Welcome to the
Frederick Nolan website
(a sort of autobiography in the making)
"Advise persons never to engage in killing."
~ William H. Bonney, alias Billy the Kid.
HOW AN ENGLISHMAN
BECAME AN EXPERT ON
THE LINCOLN COUNTY WAR.
When I was 19, and following a knee operation which effectively terminated my sporting (and courting) activities for over a year, I compensated by reading my way through the fiction shelves of our local public library from A-Z. You may wonder what this has to do with becoming an expert on the Lincoln County War, but bear with me, there is a point of the story, and the point is that this massive burst of reading awakened in me the desire to be a writer, to produce a work I could put up there on the shelf right alongside Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
Suffering from no lack of ambition whatsoever, I embarked upon my first novel, boldly entitled Armageddon, and set in my hometown, Liverpool. I would love now to be able to read whatever it was I wrote, but I think I realised even then that in tackling Armageddon I was trying to bite off considerably more than I could chew, and with unwitting wisdom, threw it away and instead started on the second phase of my library journey, the non-fiction (biography) shelves. And there in the "B’s” I found a reissue of a 1927 book by a (to-me-unknown) writer called Walter Noble Burns, The Saga of Billy the Kid. I didn’t know, of course, that it was nearly a quarter of a century old. To me it was new and real and now, and I read it, and re-read it, and read it yet again. Then, aflame with enthusiasm, I wrote to the Lord Mayor (in my country, the leading citizen of any town) of Lincoln, New Mexico, to ask for more information and a photograph of this wonderful, nonchalant boy who always went for the "one chance in a million."
There was, of course, no Lord Mayor in Lincoln (pop. 92) but there was a charming man named John Boylan, who looked after what they then called the Old Lincoln County Court House, and whose wife Nan sent me a postcard photo of the Kid. Anyone who has seen what passed for a picture of our Billy in those days (the one in the photo above is a good example) will appreciate that came as something of a shock to someone conditioned by Burns on the one hand, and Robert Taylor and Roy Rogers on the other, but fortunately (for me, I'm not so sure about you) Mrs Boylan also sent me the name and address of a man who, she told me, knew more about Billy the Kid than anyone else. His name was Robert N. Mullin, he lived in Toledo, Ohio, and he was a senior executive of a Chicago oil company. He indeed knew a very great deal about Billy and, one by one, patiently, he answered a lot of my questions. But even he couldn't tell me what I most wanted to know: what was the middle name of the Englishman, John H. Tunstall, who was Billy's boss and whose murder touched off what became known as the Lincoln County War? And neither could anyone else. So I decideds to try and find out myself ...
Four years later, and now not only the founder of the English Corral of The Westerners (it is now the English Westerners Society), as well as editor-publisher of its magazines, but also taken under the collective wings of Bob Mullin, Philip J. Rasch, William A. Keleher, and Maurice G. Fulton, I had turned my biggest disadvantage--the Atlantic Ocean--into an advantage (I was in England, everyone else wasn't). In what seems in retrospect like one-two-three (but I know it was a much more extended experience than that) I had located not only the birth certificate of John (Henry!!!) Tunstall and the British Foreign Office records covering his family's attempts to fix responsibility for his death upon the United States governmen. And also (by dint of going to London and telephoning the seven people in the phone book named Tunstall) I found, spoke to and corresponded with his 82-year-old sister Mabel. And I realised that now I had something to write about: the untold and tragic story of John Partridge Tunstall's vain efforts to recover some of the small fortune his son had invested in New Mexico.
Old Col. Fulton, ever the didact, was not so sure I had the makings when I sent him a draft of my first effort. "I think we shall have to let it go back into the ink pot," he told me, "and come out according to a different scheme… If I were you I would take your copies of letters to me, which are decidedly clearer and more interesting than your article." But I was young, and impatient -- and I wanted to be a writer! Now! So without telling him, I sent the article to the New Mexico Historical Review and – to my delight (astonishment?) – they accepted it. Sadly, by the time it appeared in print, Col. Fulton had unexpectedly died; fortunately, I had persuaded him before then to return to the Tunstall family all the original letters and a diary John Henry had written during his six years in Victoria, BC, in California and New Mexico that they had loaned him thirty years earlier for the history of the Lincoln County War that he had been writing and never quite finishing ever since.
In one of his letters he had reacted to my proposition that there ought to be a marker on Tunstall's then-unmarked grave in Lincoln by saying "a book is a better monument than stone." I put that thought to the Tunstall family and they agreed; I asked the University of New Mexico Press if they were interested and they said they were; and thus, at the ripe old age of 23, I set out to write my first book. The problem was, I had no idea how to do it. I had never even set foot in the United States, (the Atlantic disadvantage) much less in Lincoln County. So, exhibiting a cunning beyond my years, I shamelessly emulated the way William A. Keleher had gone about it in his 1958 landmark, Violence in Lincoln County, 1869-1881, and completed the book – The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall – in a fierce, one-year blaze of creativity. What I did not know was UNMP had financial and other problems and that it would take them five years to publish it, by which time my own life had taken a couple of dramatic turns of its own. I got married, we had babies, I quit The Westerners, I moved to London, I got a career in publishing. And although the rave reviews which greeted the published book – dedicated in part to Col. Fulton – were very nice, I felt I had said all I had to say on the subject, and without regret laid the Lincoln County war quietly to rest.
