Few people are as immersed in the field of outlaw and lawman history as Roy B. Young, a former schoolteacher who serves as editor of the Wild West History Association Journal yet still finds time to write his own Western history books. Young is a former president of the Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association (WOLA) and helped facilitate its 2008 merger with the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History (NOLA) to form the Wild West History Association. The association’s bimonthly Journal includes in-depth articles on Wild West characters and events, along with book reviews, a members’ questions forum, a message from the president (currently Pam Potter) and a word from Young’s editor’s desk. Young, whose books include Judge William H. Stilwell: Bench and Bar in Arizona Territory (2011) and Cochise County Cowboy War: A Cast of Characters (1999), recently spoke with Wild West.
‘I came into
this field from
a deep background
of family lore’
What is the earliest story you recall that drew you to outlaw-lawman history?
Actually, there are two—one on my mother’s side of the family, and the other on my dad’s side. My mother’s maiden name was Stillwell, and when I was about 12, I learned that Wyatt Earp had killed a distant relative by the name of Frank Stilwell. That set me on the Earp trail, and I read all the usual books about Wyatt and Tombstone available in the late 1950s and 1960s. Later, after marriage and children, I taught history in the public schools and allowed the Stilwell matter to fade into the background. When the movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp became hits in the 1990s, my interest in Frank Stilwell was revived—partly because the curiosities of my three sons were aroused. I joined WOLA in the mid-’90s and since then have been involved in Wild West history.
And the other story?
On my dad’s side of the family I can remember from childhood several books, cherished by my grandmother, that I learned were written by her mother’s brother, A.J. Sowell. They were Rangers and Pioneers of Texas  and Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas . I read them with great interest, for many of my ancestors were among the earliest Anglo settlers in Texas, and a good number of them were Texas Rangers, including the Sowells, Tumlinsons, Nicholses and several others. Additionally, my grandfather Young was a cousin to John Duncan Young, about whom J. Frank Dobie published his first book, A Vaquero of the Brush Country . So, you see I came into this field from a deep background of family lore.
What aspects of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral interest you?
While the gunfight is in itself intriguing, I am not so much interested in the second-by-second accounting of that brief encounter as I am in its causes and effects. The whole story of the Earps and the Cowboys—even many events that went before the arrival of the Earps in Arizona—is fascinating to me. And, obviously, Wyatt’s vendetta ride, in which he and Doc Holliday killed Frank Stilwell and others, is captivating, and new information continually enhances our understanding of these events.
Tell us about your Stillwell/Stilwell ties.
In my teens I became the genealogist of my own Stillwell family, which led me to trace a direct lineage to Nicholas Stillwell, my immigrant ancestor. That Englishman is also the direct ancestor of Frank and Jack Stilwell, as well as many other well-known Stil(l)wells including Harold Stillwell, the first sheriff in the present boundaries of Arkansas, and General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell of World War II fame.
Why write first about Judge Stilwell?
I believed he was one of the neglected characters of early Arizona history, especially Tombstone and Cochise County. He, too, was a direct descendant of old Nicholas Stillwell. I am pleased the book has received such high marks, not only among those interested in outlaws and lawmen, but also those interested in the early judicial history of Arizona.
Tell us about Jack Stilwell.
Even more than the infamous Frank Stilwell, I have a deep and abiding interest in his good-guy brother, Simpson Everett “Jack” Stilwell, aka “Comanche Jack.” While Jack is more well-known for his role in Forsyth’s scouts and the Battle of Beecher Island, he led a fascinating life on the Great Plains in the company of some of the most interesting men of that frontier age, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Billy Dixon, Generals Philip Sheridan and Ranald Mackenzie and so many more. He served many years as a frontier scout, deputy U.S. marshal and U.S. commissioner. I have been working on his long-overdue biography for a good many years, and I believe that when his life’s story is finally in print, it will show him to be one of the truly fascinating characters in the Old West.
