Two years ago to the day a friend and I made an unforgettable pilgrimage across half of Arizona and most of New Mexico in an 18 hour turn-around trip to visit the grave (maybe) of Billy the Kid on the 150th anniversary of his death (maybe). Both then and now the question I am most often asked when I tell someone about the journey is: Why?
In response I usually like to use the quote of George Mallory when asked why he climbed Mt. Everest, “Because it is there. ” But the true answer goes much deeper than that. We made this journey not simply because Billy the Kids’s grave (maybe) is there but because we, in fact, know the true meaning of the word pals.
In case you are not familiar with Billy the Kid (a.k.a. William H. Bonney a.k.a. Henry Antrim a.k.a. Emilio Estevez) here is a brief history of one of America’s most infamous characters. Billy the Kid was an outlaw in the mid to late 1800’s who gained fame during the Lincoln County War when he joined a group of young men called the Regulators to bring justice to those who killed John Tunstall who was a cattle merchant, banker and jerky stand owner as well as a pal of Billy the Kid’s. Included in this band of so-called Regulators were, Charlie Bowdre, Chavez y Chavez, Doc Scurlock and Charlie Sheen. Sheen was initially the leader of the Regulators but after drinking too much firewater and doing too much peyote one night he began sending several insulting telegrams about how poorly Tunstall ran his businesses and was fired shortly thereafter (a vicious cycle that continues to occur in Sheens’ life to this day). Thereupon, Billy took over leadership of the Regulators and promptly commissioned Warren G to write a song called Regulators which was a big hit but ended up not being about the Lincoln County War at all. This led Doc Scurloc to leave the Regulators and head to New York City in order to find out if Jay-Z was available to write a better song. Unhappy with all of these changes, Chavez y Chavez was also going to leave the Regulators when Billy gave a memorable speech about the meaning of the word pals:
Obviously Chavez had to stay after such a moving speech and was later rewarded by being killed in Young Guns 2.
Despite the fact that Billy’s moving speech about pals led to the death of his pals and, ultimately, himself (maybe) something about it being written in 1988 for the film Young Guns resonated so strongly in my friend and I that 23 years later we found ourselves pulling up to the second Billy the Kid museum in Ft Sumner (the first having a terrific replica of Billy the Kid’s gravestone as well as many old Barbie Dolls and toasters) to pay homage to Billy and, more importantly, to pals. As we walked through the second museum and then stood by the gravestone of Billy the Kid a realization hit us: Man, we have a long drive back to Arizona!
So with the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” emanating from the car stereo my friend and I left Billy (maybe) and his pals behind feeling a bit sad that our time with the Kid was so short but knowing that this experience had deepened our understanding of the meaning of the word pals (namely that pals will willingly spend an obscene amount of time travelling to visit the grave (maybe) of an outlaw who died 150 years ago because they watched the movie Young Guns one too many times, and count it as one of the best experiences of their lives) made it all worthwhile (maybe).