The wild west was full of surprises. Most of them were decidedly unpleasant. A sleeping bag-nested rattlesnake here, a touch of tuberculosis there. Life came fast and hard and pleasant surprises were few and far between. It's that frontier styled expectation that kept my hopes low regarding the Billy the Kid Museum in Canton, TX.
Best case scenario, I thought, was a kitschy roadside diversion. Worst case scenario: a boring building with nothing in it. Well, my friends, the Billy the Kid Museum did not disappoint. And it offered a surprise that did NOT lead to a slow and/or painful death. You can't ask for more than that in your wild west experience.
I had driven past the ominous site a hundred times on various trips to East Texas. It's located in Canton, TX whose claim to fame is "First Monday Trade Days" which may or may not be the world's largest flea market. Suffice it to say, if you are looking for a particular item, it can be haggled for at First Monday.
The exterior of the Museum had always been, at the very least, attention grabbing:
So on this trip my curiosity won the battle it was having with my sense of self preservation and I made the stop.
Inside, amongst the livestock remains, wanted posters and a lengthy dissertation linking LBJ to the Kennedy assassination, I found what can only be described as "the best Billy the Kid Comic Book collection in the world." There was even a laminated piece of paper that said so. And you know if it's laminated they mean business.
I have to admit to only having a marginal knowledge of western comics. I know they were big in the 50's and that they starred both real and fictitious protagonists. It was something of an eye opener when I saw not one, but EVERY wall plastered with Billy the Kid comics.
And not just the Kid, but the Texas Rangers, the original Rawhide Kid, the Cheyenne Kid and even Zorro. If it rode a horse and had a predilection towards shouting "yeehaw" then the odds are that it ended up in comic form at one time or another.
While the main focus of the museums seems to revolve around the legend of an elderly Billy the Kid retiring and living out the rest of his days in a small Texas town (instead of being shot and killed by at a young age as most "traditional" historical accounts claim), other Texas legends get coverage as well. The afore mentioned Kennedy assassination garnered its own room and mini-exhibit. Legendary Texas gangsters Bonnie & Clyde are also included with these eerily lifelike representations:
But for me it was the comic book collection that really set this place apart from other roadside attractions. There's something to be said for for the element of surprise. And there's nothing better than finding a niche comic book collection where you least expect it.