How about the work you’re doing on Frank Stilwell?
After writing and publishing seven genealogies and local histories, my first intention in the field of Wild West history back in the ’90s was to write the story of Frank Stilwell. However, I have been sidetracked continually with other projects. I’ve accomplished all the major research on Frank, and many of the chapters are written of what will be titled Helldorado Revisited: Frank Stilwell and the Cochise County Cowboys.
While most folks interested in the Earps and Tombstone know the basics of Frank’s alleged murder of Morgan Earp, Wyatt and Doc’s killing of Frank and the aftermath, a considerable portion of Frank’s life story has never been told—much of it fascinating. I alluded to some of it in my second Wild West–themed book, Pete Spence: Audacious Artist in Crime. I’m working simultaneously on the biographies of Frank and Jack. Two university presses have expressed interest in publishing the stories of the two brothers, so even if the books were completed today, it likely would be a couple of years before they would hit the shelves.
What led you to write Cochise County Cowboy War?
The book came about as I was doing research on Frank Stilwell. There were so many fascinating characters in southeastern Arizona during the Earp era (1879–82) that I decided to write an "encyclopedia" that covered not only the famous and infamous, but the businessmen, the attorneys and judges, the saloonmen and the bystanders whose names kept cropping up in the many stories about Cochise County. Though it sorely needs revision, after some 13 years in publication it is still a popular resource for historians and buffs alike.
What trends do you see in the research field of outlaw-lawman history?
The most important development in this field is the dedicated search for truth by our current field of historians and authors. No longer are legend and lore accepted at face value. Documentation is paramount in publication, whether in the WWHA Journal or the many books now being published on Wild West topics. The days of pulp magazines and articles by fakers like Gladwell Richardson (aka Maurice Kildare) are mostly a thing of the past.
What recent research merits admiration?
I am especially glad to see so much research and writing being done on previously underreported events in the Wild West and the “peripheral” characters of the more prominent events, like my books on James Earp and Michael O’Rourke (Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce). While we will always be interested in the major players like Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp, some of the most fascinating characters of the age, like Jack Stilwell, Bob Paul, numerous Texas Rangers and Wyatt’s vendetta riders are just now coming into prominence. Great books and well-documented articles by careful researchers like Chuck Parsons, Peter Brand, John Boessenecker and others keep opening new doors to the Wild West as we are introduced to the lesser-known people of the era.
What subjects/individuals would you like to highlight in the WWHA Journal?
I am intrigued by Teddy Roosevelt and his years in the West, including his experiences as a lawman. I like new stories about the later lives of the Wild West lawmen and outlaws (at least those who survived) and the things they accomplished after the years of their fame. Additionally, there is a need for more stories about frontier scouts and about the women of the Wild West.
How has formation of WWHA impacted the outlaw-lawmen writing community?
The best thing that could have happened in the field of Wild West history was the coming together of WOLA and NOLA in 2008. The sad division of the early 1990s, led by well-meaning but selfish personalities, significantly hindered the progress and growth of both groups. The former organizations, struggling at 300-plus members (WOLA) and 400-plus members (NOLA), in WWHA now number close to 700 in 46 states and many foreign counties. With unification we have an enhanced publication, WWHA Journal, and large and very successful annual meetings, Roundups, which have seen attendance upward of 300. We now have greater prospects for networking, the sharing of ideas and research, annual reunions and face-to-face opportunities for meeting our fellows and enriching friendships.
Why should Western writers consider joining WWHA?
Everyone interested in the Wild West should be part of WWHA, at the very least a subscriber to the Journal. We are not an organization only for historians and authors. In fact, the bulk of our membership is simply “history buffs” and those who appreciate truth more than legend. We annually publish six bimonthly journals of some 76–80 pages, chock-full of fascinating stories. We are the only scholarly journal totally dedicated to fully documented research on the Wild West. At the same time our pages are open to new writers, and we will help novices in the presentation of their research.