1983: with ten years as a professional writer, a major movie, nine novels, three biographies and fourteen Westerns behind me, I decided to scratch an old, old itch and see if I could come up with an answer to my own question: who was Alexander A. McSween, the enigmatic Scot who, back in 1877, had partnered John Tunstall in his campaign to get the half of every dollar that was made in Lincoln County? Four years and five hundred letters later, the answer appeared in the New Mexico Historical Review – just 30 years after that first effort that Col. Fulton had so disliked. At almost the same time, a small miracle happened: in the process of removing some old oak panelling from one house to another, the Tunstall family discovered a "secret compartment" in which were stored all the original letters from many of the principal players in the Lincoln County War that John Partridge Tunstall had used to document his claim for compensation (he asked for GBP 30,000 -- $150,000 then, something over $3,000,000 today) against the US government.
The finding of this "lost" cache of letters coincided with my losing my patience with the shoddy books full of wild theories and unprovable conclusions and the spurious "research" that were being published at the time, and the result was a determination to take two years off and write down once and for all, as it were, everything I knew about the subject. I can actually pinpoint the moment of decision: my son Christian and I were having the usual adult-teenager argument in which I told him he didn't know how lucky he was, etc, etc. And he said, "look, Dad, I know you had to work your tail off to get where you are now, but you have to understand – where you got to is my jumping off point -- this is where I begin." I wanted my book to be the same kind of jumping off point, so that anyone starting out blind, as I did all those years ago, would instead have a sort of database containing everything I knew and could find out, plus all the significant documentation, in one place.
Of course, I had no idea what I was getting into. I mean, do you have any idea of how difficult it was back then (and often still is) to do research from the wrong side of the Atlantic? Back then, the answer to any question – even if answered immediately, and even if the answer is merely "no" – used to take between 14 and 40 days to arrive (although thanks to e-mail, that's changed too). Everything – every request for every photocopy – took a long time and you had to go down a lot of dead ends and blind alleys. There were no interlibrary loans on this side of the ocean – still aren’t. If you wanted a microfilm of the Dudley Court of Inquiry or the Angel Reports, you had to buy them. If you wanted newspapers, Army records, maps, books, photographs – and of course you wanted them all – the only way to get them was to track them down, ask nicely, and smile when they sent you the bill. Sometimes you’d get a genealogist who offered to check censuses for you as soon as she received her first $100 retainer, or a relative who would happily tell you family stuff if you would first send a cheque. Sometimes it was worth the money, and often it wasn't; but when you're half a world away behind the Atlantic disadvantage you don't have much of a choice. The name of the game was--still is -- persistence, perhaps even to the point of being a bloody nuisance. Ah, but when it pays off, it's better than terrific.
Along the way you also meet some wonderful people, descendants of the ones who lived the history and are just as excited about finding the answers as you are. And in the ultimate analysis, that was, and still is what it's all about. You write a book, first, to see if you can. And then, hopefully, to reach out and touch hands with a thousand, two, three thousand people – yes, including the lady psychic from San Francisco who believed she was the reincarnation of John Tunstall and I, of Billy the Kid – one would never otherwise have encountered.
The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History was published in 1992 by the University of Oklahoma Press, and I thought that would be the end of it, but no. Out of it grew another – thankfully much shorter – book called Bad Blood, about the life and times of the Horrell clan of Lampasas, Texas, and their feuds in both that state and in New Mexico. After that (don’t forget that at the same time I was also writing some very successful crime fiction) I found myself writing about Lincoln County history on a regular basis – books and articles and appearances on TV docu-dramas – and you may be assured I plan to keep on doing so until they pat me in the face with a spade.A year or four ago I finally got around to paying my respects to the man who made it all possible – Maurice Garland Fulton – still to my mind the greatest and most successful researcher into those troubled times, better than anyone before or since. I only wish I could have met him face-to-face, but I didn't know then (as I do now) how to turn my disadvantage – the Atlantic Ocean – into an advantage. So the best I could do was to visit his grave in Roswell. And you know, as I stood there, I couldn't help but wonder whether he would have been proud of me for the work I've done--or mad at me for not having listened to his advice.
And so here, ladies and gentlemen, is the work
Maurice Garland Fulton, Bob Mullin, Will Keleher, and Phil Rasch inspired
... and what others thought of it.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JOHN HENRY TUNSTALL
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1965;
Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2009)
"A brilliant work of history and biography ... one of the most interesting volumes of Westerniana to come along in years. Nolan's research is as extensive as it is painstaking, his narrative and notes reflect the lucid writing and intelligent perception which went into this book."
- Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times.
"An outstanding work which is destined to find a permanent place in the literature of New Mexico."
“It will always have a place on the top shelf of books about the Lincoln County War.”
– William A. Keleher.
“The valuable, interesting and revealing Tunstall papers were compiled, edited and annotated in book form by Frederick W. Nolan, one of the leading British specialists in Western Americana. He knows his subject well and has done a masterful job. It is a most interesting and almost unbelievable story of New Mexico bloodshed and intrigue, with international repercussions.”
- Howard Bryan, Albuquerque Tribune.
“Excellent … should take an important place in the history of Lincoln County.”
- Ramon F. Adams, New Mexico Historical Review.
“In one volume, Mr. Nolan presents almost the whole body of documented evidence bearing on the Lincoln County War. No serious student of those troubled times should be without this book.”
- Robert N. Mullin, Arizona & The West.
"The origins of the Lincoln County War cannot be understood without constant resort to this work."
- Robert M. Utley.
“Nolan has done a fine job … a major contribution to the annals of Lincoln County.”
- The Old Bookaroos, (Jeff C. Dykes) True West Magazine.
