Leon C. Metz, by Deen Underwood, Sun Dance Press, El Paso, Texas, 1996, $34.95.
An individual’s achievements often come to light upon their death, leaving friends and acquaintances asking themselves: “Why didn’t I know that about him or her?” No need to ask that question about noted Southwestern historian Leon C. Metz, thanks to El Paso author Deen Underwood’s coffee-table pictorial and descriptive account of this noted raconteur, lecturer, author, adventurer, authority on gunfighters, and regional legend. Underwood leaves few stones unturned in describing Metz’s life from his natal day in 1930 in Parkersburg, W. Va., to the completion of his 13th book, John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas, in 1996.
Metz nurtured his fascination with the West while assigned to an Air Force base in El Paso, but his interest in gunfighters goes back to when he read Walter Noble Burns’ The Saga of Billy the Kid at 14. “[It] spawned my interest in gunfighters,” he said. “I would have gagged if someone suggested that I would later write a book about Pat Garrett, the man who killed Billy the Kid.” But Metz’s third book was the definitive biography of Garrett. Legendary historian C.L. “Doc” Sonnichsen was Metz’s mentor. Sonnichsen, who took Metz under his wing, edited Metz’s first book, John Selman: Texas Gunfighter, advised him on writing and research, and even paved the way for him to become archivist at the University of Texas at El Paso. Their fortuitous meeting and other shared experiences are detailed in Underwood’s book. She provides insight into the development of Metz’s character, his interest in history, his ability to support himself, and his progressive growth as an authority on Southwest outlaws, gunfighters and regional history. If the book has a liability, it is the extensive family history that readers must endure before arriving at the crux of Metz’s life.
Writers at all levels of development can gain inspiration from Metz and his determination to succeed at his craft. Underwood deserves credit for recognizing his influence as a Western historian and, more important, providing the vehicle for others to share in his contributions.
Stan “Tex” Banash