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Lynch Ropes & Long Shots: The Story of an Old West Train Robbery

by Bob Alexander, High-Lonesome Books, Silver City, N.M., 2006, $25.

 Readers are always in for a gritty treat when former lawman Bob Alexander tackles a frontier subject, because the prolific author does his research and tells his stories well. And this particular story is one for the books…and for the movies. The holdup of a Southern Pacific train in southwestern New Mexico Territory on November 24, 1883, has all the ingredients—Hollywood, are you listening?—of an old-fashioned Western.

For openers there is the train robbery itself, five miles east of Gage, in which four outlaws derail a train, rob the express car and kill the engineer. That is followed by posse chases, bounty hunters doing their thing with varying degrees of competence and detectives carrying out some high-quality work. The outlaws get caught, but that’s not the end of the story. Still to come are a jailbreak, another pursuit, a thrilling gun battle, a lynching, legal shenanigans and a well-aimed long-range rifle shot. You could also include all the drama of the much more publicized Bisbee Massacre, which occurred in neighboring Arizona Territory that December (see story in the June 2006 Wild West), because for a time, authorities believed the perpetrators of both crimes were the same men. Whew! That might even be too much for an action-oriented Hollywood director to pack into one Western. No matter. The saga of the Gage train holdup and its aftermath is engaging enough.

Alexander divides the 186- page book into eight chapters, with such catchy titles as “My God, there’s a hole in the track” (Chapter 1), “Do nothing, let me go to hell!” (Chapter 4) and “Them old detectives, I think are the whole curse” (Chapter 7). Each chapter has endnotes that are thorough and helpful, and several interesting illustrations accompany the text. In the introduction, historian John D. Tanner Jr. remarks that the Gage train robbers were “remarkably ornery characters” and that the saga of the robbery and its aftermath “is a darned good yarn that begs telling.” It’s all agreed then. Before Hollywood revisits Tombstone, it should make a stop in Gage.


Originally published in the December 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here