“Bound to become an important addition to the history of New Mexico … It’s a thrilling new book and we strongly urge all persons interested in New Mexico history to read it.”
- Raymond F. Waters, Hobbs NM Daily News-Sun.
“With hundreds of books in print relating to the Lincoln County War, less than half a dozen are of any historical value. Nevertheless, the Tunstall biography is certain to take its place among the top two or three and may even eclipse them all … a genuine breakthrough in our knowledge about what actually went on during the ‘War.’”
- Leon C. Metz, El Paso Times.
"A welcome addition to the sources for a candid history of the Wild West."
- London Times Literary Supplement.
"Indispensable source material for any future history of New Mexico."
- Journal of the West.
The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall
(out of print since 1968)
is now available in the striking new paperback edition illustrated above,
which you can purchase direct from the publisher
(just go to 'Books' and type in my name).
THE LINCOLN COUNTY WAR: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY
(Norman, OK and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992)
Long out of print in the original edition, but now (with a new foreword
plus more than a hundred extra pages of new biographical and historical information)
available again from Sunstone Press.com or Amazon.com
"An admirably full and thoughtful treatment of the Lincoln County troubles, an account that not only demonstrates the confusion and limits of power in a fluid frontier environment but also captures the climate of violence that fed the myth of the Wild West. Mr Nolan has done a tremendous amount of research, much of which he shares with the reader ... The author maintains a fine clarity in introducing the players and threading them through the narrative ... Mr Nolan has also shown himself something of a wonder worker in collecting photos of even the most peripheral actors ... He moves with assurance through the landscape and lives of the Lincoln County of more than a century ago ... writing with authority and accuracy ... and skilfully depicting the events of one of the most bitter feuds to erupt in American frontier history."
- Paula Mitchell Marks, The New York Times Book Review.
“I have no hesitation in labeling him the world’s foremost authority on th Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid. No one comes close to knowing and understanding as much.
His works have vastly enriched the historiography of this significant segment of western American history.”
– Robert M. Utley, NOLA Quarterly.
"A veritable encyclopaedia ... it will remain the premier source book ... for the foreseeable future.
A magnificent book and should be read by all interested in the American frontier."
- Thomas Wanless, English Westerners Brand Book.
"Masterfully recreates a dramatic history .. that still influences the way we think about the Wild West.
If you buy only one Lincoln County War book, this should be it."
- Leon C. Metz, El Paso Herald-Post.
"Intensively researched, wonderfully written, and interesting from first to last. A huge contribution to New Mexico history. And a grand one it is!
No one interested in southwestern history can do without it."
- Dan L. Thrapp, Books of the Southwest.
"A masterpiece of documentation and historical interpretation."
- Bill O'Neal, True West.
"Nolan attempts with exquisite success to strip away the myth and give us [Billy] the Kid as the people of Lincoln County, N.M. knew him more than 100 years ago ... In the hands of a lesser writer such a book could have wound up as a disastrous cut-and-paste job, but ... he has managed to weave his huge mountain of facts and opinions into a vivid narrative ...
I believe it's safe to say the definitive history ... has now been written."
- Dallas Morning News.
"Truly objective, carefully researched, and satisfactorily readable ... An honest-to-God book filled with scrupulously documented facts so well presented as this is rare indeed ... Read the book for enjoyment, enlightenment and a new understanding of New Mexico history.
Cherish it forever as a reliable reference whenever the subject of Lincoln County, its War and its star performer, Billy the Kid, figure in your life."
- New Mexico Magazine.
"Many readers will find the questions Nolan interests himself in more absorbing than the questions most scholars think important ... [he] has produced a book clearly the product of a genuine love for his subject and historical digging.
General readers will find it interesting and western historians will mine it for material."
- Christopher Waldrep, Law and History Review.
"[P]rovides us with the most detailed accounting of the Lincoln County War we have to date ... this book will remain the primary resource tool for students ... for decades to come.
This is one fine book which shows us how the history of the west must be written."
- The New England Review of Books.
"An outstanding example of tracking down every available fact ... It has no rival."
- History Review of New Books.
"This would seem to be the definitive book on the Lincoln County War."
“One of the most significant books published in recent years.”
- Thomas A. Swinford.
"Truly magisterial ... destined always to be the bible to which students turn for enlightenment on nearly every question that may arise."
- Robert M. Utley.
"Nolan writes with fine style, and the book is handsomely produced ... a milestone that deserves a place in every library of western Americana."
- John P. Wilson, Montana: The Magazine of Western History.
"This book will provide western aficionados with an up-to-date compilation, a bit of psychohistory, and entertaining reading.
[It] should be the "last word" on the Lincoln County War."
- Judith Boyce DeMark, Southern California Quarterly.
"In our opinion, the definitive book on the subject, scholarly, well-written, and dare we say, well documented.”
– E. Donald Kaye, Historical Society of New Mexico.
"Will take its place ... as a standard reference tool about this unfortunate episode."
- Larry D. Ball. The Journal of Arizona History.
"A very readable and careful analysis ... An important and reliable account essential for Western history collections and strongly recommended for others."
- Library Journal.
"A gripping account of duplicity and bloodshed ... an indispensable source book for students of frontier violence."
- Books of the Southwest.
"His contribution to western history is of the greatest significance."
- NOLA Quarterly.
“With this documentary history of the famous range war, Nolan establishes himself as the pre-eminent authority on the Lincoln County War. Nolan’s commentary weaves together eyewitness and participant accounts, and the photographs make this work a doubly valuable source of information.”
