Hardie investigates a stagecoach holdup where white men posing as Indians kill the driver and guard and left a pretty passenger for dead. Billy the Kid rescues the stranded lady who convinces Hardie Billy didn't rob the stage.
A range war has eastern New Mexico in turmoil which includes crooked lawmen, merchants and ranchers. A Wells Fargo stagecoach headed for Lincoln, New Mexico is held up by what appears to be a group of Indians. They kill the guard followed by the driver after they stop the stagecoach. A woman gets out of the stage and is promptly shot. They shoot open the strongbox and leave with the gold in it. The woman was not killed but grazed across her forehead knocking her out. She regains consciousness finding herself stranded when a lone rider approaches and stops. The woman, Nell Forrester, tells the man Indians attacked them and she is headed to Lincoln to see her brother John who is the local district attorney. He tells her he is William Bonnie/Billy the Kid but she does not recognize the names. Reluctantly he takes her to her brother who wants him for several murders. Jim Hardie is sent to investigate the holdup. Billy confirms what Hardie found during his investigation but he along with ... Written by
"Billy the Kid" is an excellent Season Two episode of "Tales of Wells Fargo" and one of the better filmed treatments of the notorious outlaw I've seen. I've read a lot about Billy the Kid and seen many movies about him, so I wasn't surprised that the episode, written by famed western writer Frank Gruber, presents a somewhat favorable portrait of Mr. Bonney, who was driven to crimes against the state by the murders of his mentor, rancher John Tunstall, and Tunstall's associate Alexander McSween, during the Lincoln County War in New Mexico. Robert Vaughn plays Billy as a fair-minded but defensive young man, bitter over the tactics of Tunstall's opponents, Murphy and Dolan, but not given to reckless violence and willing to listen to an offer of safe passage tendered by Wells Fargo agent Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson) on behalf of the Territorial Governor. Hardie's interactions with Billy, in which the two speak honestly with each other, leave positive impressions on both of them. The episode ends when Hardie has completed his business in New Mexico, but before Billy has agreed to the Governor's terms.
What's most significant here is the presence in the story of Governor Lew Wallace, a Civil War general and author of "Ben-Hur," which is referenced here as a work in progress. Hardie's narration cites the book and mentions Wallace's Civil War record and the fact that he was removed from his command by General Ulysses S. Grant after the Battle of Shiloh. When Billy first meets Governor Wallace, he tells him he's read his novel about Mexico, "The Fair God," and the governor replies by telling him he's working on "a story of the Christ," to be called "Ben-Hur." (This was two years before the 1959 Best Picture Oscar winner of that title was released.) Wallace, played by veteran character actor Addison Richards, has three major scenes in this episode and gets more screen time than the character got in any of the Billy the Kid movies I've seen, including Sam Peckinpah's PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (1973), where he's played by Jason Robards, and Geoff Murphy's YOUNG GUNS II (1990), in which Scott Wilson plays him. Granted, Wallace appears as a character in many other TV westerns that I have yet to see, so there may be other portrayals that deserve note. Still, anyone interested in these historical figures and the events of that period would do well to consult this episode, which I watched when it aired on the Encore Western Channel on January 16, 2017.
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