Book Review: Lawmen of the Old West: The Good Guys (Peter Aleshire) : WW

8/12/2001 • Wild West Reviews, Wyatt Earp

Lawmen of the Old West: The Good Guys, by Del Cain, Republic of Texas Press, an imprint of Wordware Publishing, Plano, Texas, 2000, $16.95 paperback.

Author Del Cain makes a point of looking beyond such well-known lawmen as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Pat Garrett, who he suggests “were not a lot better than the men they were set to control.” And there’s no mention at all of Wild Bill Hickok, whose six-gun skills are legendary. That’s OK, I suppose, since those fellows are heard from often enough whenever the wild and woolly West comes up. Still, readers might wonder if the 14 lawmen Cain includes here are all better men than those more famous excluded guys.

“The men depicted here were not perfect, either,” Cain admits in his preface, though they all do come across as mighty heroic in these short profiles. “We want–we need–heroes,” he adds. “It is not hard to find them in the ranks of the lawmen of the Old West if we look beyond the flash and myth left by the writers of the dime novels.” Among the author’s unsung heroes are Bass Reeves, a black U.S. deputy marshal; “Bear River” Tom Smith, town marshal in Abilene, Kan., before Hickok took on that assignment; and Willie Kennard, who convinced the councilmen in Yankee Hill, Colorado Territory, that a black man could be an effective town marshal. Although all three have already been profiled in Wild West Magazine and other publications, it is true they have been generally overshadowed through the years.

The diverse group featured here also includes Grant Johnson, Sam Sixkiller, Elfego Baca, Dave Cook, Bud Ledbetter, Jeff Milton, Jim Roberts, John Slaughter and Heck Thomas. Lawmen of the Old West is not big on dates or documentation and is clearly geared toward the general reader rather than the hard-core gunfighter/lawmen aficionado.

Louis Hart