- True West Magazine.
**SELECTED BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AS
ONE OF THE "NOTABLE BOOKS OF THE YEAR," 1992. **
**SELECTED BY THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR AS ONE OF THE "NOTABLE SOUTHWESTERN BOOKS OF THE YEAR," 1992.**
** BORDER REGIONAL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
SOUTHWEST BOOK AWARD 1992.**
**FRANCE V. SCHOLES AWARD
FOR OUTSTANDING RESEARCH IN ONE OR MORE PUBLICATIONS,
THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF NEW MEXICO 2001**
**SELECTED BY TRUE WEST MAGAZINE AS
“ONE OF THE FIFTY GREATEST BOOKS ON THE AMERICAN WEST”
BAD BLOOD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE HORRELL BROTHERS
(Stillwater, OK: Barbed Wire Press, 1995)
"This is an excellent book; there is no doubt about that. Nolan's research is meticulous ... the illustrations are first class, and the biographical sketches ... flesh out the narration so that the story is complete. The book is an absolute "must" for all gunfighter enthusiasts. I have no doubt [it] will also become recognized as the standard work on the seven brothers."
- Thomas Wanless, English Society of Westerners Tally Sheet.
"Excellent ... a brilliantly researched and vividly written account of a brutal frontier period and a family of brothers caught in its snare."
- Larry Blumenfeld, Council Fires.
“Amazingly, no one had written a book on the Horrells before Nolan, who did exhaustive research. The result gives a new insight into frontier lawlessness in Texas, showing that some Old West violence was not necessarily criminal in spirit. With the Horrells it involved a sense of honor and disdain for the notion of retreat.”
– Mike Cox, author of Texas Ranger Tales.
“Written with the inimitable thoroughness and annotated detail on which Nolan has built his respect as an historian … the tragic story of the Horrells reveals how subscribing to a code of revenge and a perceived duty not to retreat, regardless of established law, could bring about violence.”
– Rick Miller, NOLA Quarterly.
"Nolan has written the best and most trustworthy books yet on the Lincoln County War. His research is thorough, he avoids sloppy sentimentalism, and he has a crisp, readable style. Furthermore, he devotes his final pages to well-researched biographical sketches [which] will be invaluable to the endless stream of future writers who will doubtlessly devote time and energy to more books about it."
- Fern Lyon, New Mexico Magazine.
THE WEST OF BILLY THE KID
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
“Without a doubt the best modern compendium of all available facts about the Kid and his war, a cordite chronology organized in an extremely logical yet compelling fashion, written with laconic elegance and presented in a superbly produced package. Nolan really puts the reader in the saddle, working a strange kind of magic that can be found in only the best of this genre of literature. The abundance of photographs (more than 250, many never published before) including those of sun-blasted, shadow-dribbled adobe buildings that seem both ancient and timeless, makes the book doubly evocative and definitive.”
- Jesse Sublett, Austin Chronicle.
“Frederick Nolan’s book The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History, is as comprehensive as anything that has ever been written about that legendary fracas in 1870s New Mexico. Nolan’s always meticulous research inevitably shines through, illuminating much of what was to his readers. This, along with his entertaining writing style makes anything he writes the subject of much discussion and anticipation. Well, [he] has done it again. His latest work … bears all of the trademarks mentioned above. In addition there is an impressive gallery of photographs to keep the reader visually stimulated…. To anyone with a grain of imagination it is a window to the past. It is a clearer look at the young man who has fired our collective imagination for over a century. For the first time, Billy’s sunny face seems to be peering directly at us out of the mists of time and history. And we can thank Frederick Nolan for it.”
- Drew Gomber, True West
"This … is the best work on the area and era of “the Kid” this reviewer has yet to read … neither glorifying nor condemning … For fans of the Kid, Lincoln County War historians, or students of the West during one of the more turbulent periods, this is ‘the book.’ Written by a professional who has devoted a lifetime of study to the Lincoln County War, it’s the best documented volume available on the subject, with much original research included.”
- Larry S. Sterett, Gun Week.
"[A] comprehensive study of the Kid, his companions and enemies, as well as the struggles, corruption and violence in New Mexico Territory before, after and during the Lincoln County War, Equally impressive is the collection of more than 210 photographs and maps, many published for the first time. The West of Billy the Kid isn’t just a photo-gallery, nor is it only a companion piece to Nolan’s THE LINCOLN COUNTY WAR: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY. Nolan’s new book can stand alone, an all-encompassing, well-documented history.
– Johnny D. Boggs, Wild West Magazine.
“Nolan’s strength as a top researcher shines through here and no other writer compares with his knowledge of the Kid’s childhood years. … All major incidents are scrutinized in the scholarly manner that one comes to expect from the hand of Nolan. … The collection of photographs in this pictorial volume on the Kid is unsurpassed and equal to the fine text … the narrative moves with ease, the text is presented in superb fashion, and the research is unparalleled. This second point cannot be stressed too much … Nolan’s work is a biography of Billy the Kid of the first order unmatched by previous authors. Run, do not walk to your nearest book dealer and purchase a copy.”
- Chris Roberts, NOLA Quarterly.
“Author of the well-received The Lincoln County War, which treats the range war in which Billy was killed, Nolan paints an intriguing picture of a bright boy left to find his own way in a difficult and often violent environment. Neither romanticizing or debunking, Nolan gives an evenhanded account of the Kid and his times in a readable, nicely-illustrated book. This book is a worthy addition not only to regional collections but to more general biography and US history collections.”
- Charles V. Cowling, Library Journal.
