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Wild West Book Review: Tough Towns

5/16/2018 • Wild West Magazine

Tough Towns: True Tales From the Gritty Streets of the Old West

Robert Barr Smith, Twodot (an imprint of Globe Pequot Press), Guilford, Conn., 2007, $12.95.

Robert Barr Smith, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma with a love for the sometimes-lawless Old West days, loves Western towns that fight back. Earlier he wrote books about how the townspeople made life hell for would-be bank robbers in Coffeyville, Kan. (the Dalton Gang), and in Northfield, Minn. (the James-Younger Gang). Smith returns to those famous sites in a couple of chapters but also devotes space to such other tough towns as Delta and Meeker in Colorado, Campo in California, Southwest City in Missouri and Round Rock in Texas. As one might expect, Smith is no fan of the film classic High Noon, in which the citizens of a small Western town allow the marshal (played by Gary Cooper) to face the bad guys alone. “In fact,” writes Smith in his preface, “western men and women were not generally that craven and pathetic, as the stories in this book will tell. In town after town, the ordinary people who lived there were willing to step up and defend their homes, help their local peace officers, and lay their lives on the line against heavily armed bullies.”

Not all of the tough towns that Smith writes about were tough in the 19th century. For instance he has a chapter on how Boley, Okla., showed George Birdwell, supposed chief of staff to Pretty Boy Floyd, in 1932 that it was, as the Daily Oklahoman put it, “the wrong location for a successful bank robbery.” Besides the Daltons, Youngers and Jameses, other early outlaws who make appearances in these tales are Bill Doolin, Sam Bass, Will Carver, Dave Rudabaugh and Henry Starr. Those names are far better known than the names of the citizens, and even lawmen, who dared to stand up to the bandits. But it is to the average, honest Joes—and in one case, the average Clara—that Smith has dedicated this 242-page book.

 

Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here

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