By Joel Jacobsen
This story of greed, violence, and death has entered American folklore through the mythologizing of the career of Billy the Kid and also through a tendency to see the Lincoln County War as an archetype of Western history. As are Dodge City, Boot Hill, and the OK Corral, the Lincoln County War is emblematic of frontier lawlessness.
The story has been often retold, and central to many of the accounts is the question of right and wrong, even of good and evil; was Billy the Kid merely a thug, a gun-for-hire, in an amoral turf battle between rival gangs? Or was the Kid actually a participant in a brave but doomed attempt to wrest control of a defenseless town from a corrupt and vicious band?
Basing his account on a careful reexamination of the evidence, particularly on expressions of public sentiment, court records, and the actions of Tunstall and the House, Jacobsen subjects traditional attitudes- both the "Billy as martyr" and the "war among thieves" explanations- to a searching reexamination, and finds that- as with most things in life- the truth lies somewhat between.
- Lincoln, NE