“Although we do not claim for a second to be a Billy fan or a student of books on him, this one is probably the best to date. Nolan, refreshingly, says that his only aim was to make Billy’s story as historically true as possible. We think there is little doubt that he has … Written as interestingly as a good novel … a fine book that will be enjoyed by anyone with any interest in the subject.”
– E. Donald Kaye, Historical Society of New Mexico.
“This book is superb…essential reading. Nolan has maintained the highest standards of writing and research … The photographic section of the book is magnificent. [His] rightful place as the leading authority on Billy and the Lincoln County War is now assured.
– Tom Wanless, The English Westerners Tally Sheet.
“Indispensable ... Nolan’s research is thorough, and his writing is lively. Of the many books on Billy the Kid, if I could own only one, I would own this one.”
- David Remley, Book Talk. (NMBL).
“This analytical, fair-minded, well-illustrated biography includes considerable information about individuals involved in the Kid’s life. Recommended for everyone seeking a detailed life of a famous outlaw.”
- T.Edwards, CHOICE Magazine
“More than 250 images enhance this riveting tale and though Nolan unwittingly feeds the flame of the Kid’s fame and legend, he is quick to point out that this man, this boy, was just that, a human being. In addition to the photos, maps and artist renderings, we also get recreations of newspaper pieces all lending an air of authenticity.”
- RAPPORT Magazine, Los Angeles.
“THE WEST OF BILLY THE KID adds to the legend. Nolan has assembled a huge collection of stories, research, maps, drawings and old and new photographs.”
- The Denver Post.
“For illustrations of the people and places associated with Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, this book surpasses anything else under a single cover.”
- John P. Wilson, The Journal of Arizona History.
“Nolan … presents the story, not only of the Kid, but also of the people and the country where the Kid lived over the years. Nolan’s greatest contribution is material on the early life of McCarty. Documentation on his birthplace, his growing-up years, his time in Santa Fe and Silver City, and his movement toward Lincoln is excellent … No question – Nolan has done a stupendous job of ferreting out all possible sources for written and pictorial material. For that reason alone, this is a valuable book … Overall, this is a fine addition to the literature on Billy the Kid, the Lincoln County War, and New Mexico history."
- Jo Tice Bloom, Southern New Mexico Historical Society.
“A fascinating historical compendium … full of good information and interesting history.”
- Scott Eyman, Palm Beach Post.
“What Nolan so capably presents is an accurate, authentic, visual and highly recommended portrayal of the life and death of Billy the Kid.”
- Midwest Book Review.
ONE OF THE 100 OUTSTANDING
20th CENTURY NON-FICTION BOOKS ON THE AMERICAN WEST 1901-2001
BY THE WESTERNERS INTERNATIONAL 2005
FRANCE V. SCHOLES AWARD
"FOR OUTSTANDING RESEARCH IN ONE OR MORE PUBLICATIONS."
THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF NEW MEXICO 2001
HISTORY OF “BILLY THE KID” by Charles A. Siringo.
Foreword by Frederick Nolan.(
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, April, 2000.)
“Compared to Frederick Nolan’s own works on the Lincoln County war, those monumental efforts that established him as the leading authority on [Billy] the Kid, this small volume by Charles Siringo becomes almost minuscule … So why add it to our library? There are several reasons. First, the foreword is worth the price of the book. No matter how often one may have read the previous works on the Kid and the War, Nolan seems to always discover something new, some aspect of the fighting or the loving and hating that previous writers and researchers have overlooked. Secondly, as is pointed out by Nolan, this little book in its previous editions is not readily obtainable … Thus for the collection who wants all that is in print about his/her favorite subject this edition will add one more needed title. But all that is perhaps unnecessary to point out to western buffs. There is new material here and new ideas for the amateur historian to ponder over … questions that will remain outside the realm of ‘absolute positive fact’ and will keep the legend and the mystery alive …”
- Chuck Parsons, NOLA Quarterly.
Pat F. Garrett’s
THE AUTHENTIC LIFE OF BILLY, THE KID: AN ANNOTATED EDITION
With Notes and Commentary by Frederick Nolan
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, June, 2000).
“I have always considered it a wonderful irony that the world’s foremost authority on Billy the Kid is an Englishman living near London. The gentleman in question is Frederick Nolan and he has just added to his substantial body of work on the Lincoln County War … If you are not satisfied with the great cloud of myth and legend that has grown up around the Kid, and you would like to find out the truth about him - at least, as much of the truth as can be discovered in 50 years of careful research - then this new edition of ‘The Authentic Life’ will be a revelation to you.”
- Robert R. White, Book Talk, New Mexico Book League.
“In our view, this book is an extremely valuable and clarifying addition to the voluminous literature on Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, one that sorts out fact from fiction … one that should be on the bookcase of anyone at all interested in either subject.”
– E. Donald Kaye, Historical Society of New Mexico.
“Frederick Nolan, an Englishman and author of The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History and The West of Billy the Kid, and numerous other historical and biographical words, makes it plain in his Introduction to this new printing of Garrett’s book that it is a ‘farrago of nonsense’ and the source of much of the myth-mischief about the Kid – and about Garrett as well. Nolan’s feisty front-matter and marginal notes give a new life and lend importance to a book which, unannotated, was not much better than a dime novel.”
- Dale L. Walker, Rocky Mountain News, Denver.
“For Billy fans this book is the bible … destined to be an indispensable source for serious Billy enthusiasts.”
- New Mexico Magazine.
