Boot-Hills and Their Stories

“Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Only a few nights before he spoke, Tom O’Folliard, one of the last of his band, had fallen from his horse with a bullet through his chest in Fort Sumner to die, cursing the tall silent sheriff, in the room where the posse had carried him. Two mornings afterward at the Arroyo Tivan, Charley Bowdre had staggered into the stone house where the outlaws were hiding, wounded unto death by the rifles of these same pursuers.

“Charley, you ‘re done for. Go out and see if you can’t get one of them,” Billy the Kid had told the dying man, and through the crack of the door had watched him stumbling over the frozen snow toward the posse, while his numbed fingers fumbled with his revolver butt in a final access of vain effort.

And now this youth, the deadliest of the Southwestern outlaws, spoke from the Scriptures to Pat Garret; perhaps it was all of his Bible that he knew. He said it in December. In July Garret shot him in Pete Maxwell’s room at Fort Sumner. The years went by. One day the former sheriff fell in the sand hills west of Tularosa with an assassin’s bullet in his back.

Thus, throughout the Old West: bad man and frontier officer, Indian fighter, cowboy, stage-driver, trooper, and faro-dealer, they lived their lives in accordance with bold customs which bridged the gap between savagery and modern civilization. In a strange land they did the best they could; and, bad or good, they came to their ends with a fine unflinching disregard for the supreme adventure.

To-day fat prairie corn-fields stand tasseled in the sunlight, the smoke of lusty young cities rises black against the sky; while automobiles speed upon concrete highways over the forgotten graveyards where their bones lie.


By Frederick Ritchie Bechdolt, 1922. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, September, 2017.

About This Article:  Much of this article was excerpted from the book When the West Was Young by Frederick Ritchie Bechdolt; The Century Co., New York, 1922. However, the text as it appears here is not verbatim, as it has been heavily edited for clarification, truncated, and updated for the modern reader.

Also See:

Cemeteries – Outdoor Museums of the Forgotten Past

Death Scenes of Desperadoes

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