With Badges & Bullets: Lawmen & Outlaws in the Old West, edited by Richard W. Etulain & Glenda Riley, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colo., 1999, $17.95 paperback.
If you like to read about the big and often deadly personalities in the Wild West, this second volume in the “Notable Westerners” series is a must for you. We’re talking Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett, Tom Horn, Doc Holliday, Joaquín Murrieta, Billy the Kid, Belle Starr, Jesse James and Pearl Hart, presented in that order. But even if you think you have had your fill of Wyatt, Wild Bill, Billy, Jesse and all, you will probably still get a bang out of these fresh, well-written profiles of the Tempestuous Ten.
With Badges & Bullets, the follow-up in the series to By Grit & Grace, focuses on a point familiar to any regular reader of Wild West Magazine: Westerners are both good and bad, and the line separating their legal and illegal activities is never as well-defined as, say, the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad. To varying degrees, Earp, Hickok, Garrett and Horn were law enforcers who sometimes broke laws. Wyatt Earp, for instance, once was arrested for stealing a horse in Indian Territory. Much later, after brother Morgan’s assassination in Tombstone, Wyatt stopped working within the limits of the law to obtain justice. “He never sought absolution for his actions,” writes Gary Roberts. “He did what he thought was right, and, judged by the standards of justice at the time, he was right more often than not.”
Belle Starr and Pearl Hart seem a bit out of place in this crowd, but in their lives, as well as the lives of the eight men featured in this 223-page book, there are contradictions galore, a little law here and there, and loads of fascinating disorder.