“Frederick Nolan’s Notes and Textual Commentaries alongside the reprint of the pages of the 1881 edition are well worth the price of the book alone … his scholarly commentaries go a long way to dispel a number of the myths that came about because of the 1882 edition.”
- Chuck Hamsa, Reviewers Consortium.
“[Garrett’s book is] now two books in one -- Schismatic, self-lacerating and funny, thanks to Nolan, who has been tracking Billy the Kid for almost 50 years. On one side of the page is the original, rambling, flowery yarn mostly ghost-written for Garrett in 1882 by former Roswell postmaster Marshall Ashmun ‘Ash’ Upson …Beside it on the other half of the page are the austere, biting corrections of the exasperated Nolan.”
- Richard Benke, Albuquerque Journal (syndicated AP)
“There have been several editions of Garrett’s Authentic Life since the first edition was published over a hundred years ago but none are as satisfactory as this one. Well illustrated … this book should be in the possession of everyone interested in Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War. Frederick Nolan’s Introduction and his many ‘footnotes’ (which are printed alongside the relevant text) are exemplary.”
- Tom Wanless, The English Westerners Tally Sheet.
“One of the foremost authorities on Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War … Nolan is perhaps the best historian today to tackle the assignment of providing opinion and criticism as well as highlighting untruths and pointing readers in a more accurate direction.”
- Johnny D. Boggs, True West.
“This annotated edition … shows that it wasn’t quite so authentic after all, and here, Western historian Frederick Nolan includes notes and commentary correcting falsehoods written by Upson along with 19 period photographs. Was Billy a true Western hero fighting for justice in New Mexico’s Lincoln County War or simply a wacko who enjoyed killing? Find out here.”
– Michael Rogers, Library Journal.
“Nolan’s emendations focus the pulpish narrative marvellously, making the book something more than just a western fantasia.”
– Palm Beach Post.
FRANCE V. SCHOLES AWARD
"FOR OUTSTANDING RESEARCH IN ONE OR MORE PUBLICATIONS.”
THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF NEW MEXICO 2001
THE WILD WEST: HISTORY, MYTH AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA
(London: Arcturus Publishing, Ltd. 2003; Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, Inc. 2004.)
“Fred Nolan has been handed an impossible assignment: to tell the story of our Old West in a small-format book of but 240 pages. The author is obliged to hit only the high spots – Lewis and Clark, the Alamo, Custer, the O.K. Corral. Precious ink is wasted on too-minute details of shoot-outs and gunfighters genealogy [but] there are some good points, too, such as Nolan’s debunking of the female badmen Calamity Jane and Belle Starr, who were really minor players in the drama of the West. And his dissection of the X. Beidler and Montana Vigilantes vs. Sheriff Henry Plummer tale is a great literary autopsy.”
– Richard H. Dillon, True West Magazine
“[A] fascinating account of the crossing of the American frontier and taming of the Wild West … The factual errors … are perhaps an inherent part of anyone attempting to write a summary of such a huge subject as the American West … But even if there are a few errors, this Wild West belongs in our libraries … Nolan’s final paragraph is worth the price, as it is a beautiful example of his own writing style … recommended for all those who have a deep interest or even a casual interest in the Wild West of America.”
– Chuck Parsons, NOLA Quarterly.
TASCOSA, ITS LIFE AND GAUDY TIMES
(Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2007)
"In his Introduction, Western historian Frederick Nolan says, ‘Tascosa is gone, blown away by the rains and winds of history. It is not even a ghost town.’ Although that may be physically true, Nolan has successfully resurrected the town with this definitive history. It’s all here … the legends, the real stories, often told from three or four different points of view …Several chapters of the book are devoted to the Cowboy Strike, the feud and infamous shootout that happened as a result. Nolan does a good job in sorting out the various ‘sides’ to the story, not an easy task as almost everyone who lived in Tascosa was involved. He uses many colourful quotes from grand jury testimonies and from contemporary newspaper interviews that help to give a clear picture of the rough, post-Civil War era in Texas … I cannot imagine that there is anything of the history of Tascosa that Frederick Nolan has missed. The amount of research is almost staggering.”
– Cindy Bonner, Victoria Advocate, Victoria, TX.
“Veteran western writer Frederick Nolan tells us in his introduction that it is high time the history of Tascosa was "properly" told [and] tackles the task with his usual dedication to thorough research and presents the story with his usual storytelling mastery. Telling the Tascosa story was no easy task. Nolan had few contemporary news reports of those long-ago events upon which to rely and some of the official records had been lost. Much of the story therefore had to be based upon the fragmentary, often conflicting and usually biased recollections of old-timers now long dead. Nevertheless Nolan's narrative is no scissors-and-paste hodgepodge ... this is an impressive work. Old Tascosa's story has finally been properly told."
- Bill Neal, Western Historical Quarterly.
"Mention the Old West Texas Panhandle Town of Tascosa to most people and they might make a vague association with its last resident, Frenchy McCormick, or, just maybe, Boot Hill Cemetery. Such sketchy recognition begs to be informed by Frederick Nolan's extensively researched and crisply written account of Tascosa's self-absorbed, isolated outlaw past ... The author is well-remembered for his 1992 The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History, regarded by many as the classic work about that complex event. [His] vigorous book ... gives the dead town an unforgettable rebirth."
-- Russell Sparling, Panhandle Plains Historical Review.
