"Next to Jesse Woodson James, no other outlaw of the American Old West still captures the imagination and near-obsession of the public than Billy the Kid," writes Jay Robert Nash in Western Lawmen & Outlaws. " (He was) a lethal phenomenon who killed, according to legend if not record, twenty-one men before his twenty-first birthday."
But, according to the special edition Time-Life Book, The Wild West, which states "When it comes to the gunfighting legends, truth is usually much less sensational and romantic than fiction," much of Billy's trigger-nerve reputation may have been exaggerated. The West in the last quarter of the 1800s was occupied by slippery-inked blue journalists who traveled the iron horse locomotive to the burgeoning frontier beyond the Mississippi to add a little more color to an already colorful scenery. Billy's notches may not have passed a total of four.
The number of men he dropped with his Colt revolver or Remington shotgun, however, does not constitute the total sum of the Billy the Kid legend. It is to his credit, not the journalists who fancied him, that even though he was born as far as one can get from the cacti in New York City he became the epitome of the rambunctious, stirrup-strapped cowpoke who rode to the sound of the guns. While doubt lingers over how many times he drew a bead on a man, there is no doubt that young Henry McCarty alias William H. Bonney, alias Billy the Kid charged to action like a wolverine to fresh blood.