Friday, March 28, 2008


I'm starting this blog to document my findings as I research the background and history of the song "The Ballad of Bill Thaxton". Why am I doing this? Duh! MY name is Bill Thaxton and I am trying to figure out why Bobby Sykes wrote a song with my name in it.

I first learned of this song the first time I Googled my name about 10 years ago. I finally found an MP3 of the song and got even more curious since the song was, musically, an obvious takeoff on Marty Robbins hit, "El Paso" and the name Bill Thaxton really doesn't have the lyrical ring of Billy the Kid or Johnny Ringo.

Unfortunately, both Marty Robbins and Bobby Sykes are gone now so I had no way to directly ask about the roots of the song. I am still investigating and writing this blog is a way to find out if anyone else out there is curious or knows more than I have been able to find.

One of my first thoughts was that, maybe, the song is based on some real life person. I knew from some geneology research I had done that William Thaxton is a fairly common name in our family tree.

The song begins:

Bill Thaxton was an ex-ranger
One of the bravest by far
It's said that old Bill was the fastest man ever
To pin on a ranger's star
Stories about him were legends
Bill was the best of the bold
Bad men all feared him way back in his day
But he was now growing old

The song is part of a series of recordings Marty Robbins did called The Gunfighter Ballads. The era of the gunfighters, at least as far as popular myth and history is concerned, was in the late part of the 1800's. For instance, Billy the Kid was born in 1859 and died at the age of 21 in 1881. If we assume that the Ballad is set in this period, "Old Bill" would have been born sometime in the 1820's-1830's.

I have traced my geneology through well back into the 1700's and there are many William Thaxton's. One in particular was the brother of my great-great-grandfather, Robert Carroll Thaxton. He was born 15 SEP 1827 and died 6 SEP 1884. Both Robert Carroll and his father, Thomas Thaxton died in Williamson County, Texas which is just north of Austin and includes Round Rock and Georgetown. Other birth and death records indicate that the family lived in this area for some time and eventually moved farther west into San Saba County which at that time would have been frontier territory.

Here is where the history gets interesting. In a listing of Texas Ranger Company and Unit Commanders is this listing:
Capt. William Thaxton (1861; 1862 - San Saba County, 31st Brigade, TST)

So, it can be shown that there was an ex-Ranger named Bill Thaxton who lived in the western frontier region of Texas during the era of the Gunfighter. Wherever the rest of the story depicted in the Ballad came from, I have no clue. There are several references to William Thaxton in the San Saba County area but no mention of his association with the Rangers or as a gunfighter.

I also recently ran across a link to a gunfight re-enactment script for
"Kit Dalton - Bank Robbery Re-enactment"
This re-enactment features Johnny Ringo facing down a younger Bill Thaxton as the town sherriff.

Now I open the subject to the rest of the blogosphere in hopes that someone can add to the information I have found.