Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Lincoln County War

From 1878 to '81, gang warfare raged across central and southern New Mexico. Billy the Kid, enraged by the murder of his mentor, John Tunstall, formed a posse (of dubious legality) and exacted revenge on Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan's faction, which included not only local cattlemen, but the county Sheriff's department and others in positions of power. The movie Young Guns contains many historical innacuracies, but captures the essence of the conflict and characters pretty well.
Knuckleduster's latest figure set pays tribute to the conflict in 40mm scale.

First we have Billy, himself. He has been depicted in the movies many ways, however the only evidence we have of his appearance is a photo which shows a small, ugly young man with a rumpled hat and over-sized cardigan. (If you ever see this photo, be sure to keep in mind that some versions of it are reversed left to right; he was right-handed). He had buck teeth, so pronounced, he "could eat corn through a picket fence," as the saying goes. 

The challenge in sculpting Billy was making the cardigan look like a sweater and not a jacket. I accomplished this by giving it a ridged texture that can be dry-brushed to achieve a cable-knit look. I've sculpted several different types of chaps on my figures. The most dramatic are batwing chaps (see KOW48-02, Cowboys), which require conchose and rawhide ties down the side. Some folk like their chaps with fringe down the side as well. I'm currently putting highly ornamented Vaquero chaps on some Banditos. Billy's are simple, workmanlike shotgun chaps, belonging to a lowly cowhand. One of these days, I'll try my hand at wooly chaps, and the knee-length "chinks" (coincidental resemblence to the racial slur of the same name), rarely depicted in the movies, but used often.

Another challenging part of this sculpt is the awkward backward draw he's doing with his right hand. This comes from a contemporary illustration, which I altered only in making the hand anatomically correct; the Police Gazette illustrator had given him two left hands. This type of draw was more popular than you might imagine, but for the life of me I can't imagine why.

Next, we have one of Billy so-called "Regulators," Jose Chavez Y Chavez. He met his end on account of having borrowed Billy's hat, reportedly a sombrero with a green band. What was known as a sombrero then and now are slightly different, and any cowboy hat might be called a sombrero in those days. In any case, Jose was mistaken for Billy and shot on sight.  His last words were, "I wish . . . I wish . . . " Historians have mused that he meant, "I wish I hadn't borrowed that damn hat." He's wearing no hat at all in this interpretation; it's not too late for him to avoid his fateful decision. His jacket is probably an old Mexican or French military coat.

Finally, we have Pat Garrett, the lawmen that cornered Billy and shot him in his hotel room in 1881. Garret was a tall man who suffered from an inflated ego and unbridled ambition. Dee Harkey, a lawmen from a nearby county, considered him a "mankiller," who was too quick to resort to the use of lethal force. In the case of Billy, however, Garrett's instincts may have been right on the money. Billy was unpredictable, reckless, and had killed several lawmen already. Pat is depicted shooting Billy in his bed, giving him the "coup de grace," so to speak.
One of these days, I'll post painted examples of these fellers in action!

Adios, amigos
Forrest Harris

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