"... the pages of Nolan’s book come alive with the names of some of the most famous ranches in the West: the LX, the LS, the Turkey Track, the XIT, the Frying Pan and Charles Goodnight’s JA. The cowboy strike of 1883… is well-documented by the author, as well as the confederation of rustlers and eventual gun battle that it spawned. Nolan follows Tascosa’s history through to the bitter end when, by-passed by the railroad, crippled by the big die-up of the cattle industry, and snubbed as the county seat, the town simply withered and blew away like so much Panhandle dust … Nolan offers, detailed histories on many of the figures from Tascosa’s sordid past, and he does a good job of presenting all sides of the conflicts … the sheer volume of information in the book is at times overwhelming. That aside, Nolan has presented a thorough and engrossing chronicle of one of the most notorious frontier towns of the West.”
– Laurie Wells, Western Writers of America Roundup.
“We have long needed this detailed account of the heyday of the old Texas cattle hamlet. Tascosa grew from a handful of placitas founded by New Mexican ex-Comancheros into a booming cattle market that saw its height during the beef bonanza of the 1880s. The town attracted gamblers and badmen like John Selman and Billy the Kid. Nolan extends his story with fine historic photos, endnotes and a bibliography …[A] splendid biography of a vanished Texas cowtown.”
– Richard Dillon, True West Magazine.
"Painstakingly researched ... this book is a detailed look at life on the Texas frontier in one of its most colorful places ... replete with photographs of many of the individuals talked about as well as scenes of the area taken at the time ... The research is evident in the writing, and each chapter has numerous endnotes, some providing information beyond what is in the text itself. It is very readable [and] any reader interested in Texas history will find it a fascinating book to read."
- Mary Jarvis, Texas Books in Review.
“Not since John L. McCarty’s Maverick Town (1946) has any writer attempted to chronicle the history of Tascosa, Texas. Nolan’s work provides a serious study of the elements which contributed to the town becoming a potential queen city of the Panhandle, as well as the factors causing it to become a ghost town…There is a wealth of new information, no secondary sources here! Nolan[‘s] … intense digging into virtually every possible archive, public and private, permits him to assimilate and write a fascinating narrative. This work will serve as the final authority if not the last word on Tascosa.”
- Chuck Parsons, East Texas Historical Association Journal.
"Vividly chronicles why this former Oldham County seat was once one of the most notorious Old West cattle towns in Texas ... brimming over with outlaws, rustlers, card sharks, soiled doves and swindlers; indeed, it is often hard to find a redeeming person among the bunch. Nolan clearly relishes telling these stories, and he does so with ease, often employing Old West dialect and salty language in the recounting. Perhaps most important, however, are the book’s authoritative sections on ranching in the Texas Panhandle and the West.Nolan’s discussion of the cattle industry, the growth of corporate ranching, free range, and the fencing of that range is both detailed and informative. While the railroad’s bypassing of Tascosa certainly hastened the town’s eventual demise, it was the fencing of the range that killed it ... Tascosa is a lively, entertaining study that makes an important contribution to our understanding of Texas’s nineteenth-century ranching and Old West history … The book’s impressive footnotes are an extra bonus and should not be overlooked as they are an engaging read unto themselves."
--Glen Sample Ely, Southwestern Historical Quarterly.
“Frederick Nolan, an Englishman who has been writing about the Old West for many years, has produced an outstanding book ... an excellent read .”
– Ross McSwain, The Permian Historical Annual.
FINALIST, “FOREWORD” MAGAZINE BOOK OF THE YEAR, 2008.
THE BILLY THE KID READER
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007).
"What a pleasure to read this well-documented and informative work, made more enjoyable because the author is a fine writer. For more than fifty years, editor and writer Frederick Nolan has committed to accurate documentation of Billy the Kid's life and times. His fastidious research on this subject is unparalleled, making him he present-day authority on New Mexico during the Lincoln County War ... A map of the Kid's West and thirty-six illustrations and photographs add to the reader's understanding and enjoyment."
-- Margaret Atherton Bonney, Western Legal History.
“British writer Frederick Nolan is widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. His new book is an entertaining compendium of some of the good, the bad and the ugly writings about the elusive outlaw who was gunned down in 1881. Mr. Nolan carefully has divided the reading selections between ‘the popularizers’ of Billy the Kid, including the dime-novel writers who fueled Billy the Kid’s enduring legend, and tellers of ‘the truer story, including authors of more reputable memoirs and historical studies.”
– Si Dunn, Dallas Morning News.
“And for good measure no one but Frederick Nolan could provide the best anthology of readings about the New Mexico tourist attraction … This collection covers the time span from prior to the Kid’s death with Don Jenardo’s very first complete narrative of the life of Billy the Kid, which appeared on newsstands within six weeks of his death, to Jack Potter’s account of the Kid’s death and burial. Following this near-contemporary account appears Alfred Adler’s version of how the young victim’s life was transformed into a legend; the work concludes with Paul Andrew Hutton’s account of how the historical and near-mythical Billy became an “industry”… Nolan divides his anthology into two parts: the Legend, followed by Legend into History. Each of the twenty six chapters is introduced with a brief account of the author’s life, setting of the excerpt and its significance. Naturally the size of the book could have been doubled or even tripled with worthy readings, but Frederick Nolan has here culled the most significant and interesting from the millions of words written about America’s most famous desperado … This is the sixth work dealing with the Kid or the Lincoln County War contributed by Frederick Nolan. Each is authoritative and should be part of every library. Even though outlaw and lawman history may be of secondary concern, Nolan writes so well that even a subject of secondary interest would be enjoyable.”
– Chuck Parsons, Wild West History Association Journal.
