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Alias Frank Cantonby Robert K. DeArment, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Okla., 1996, $29.95hardcover.

At the time of his death in 1927, Frank Canton embodied law and order in the Old West. Or at least that’s how his friends and family, as well as military and government officials, saw him. They had no idea that “Frank Canton” was the made-up name that Josiah W. Horner had assumed at age 30 after walking away from a prison work detail in 1879. The convicted felon turned his life around in dramatic fashion, and for nearly 50 years worked as a courageous, uncompromising peace officer–almost.

Terms such as “merciless, congenital, emotionless killer” and “Jekyll and Hyde of the Plains” followed in the wake of Canton’s incredible career. Western historian Robert K. DeArment has pieced together the legend’s life from newspaper accounts, court records, Canton’s own unpublished memoirs and a variety of oral and written histories.

DeArment first explores Canton’s years as Joe Horner, the son of a wanderlust military surgeon. At 17, Horner took to cowboying in Texas, meeting Samuel Burk Burnett (who would establish the famous 6666 Ranch) and becoming his lifelong friend. By 1874, 25-year-old Horner had traded his branding iron for a six-shooter to become the leader of a lawless gang that robbed several banks. Caught and sent to prison in 1877, he disappeared two years later, as DeArment put it, “not only from the Texas penal system, but from the earth itself.”

Horner had disappeared, but his life as Frank Canton had just begun. In Wyoming, he worked as a range detective and then was elected sheriff of Johnson County in December 1882. His alleged murder of John A.Tisdale in 1891 helped trigger the so-called Johnson County War. In a controversial decision, the case against Canton was eventually dismissed. He moved on.

In Oklahoma Territory in 1894, he took up the badge once again and trailed desperadoes such as the Dalton boys, Bill Doolin and the Dunn brothers. Canton headed to Alaska in 1897 and combined work as a peace officer with a bit of gold prospecting. By the turn of the century, he had tired of the north country and was back in Oklahoma Territory, where he did some bounty hunting. Canton became the state of Oklahoma’s first adjutant general in 1907. DeArment has done his usual bang-up research job, and the intriguing Horner/Canton true Western tale makes for a fascinating read.

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