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Old Guns and Whispering Ghosts: Tales and Twists of the Old West

by Jesse L.“Wolf” Hardin, Shoot Magazine Corporation, Boise, Idaho, 2006, $39.95.

There are some lovely pictures of Old West (1866 to 1916) firearms on these 267 pages, but this is no traditional coffee-table book for gun lovers. The ghosts here are whispering about more than the models and calibers of guns or who killed whom with all that good-looking weaponry. These ghosts, with author Jesse “Wolf” Hardin as the medium, if you will, transport you from the modern world back to the 19th century. It’s a world that the author seems to like better; he lives in a wilderness cabin in southeastern New Mexico—“a place outdoors, so far outdoors that it exists beyond the scope of the modern cultural norm.”

Hardin writes on subjects of personal change and spirituality without leaving the antique guns behind. “An arm is at worst a telltale instrument of avarice, aggression or governmental oppression,” he says in his introduction. “At best an old gun is a legible testament to self love, devotion to family, the process of putting our lives on the line for what we value most…and the willingness to risk death in order to be fully, responsively alive.” Makes one wonder if such words are appreciated by the ghosts of Samuel Colt and Messieurs Smith and Wesson. In any case, Hardin succeeds in making his book stand apart from other volumes on shooting and collecting guns. As he puts it, “I’ve sought to make this effort unique by blending noble sentiment and historical fact, the literary qualities and poetic lyricism of classic outdoor writers and the multiple twists of the modern psychodrama.” His style could turn some people off or leave them confused, but many of his assertions are straight forward. For instance, he asserts that the classic Wild West period didn’t end until Pancho Villa’s 1916 raid on Columbus, N.M., pointing out that most of Villa’s soldiers were full-blooded Indians.

The Wild West lives on, or should, the author contends. Many of the old-fashioned Western values—like a man being as good as his word and not turning on his partners—are still worth having in the modern world. One message stands clear in this unusual but intriguing book: Guns are as neutral as a rock; it is up to humans to choose whether to use them for good or for evil.


Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here