“Given the never-ending fascination with Billy it is at least comforting that Frederick Nolan can be depended upon to keep the Billy legend from overpowering the Billy truth. In The Billy the Kid Reader, Nolan has assembled selections that depict the Kid from the dime novel hero to the modern day object of scholarship. There is a whole education in the book on how a legend is born, amplified by bogus biographies and in fiction, then patiently re-examined by serious researchers who insist on a true—or at least truer—story than the legend allows … Nolan presents—with fascinating introductory material to each selection—works by participants in the Kid’s brief life who left a written record, plus the writers and scholars who found the Kid’s story irresistible. This book plus Nolan’s masterpiece The Lincoln County War (1992) and Robert Utley’s Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life (1989) are all that is needed on the Kid in a home Western library.”
– Laurie Wood, Western Writers of America Roundup.
"British author Frederick Nolan, the acclaimed authority on Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, adds to his notable output with this appealing collection of essays ... [His] purpose for this volume, he tells us, is to provide 'a selection of the most seminal, the most influential' of the numerous essays and books published about the Kid. This survey 'from the first dime novel  ... to the present day' should help readers comprehend ‘the Kid's life, personality and legend.' A valuable and entertaining book, this volume does all that--and more.
- Richard Etulain, New Mexico Historical Review.
A “remarkable collection of writings about Billy the Kid, edited by the dean of Billyologists …Nolan introduces each selection with a brief but insightful commentary on the author(s) of the piece, its place in Billy studies and its historicity …The selections represent some of the most interesting—if not always the best—writing on Billy the Kid. Serious western historians and aficionados alike will want to add this book to their library.”
–Rick Hendricks, Southern New Mexico Historical Review.
“[V]irtually anything and everything one would ever want to know about “The Kid” is right here in this one book …Nolan has put together the best and most interesting writing on this elusive gunman …these alone make this book a must-have for everyone interested in Billy the Kid.”
- Roy B. Young, Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association Journal.
“Enthusiast and expert Nolan … provides a collection of documents, including the first dime novel published shortly after Bonney’s death, memoirs and recollections from eyewitnesses, passages from leading biographies and recent commentaries. Not only are the texts fascinating, but Nolan provides dozens of period photographs readers can use to compare the hyperbole and the fantasies with the real.”
– Book News.
"Although 'Billy the Kid' is a household name, the most difficult task for historians in researching the Kid has been separating the myth from the fact, as the Kid's legendary status has led to gross exaggeration and fabrication regarding his actual exploits. In response to this problem, author Frederick Nolan attempts to synthesize information available on the Kid into a definitive work that can be used by scholars and novices alike to understand the life of the legendary bandit. Widely regarded as the eminent authority on Billy the Kid, Nolan delivers a biography that is both engaging and informative, appealing to all students of one of the West's most famous outlaws."
-- Utah Historical Quarterly.
"A well rounded version of not only the realities and history behind the figure, but how legends evolved around him from fictional accounts.An excellent addition for any in-depth American history shelf."
- The Midwest Book Review.
"By gathering an impressive assortment of pieces about the Kid, from shortly after his death to recent times, by popularizers as well as amateur and professional historians, Nolan has provided every aficionado of Billy the Kid or of western outlaw history in general with an abundance of material to peruse and ponder …Fellow ‘Kid’ authors have only praise for Nolan’s book.”
– Curt Bench, Bench Press.
DEEP TRAILS IN THE OLD WEST: A FRONTIER MEMOIR by Frank Clifford
Edited by Frederick Nolan
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011)
“A fresh read on the Wild West.”
"Frank Clifford was a cowboy in New Mexico in the 1880s. Under the name of Frank Wightman, he rode with Clay Allison and Charlie Siringo, and in fact, he and Siringo were members of a posse that went after Billy the Kid. Clifford wrote his memoir in the 1930s, but it was put away for 8o years, until his great-grandson turned it over to editor Frederick Nolan. This first-person story not only adds to Billy the Kid lore but disputes accounts written by the Kid's contemporaries who weren't there. "Deep Trails in the Old West" is more than the story of the author's encounter with some of the West's fabled characters, however. Clifford was a working cowboy. He writes about his adventures on the range and in town at saloons and dances. There is plenty of cowboy lore, and even a chapter on cowboy clothing and equipment. This is a real find for history buffs. "
– Sandra Dallas, The Denver Post.
If this was a story in film one could envisage an opening scene with the camera showing the artist working on the face of an eighty-one-year-old man while he prepared to relate his full and varied frontier life story. Slowly the camera would settle on his face and the viewer would experience a fade-out, then a series of flashbacks would reveal a lost world and a fascinating life. Over more sessions the story would continue as the subject's daughter in the background recorded his words in shorthand. The film analogy can be transferred to the text as the editorial style introduces most chapters with short introductions by the painter reflecting upon her subject, before the reader enters into the narrator's world through his own words.
Anyone interested in the West of those times will revel in this most interesting narrative which offers a look at such characters as Billy the Kid from a different perspective, for example, and which combines so naturally a rich store of frontier life and lore, of customs and manners,with a genial and lively flow of entertaining stories and anecdotes. It also has a fresh and genuine authenticity.
Editor Frederick Nolan (author of The West of Billy the Kid; The Wild West; The Lincoln County War) came across this narrative through correspondence with a great-grandson of [the author]. It surely remains one of the very last frontier memoirs left to come to light. Although it may have been intended for publication it was never published. The book which includes contemporary photographs maintains the customary handsome productions from this publisher.
-- Raymond Cox – English Westerners Tally Sheet, Autumn, 2011.