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Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents

 by Larry Wood, Pelican Publishing, Gretna, La., 2010, $15.95 paperback.

 After the Civil War, one didn’t have to go too far west to be part of the wild frontier. The Ozarks region was loaded with lawless types, and southwestern Missouri continued to have more than its share of lawbreakers through the 19th century and into the gangster era. This action-packed 237-page history has plenty of regional appeal but packs enough punch to attract a national audience drawn to big names and daring deeds, illegal or otherwise.

The first chapter features one of the Wild West’s classic gunfights—Wild Bill Hickok vs. Davis Tutt on the public square in Springfield, Mo, in 1865. Chapter 24 jumps to the spring of 1933 as Bonnie and Clyde shoot it out with police in Joplin. In between are vivid tales involving a few household names, such as the Dalton brothers, the Younger brothers and Bill Doolin, but mostly lesser-known but no less intriguing outlaws such as Cora Hubbard, Hobbs Kerry, Emma Molloy, Arkansas Tom and the Blalock-Fry Gang.

Wild West readers will recognize quite a few of the characters here, as Wood is a frequent contributor to the magazine. In fact, several chapters (or versions thereof) in the book first appeared in Wild West, including “The Younger Brothers’ Roscoe Gun Battle,” which Wood co-authored with William Preston Magnum II. Another is “Hobbs Kerry and the Otterville Train Robbery.” Kerry was a James-Younger Gang member who hardly distinguished himself by being quickly captured and then talking too much. Often viewed by other authors as an inexperienced recruit, Kerry, as portrayed by Woods, was clearly more reckless than naive. “The Dalton Gang’s Waterloo at Coffeyville” receives fine treatment in Chapter 15. But when it comes to cold-blooded killing, forget the Daltons, Jameses and Youngers and think the Benders, who operated a macabre family business in southeast Kansas and are the subject of Chapter 6. There’s more, including Henry Starr, George Shepherd, Ma Parker, the Regulators and the Bald Knobbers. Even if you wouldn’t want to live in the Ozarks, it’s a great place for fans of bad men and bad women to pay a visit.


Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here