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Wild West Book Review: Written in Blood

By Gregory Lalire
10/11/2017 • Wild West Magazine

Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen (Volume 1, 1861–1909)

 by Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2010, $16.95

 Lawmen in the Wild West had it tough. This book, co-written by longtime police officer Kevin Foster and Fort Worth historian Richard Selcer, tells the stories of the 13 Fort Worth and Tarrant County lawmen who died in the line of duty during the frontier period. Not that things improved after 1909; in fact they got worse. In the 100 or so years after that, 71 officers have died either on the job or as a direct result of illness or injury suffered on the job (future volumes will present their stories). But Fort Worth’s Old West days can hardly be called the good old days. It may not have been open season on badge wearers, but each time an officer walked into a saloon full of drunken cowboys, he knew he was putting his life on the line.

The first to die was Tarrant County Sheriff John B. York, who fell along with his quarry Archibald Fowler in the summer of 1861 (see Selcer’s article “Double Killing in Fort Worth” in the June 2010 issue of Wild West). “It was no affair of honor, and it is even arguable whether York’s death was in the line of duty under the circumstances,” the authors write. Jim “Longhair” Courtright, on the other hand, didn’t make it into this volume, even though he was a deputy sheriff when killed in 1887 (“We dropped him because he died as the result of a personal feud not official business”). The “cowboy cops” in this volume had their faults, but, as the authors say, “It took a special kind of man to pin on a badge and go nose-to-nose with hard cases, without any backup and for wages that were less than a drover on the Western Trail made.”

 

Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.  

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