. And Pat Garrett goes from being the hero who killed Billy, the kid to being the murderer who shot down this folk hero in a dark room who was unarmed and couldn’t defend himself. And so it’s a really kind of interesting switch as time has gone on. But it did happen, you know, it happened the original way, that I, that I’ve outlined a couple of times here.
So Billy then was buried in the old Fort Sumner cemetery. So Fort Sumner. Was an actual Fort that then just became a town. So in the old military cemetery, Billy, the kid was buried next to his best friend, Tom. Oh fall heard who? You don’t see it all in the movie. His characters completely cut out of the film and Charlie Beaudry.
So Billy Tom will fall. Liard and Charlie Beaudry are all three buried right next to each other in this cemetery at Fort Sumner because they all died in that area. So that is kind of a, that is a fun little moment that these three guys who were really close friends and went through all these things together were buried next to each other, even though they all met violent ends and we’re all criminals to one degree or another.
And then the, I, you know, the, the inscription of the word pals on the gravestone is just a movie invention to go along with the theme that they’ve pushed through the film of pals and all the regulators being pals and the sacred hoop that they talk about at one point. So that’s, that’s just a great little movie ending.
And because I love the film so much, and I’ve watched it so many times over the years, I found a way to work that word and those references into my podcast series too. I couldn’t resist, so I had to put those in there as well.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:55:39] Well, of course. But it sounds like, even though, even if the inscription isn’t necessarily there, then just the fact that he was buried with his pals, I mean, that’s, that’s something that maybe that was my reference to, that give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt.
Chris Wimmer: [00:55:51] And it’s, you know, they were all three killed in the same area, so they were basically just buried together because they were all killed there. You know, I don’t, I don’t know how much the, the townsfolk really said, Oh, you know, these guys are friends. We should all, we should make sure they’re all buried next to each other.
They were all just killed there. So they were naturally, I think, buried next to each other. But it does take on that extra level of just . It is a kind of poignant thought that. These three guys were buried next to each other for that brief period of time when the grave, when that cemetery was still around, I believe I read at one point that it actually was washed away in a flood.
The original grave sites and the original cemetery was washed away in a flood. So unfortunately, none of us can really see exactly where they were buried initially, but it is fun to think about.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:56:37] Well, thank you so much for your time, Chris. Coming on to chat about young guns. Usually this is where I’ll ask somebody where they can find your podcast, but you know, I probably need to stop asking that because realistically they can be found everywhere.
If you’re listening to this right now, just open up the app and then do a search for infamous America. season three is where you cover Billy the kid. But instead of asking somebody to basically just do a search for infamous America, can you give someone. listening and overview of what they’ll find once they listened to it.
Chris Wimmer: [00:57:06] Yeah. So the, the infamous American series is a little bit different than the one that we used as the prompt for the tombstone series. So I run two podcasts. One is called the legends of the old West, which is all stories of the old West. Infamous America can span the entirety of American history, and it’s, it tells stories of anything that’s considered.
Infamous in American history, any events or characters. So season one was the Salem witch trials. Season two was the black Sox scandal, the famous world series scandal of 1919. We’re going to get into, gangsters like John Dillinger and pretty boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde and assassins like John Wilkes booth and Lee Harvey Oswald and heists like the DBX famous DB Cooper heist, and just anything that could be considered infamous throughout American history.
It’s going to cover a lot of fun topics.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:57:55] Well, yeah, I would have to, I haven’t listened to DB Cooper one yet, but that, that definitely sounds very interesting.
Chris Wimmer: [00:58:00] It’s on the docket for down the road. That is that one that’s probably top three all time requested series with with Billy the kid. Actually, I don’t, for some reason, everybody’s fascinated with DB Cooper and Billy the kid, so we’re to, we’re going to get to DB Cooper down the road
Dan LeFebvre: [00:58:15] if people that we don’t know a lot about.
Chris Wimmer: [00:58:17] Yeah, you’re it. It’s the mystery. Yeah. So we’re going to tell as much as we can and that that DB Cooper one, I can’t wait to do the reading and the research on it and tell that story. But am I do cringe a little bit because we just don’t know that much. So I’m going to do the best I can, but I’m looking forward to learning about it just like everybody else.
Is it man? The second everybody says infamous, I get a flood of emails saying, Oh, you got to do the DB Cooper story. It’s like, all right, I will, I promise at some point.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:58:45] Nice. Well, in the meantime, if you’re listening to this, go listen to season three about Billy the kid and learn a lot more than we could ever hope to cover on this single episode.
Thanks again so much for your time, Chris.
Chris Wimmer: [00:58:58] Yeah, thank you, sir. I appreciate it.