The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984

Book Reviews

opponent of corrupt social enemies such as evil bankers; and (3) 1955-
1973-the Kid as a type of the authentic self in a dark, ironic narra-
tive, in which society is unable to agree upon a set of common values
and in which violence no longer serves a regenerative purpose.
One of Tatum's most provocative arguments is directed against
"objective" historians who, like Joe Friday, want just the facts, m'am.
But with Billy the Kid, the facts invariably lead to unanswered ques-
tions that demand imaginative invention. Thus the artist may have a
better chance than the historian at providing plausible answers to
Billy's haunting "Quien es?"
The artist heroes of Tatum's books are novelists like Michael
Ondaatje and poets like Jack Spicer. The words of Spicer fit everyone
who has tried to grapple with the Kid; Spicer speaks of the writer's
need to "fake out a frontier" (p. 146). Because Tatum regards The
Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Ondaatje's experimental novel) as
valid as Walter Noble Burns's vastly influential The Saga of Billy the
Kid, the result is an invigorating literary and historical analysis of the
exchange between popular culture and history. True, not all texts are
rich; thus Tatum correctly gives short shrift to oddball stuff like the
"B" movie Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966). While Tatum has
sought to be exhaustive in his coverage of popular texts and has done
a thorough job, two items not mentioned are Gas-S-S-S (1969), a
Roger Corman movie in which the Kid appears in the company of
Edgar A. Poe and assorted other figures in a youth-oriented satire;
and Bobbie Joe and the Outlaw (1976), a dud of a film in which the
hero fantasizes he is the Kid.
Ondaatje's Kid says, "I'll be with the world till she dies," and
Tatum's book shows why. Historians will probably find Inventing
Billy the Kid vexing at times, but they will be hard-pressed to over-
turn its thesis.
University of Texas at Austin DON GRAHAM
The Ruling Race. By James Oakes. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1982. Pp. xix+3o7. Introduction, appendix, notes, bibliography,
index. $16.95.)
During the early twentieth century, historians led by U. B. Phillips
and others sympathetic to the South presented slavery as basically
humane and benevolent. Revisionists led by Kenneth M. Stampp in


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed November 25, 2015.