Old West Showdown: Two Authors Wrangle Over the Truth About the Mythic Old West, by Bill Markley and Kellen Cutsforth, TwoDot, Guilford, Conn., and Helena, Mont. 2018, $22.95
Those of you who hate hearing that George Custer messed up at the June 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn will likely love Bill Markley’s take on the subject: “If [Major Marcus] Reno had not been drunk, and if [Captain Frederick] Benteen had obeyed orders, Custer and his men might have survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn.” On the other hand, those of you who insist the former Boy General messed up big time will enjoy Kellen Cutsforth’s assessment: “The facts in this matter are clear: George Armstrong Custer made numerous egregious errors that led to the deaths of nearly 300 men.” Readers get both sides of a controversial story that has been debated ever since news of Custer’s Last Stand hit the newsstands. Neither Custer lovers nor Custer haters are likely to be swayed by what they learn here, but it makes for interesting reading to have the opposing views presented not only well but also side by side.
The “duelists,” both members of Western Writers of America and past contributors to Wild West, use the same approach to debate nine other historic tidbits almost all readers of this magazine will know something about. Like the Little Bighorn battle, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has triggered more differences of opinion than you can shake Doc Holliday’s cane at, and fans of Old West showdowns seem as divided today as the Cowboys and the Earps (plus Doc) were in October 1881. Cutsforth clearly sides with the winners, “In my opinion, any case made against the Earps is nothing more than revisionist history in a vain attempt to make villains out of victims.” Markley makes a case for the Clantons and McLaurys because, among other things, he believes Tom McLaury was unarmed and “the other Cowboys had their hands in the air when Doc Holliday and Morgan Earp fired the first shots.”
The other tales of two stories presented in this volume include the James-Younger Gang raid on the Northfield Bank, Wild Bill Hickok in the showdown at Rock Creek Station, “wild woman” Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody the man, the death of Crazy Horse, whether Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid, the real-life Geronimo, and the Johnson County War between cattle barons and rustlers in Wyoming. Geronimo is a natural for this volume, as the famous Apache warrior has been viewed as either a freedom-loving holy man (Markley’s take) or a terrorist (Cutsforth’s argument). The others also seem logical, except perhaps the debate on whether Garrett killed the Kid. Note to Cutsforth: Yes, Garrett did. Before taking opposing positions in each of the 10 stories, the two authors present “just the facts,” which should help anyone not familiar with the events, but it’s a fact that having so many frontier facts in question makes “taking sides” possible. We can think of many more potential subjects, of course—from the death of Sitting Bull and the hanging of Sheriff Henry Plummer to Custer at the Battle of the Washita and Kit Carson in the Navajo campaign. Old West Showdown, Vol. II, gentlemen?