Most people have heard of him, first year students of the old west know him by William H. Bonney. A small number of people know about either his connections with Pat Garrett or Lew Wallace, the person who would go on to write the classic Ben Hur.
In the words of Billy Joel “his daring life of crime made him a legend in his time, east and west of the Rio Grande.”
Tonight, PBS’s American Experience will debut Billy The Kid to its national audience. From a PR Perspective, Billy’s fame wasn’t generated by 60 Minutes, Twitter, FaceBook or a YouTube video. Billy got his fame through the ultimate in viral messaging: word of mouth.
In the old west, people talked about Billy and his exploits. Some were eyewitnesses, others had second hand information… the power of story.
While I was familiar about Billy the Kid through high school history classes and the Billy Joel song referenced earlier, I really didn’t appreciate the “legend” until I covered a story for KOAT-TV in the early 1990’s when I went to the old Dona Ana County Courthouse where some old warrants from Pat Garrett were found behind a false wall in a basement storage area. Speaking with some of the clerks and other “old timers” I was hooked.
The Garrity Group is helping to sponsor PBS’s American Experience Billy The Kid broadcast, and other similar programs, to raise a awareness of the people and events that shaped a portion of New Mexico and the West. The other programs will focus on Jesse James, Geronimo, Little Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp and Custer’s Last Stand.
In the “Old West” and even in the “New West” word of mouth is the ultimate viral messaging. These programs give us a chance to see how it was done before Twitter and a 140 characters.
Billy The Kid Photo Credit: Robert McCubbin