In our last post we talked a little about how creating a biography in comic strip form, and having to draw the elements involved, can sometimes lead to questions no one thought to ask before. Today, we'll give you another example.
After leaving Roswell on the morning of June 19, 1935, Robert E. Howard and Truett Vinson drove to the town of Lincoln, NM -- epicenter of the bloody Lincoln County War of 1878.
Lincoln today is virtually unchanged from when Bob saw it, and not only that, it's virtually unchanged from its heyday in the 1870's and '80's. Pretty much the entire town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and has been called "the best preserved cowtown in the United States." One of the highlights of the town is the courthouse where Billy the Kid was being held prisoner before gunning down his guards and escaping on April 28, 1881.
REH wrote of touring the courthouse, trying to follow in the Kid's footsteps from that infamous day, and at one point looking out the window from which the Kid gunned down Pat Garrett's deputy, Robert Ollinger.
Outside the courthouse today, there is a marble stone marking the site where Olliger fell after being struck by the Kid's buckshot (and a similar stone marking where Deputy James Bell likewise died). Obviously, the stone would make a great visual to go with REH's text -- but, we had to ask ourselves, were those stones there in 1935 when REH visited the courthouse, or were they added later?
We assumed it would be no problem to establish the date they were laid. We simply called the on-site Historical Society and asked. Unfortunately, the very nice man we spoke to did not know, but he did put us in touch with another very nice man, Mike Pitel, who is a historian and a Billy the Kid / Lincoln County War expert, as well as a former New Mexico state tourism official. Though he had spent over twenty years researching the town of Lincoln and other related Lincoln County War sites, he admitted that it had never occurred to him to ask about those stone markers.
He did, however, share a glimpse into his vast historical knowledge of Billy the Kid, and kindly put us in touch with other BtK and Lincoln County War experts. They also shared fascinating Billy the Kid information, but none of them had any idea about the stone markers.
In the end, with the deadline looming, we couldn't in good conscience show the Ollinger marker. Instead we could only show Bob looking out the window, with no indication of what he might be seeing down below.
So when WERE those stones put there? The consensus among the Billy the Kid scholars was that they were most likely added during a WPA restoration of the site in 1937 -- though they all admitted that they had no evidence for this opinion. This may very well be the case, but we wonder if the stones might not be from closer to the Kid's own era. His nefarious exploits had made Lincoln a big tourist draw long before the New Deal. It wouldn't be surprising to discover that local interests, such as the Wortley Hotel (once owned by Pat Garrett!) across the street, had them put in as lure for sight-seers.
We intend to keep pulling on that thread, and maybe finding the answer before we create a comprehensive collection of these strips, if, for no other reason, than to be able to share the info with the kind and generous men who did their best to help us, and, in some small way, add to the scholarly (though, in this case, admittedly peripheral) knowledge on the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid.
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UPDATE: In the comments, Keith West rightly points out the problem with the Torreon -- the large circular structure you see in the second illustration at the top of this post. Like the courthouse, we knew that the Torreon had been restored, but unlike the courthouse, we couldn't find any reference showing its condition in 1935. We absolutely had to show it (it being one of the coolest looking things in Lincoln, and a structure REH specifically talked about seeing), but we didn't know exactly what to draw.
In this case, since we knew it was there in 1935, we felt comfortable including it in the strip, but were forced to use more modern reference for the visuals. Shortly after the strip went to press (don't it figure), we finally found the reference we were looking for, so we went back and revised the drawing to more accurately represent the Torreon as REH saw it (unfortunately, it wasn't quite as formidable and cool looking as it is today -- it looked a little sad, actually). Here's the revised panel:
New research material becomes available every day, so this happens occasionally (not often, but definitely more often than we'd like), and we always go back and revise the strips in our archives to match any new scholarship that comes into our possession. When we do finally gather all of these strips into a comprehensive collection, it'll be these revised versions of the strips we use.