By the age of twenty-one, Billy the Kid was thought to have killed a man for every year he'd been alive. He evaded the law more times than anyone could count and proved that no jail could hold him -- even the prison where he was held, awaiting a sentence to hang.
After many a close shave, Pat Garrett finally catches up to the Kid on December 23, 1880. Then he brings the desperado to trial for the murder of a sheriff two years prior. From his first jailbreak in Silver City to his days riding with the notorious Regulators, Billy has made himself famous for his crimes, and now -- before judge jury, and the entire country -- it is time for him to answer.
Billy, however, has other plans...
An Excerpt from Law of the Land:
"The Hindu here drew a long sigh, as he said: 'The enemy of man is man, my brother.'"
-- Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, 1880
September 26, 1878
Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory
The last thing Ira Leonard remembered with any certainty from the night before was blowing the whore a kiss as he left her crib. He seemed to recall thinking about trying to buck the tiger at Doc Holliday's faro layout, but opting for a bottle of forty-rod at the Bloated Coyote, and staggering back to the one-story house he rented from Old Lady Valdez. He knew he had made it to the bed, and recollected a dream in which he had thrown up on his pillow. When he rolled over, trying to block out the pounding in his head, he realized that had not been a dream.
Muttering an oath, he retreated the other way, and swung his legs over the bed. The pounding continued until he at last understood it wasn't his head -- well, not only his head -- but somebody beating the hell out of his front door. He stood, almost crashing onto the chest of drawers, and cursed a little louder, wondering what kind of fool would come knocking this early on a Sunday morning. Then he looked at the Regulator clock on the wall. One-thirty. And he remembered: Today is Thursday.
"I'm coming!" he shouted, and splashed water from the basin over his face, drying himself with a towel, and combing the vomit from his hair. He had gone to bed with his clothes on, even his boots, but he changed shirts so he would look at least partially presentable, killed the last bit of rotgut he found in the bottle underneath his quilt, threw on a morning coat, and made for the front door.
The couple standing on the porch in front of him didn't quash his hangover, but did startle him so much that Susan Wallace's face turned ashen, as if she thought Leonard was suffering another one of his asthma attacks, while her husband merely put a strong hand on Leonard's shoulder, and said amiably, "We are no apparitions, Judge, just travelers paying a visit to a dear friend on our journey to Santa Fe."
Leonard recovered enough to say: "I'm no judge, Governor, not in the territory."
"And I am no governor, Ira," Lew Wallace said, "until I am qualified and sworn in." A smile appeared between Wallace's thick mustache and beard. "It is bully good to see you."
He considered inviting them inside, thought better of it, and suggested they take a stroll to a cafe on the plaza. Lew Wallace agreed; he wanted to discuss affairs after his wife caught up on old times.
At forty-six, Ira Leonard felt ten years older, mainly because of the whiskey he drank, chasing it with petticoats and cigars. Born in Connecticut, he had been reared in Batavia, New York, and moved to Wisconsin, where he was admitted to the bar shortly before the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion. He had met Wallace during the hostilities, and the two men, although polar opposites, struck up a friendship. Both had practiced law before the war, yet Wallace's interest lay in politics, the gospel, his own writing career, and salvation for his fellow man. Ira Leonard loved the law but had no interest in politics, hated to write, and didn't know if he believed in God, although he figured he would learn soon enough if the Good Book was indeed the gospel; asthma was bound to kill him shortly.
Copyright 2004 by Johnny D. Boggs
Law of the Land
"Great storytelling. ... Boggs manages to capture the entirety of the Kid's life with just the right balance of fact and fiction. The characters seem like people you know, even though they lived and died more than 100 years ago." -- Robert Nott, Pasatiempo
“It is an engrossing story, and is told with Boggs’ meticulous attention to authentic detail and believable characterizations. If his characters, including the Kid, don’t look like, sound like, and behave like Boggs describes them, they should have.”
-- The Shootist