Billy the Kid and Geronimo

Do kids still play cowboys and Indians?

Not likely… they have other interests like mutant super heroes, androids, and vampires. Plus there is the issue of being politically correct. Native Americans are no longer the enemy. Rightfully so.

But I grew up listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio. As soon as I learned to read I turned to Western writers like Luke Short, Max Brand and Zane Grey. By the time I hit high school, Bonanza was the rage on TV and my Sunday evenings were devoted to watching cowboy justice dispensed from the Ponderosa Ranch.

Years later I had an extra six months of play time so I decided to explore the Wild West of my youthful imagination in greater detail. After wandering through Zane Grey country for a couple of weeks, I found myself in the Gila Wilderness near Silver City, New Mexico. Legend lives in this area.

Henry McCarty, aka Kid Antrim, aka William Henry Bonney, aka Billy the Kid initiated his life of crime here in the 1870s stealing butter from the local ranchers. And then he got serious; he was caught with a bag of stolen Chinese laundry. His buddy Sombrero Jack had given it to him to hide.  The local sheriff decided to lock Billy up for a couple of days as a lesson that crime doesn’t pay but the Kid escaped through the chimney.

Two years later, at 16, he would kill his first man. Five years and some 11-21 murders after that (depending on press reports), he would be shot down by Sheriff Pat Garret. Billy liked to twirl his guns and enjoyed the polka… a real fun guy.

Of even more interest to me, the Chiricahua Apache, Goyathlay (one who yawns), better know as Geronimo, had roamed the region killing pioneers and hiding out from American troops for 25 years.

It was said that he could disappear behind a few blades of grass and walk without leaving footprints. In the 1880s, it took one-quarter of America’s military might, some 5000 men, to track him down. Geronimo was shipped off to a reservation but ended up finding God and riding in Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. Years later, Prescott Bush, the father of George H. and grandfather of George W., would allegedly steal his skull for Yale’s secret Skull and Bone Society.

I remember as a young kid jumping off a roof and yelling Geronimo. My friends and I patterned our behavior after World War II paratroopers who would leap out of airplanes shouting his name.

My primary purpose for being in Silver City was to use it as base for backpacking. I chose Cliff Dwellings National Monument as my jumping off point. People of the Mogollon Culture had called the area home between 1280 – 1300 CE and their cliff houses still stand some 700 years later, silent testimony to the value of building with stone. As to where the Mogollon went after their brief stay, it’s a mystery.

Like Geronimo and the Mogollon Indians I planned to disappear into the wilderness.

(Next blog: A Cow Elk Woos Me.)