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Billy the Kid and Us: A Book Review
an article by Tony Dominski

When I was 4 years old, my most prized possession was a pair of toy Colt 45’s dangling from a western gun belt. I still love westerns even while I write for a peace web site.

My own contradictions are part our collective American Dream myth, which is the raw material for Larry McMurtry’s westerns. His most famous novel "Lonesome Dove", which memorializes cowboys, was followed by "Anything for Billy" which spoofs gunslingers. Billy Bone aka Billy the Kid is portrayed as a feeble socio-pathic killer, beloved by his friends.

Billy lives in the moment, guided only by impulse and his desperation to maintain a reputation. He is a drifter, and unlike his sidekick Joe (a gifted cowboy), he has no useful work. He hangs around seedy bars with out-of-work buffalo hunters who are left with piles of evil smelling buffalo hides -- the remnants of herds that once inhabited thousands of miles of prairie.

But why is Billy so loveable? He is immediate, honest, loyal, courageous and boyish, and has the can-do attitude seemingly indigenous to the endless grasslands and mesas of the Great American West.

Billy's virtues are American virtues. And his failings stem from the American curse: individualism carried to the extreme. As the great soul Gandhi said: "Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency."

"Anything for Billy" is a challenge to renew the American Dream by transcending its contradictions. Can Americans use nature and enjoy its beauty without destroying or dominating? Can we be entrepreneurial for both the individual and common good? Can our justice system be restorative to the buffalo, the grasslands, the Native Americans and the descendents of slaves?

The coming Culture of Peace will cherish the best of the Old West - especially the Native American stewardship of nature. And it will remake my beloved westerns into Frank Capra-like cautionary tales.

BOOK INFORMATION: “Anything for Billy”, by Larry McMurtry, Pocket Books (Simon and Shuster); 408 pages.


Question(s) related to this article:

How can the Old West myth be reinterpreted for a Culture of Peace?,

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Latest reader comment:

I don't know Tony. I was in Oklahoma City last week end, and attended the Cowboy  Museum. I thought I knew quite a bit about the way the Cowboys treated the Indians, but to stand before a plaque in the Lewis and Clark exhibit where L and C talk to the Indians about the Great White Father in Washington, and threaten the Indians if they disobey this power. (The letter actually could have been written by Bush to the Iraqis today) With Leonard Peltier in prison, and so many injustices still being perpetrated by the heirs of the Cowboys, I think we need a truth and reconciliation commission.


This report was posted on January 28, 2005.