American Mythmaker

“This is the West, sir. When the past becomes legend, print the legend,” a newspaperman once noted. This is exactly what has been done to the lives of Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Joaquin Murrieta and other famous Western characters. The man who helped to create those legends is closely, but fairly investigated in American Myth Maker- Walter Noble Burns and the Legends of Billy the Kid, Wyatt, and Joaquin Murrieta written by Mark J. Dworkin . Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, it is the first book to discuss the man whose stories highlighted and made famous the lives of these characters. It is an important study to set straight the facts from the myths.

To accomplish this very difficult task, Burns had to interview those who knew the subjects.He researched records, tales and stories about the characters. Billy the Kid has been portrayed as “buck-toothed, psychopathic, homicidal maniac with a notch on his gun for each of his twenty-one years.” But Burns discovered this was not the case from those who knew Billy also known as William Bonney. In his 1929 book, The Saga of Billy the Kid, Burns attempts to tell the truth about the outlaw. While the book was based on conjecture, educated guessing and flawed personal recollection, Burns brings the story of Billy to true Americana, blending history into legend and act into mythology. The book was very popular and was in the back seat of the death car of Bonnie and Clyde.


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