Monday, January 12, 2015

The Wild Wild West

Having recently read Mark Twain's 'Roughing It', my appetite was sharp for more history to verify what I learned from Twain. I found this book 'The Story of the Outlaw - Study of the Western Desperado' by Emerson Hough, written in 1907, and thought it would fit the bill.
Writing about the mid 1800's in the early 1900's gives the author the advantage of interviewing eye witnesses and looking up actual characters that he is writing about. I found the accounts of 'bad men' of the old west most fascinating.
Hough tries to analyse what constitutes a bad man and a desperado and examines what makes some brave, some cowardly, some notorious, and some to acquire legend status during a very short life.
There are numerous stories of train robberies, bank robberies, cattle thieving, gun fights, outright murder and mayhem, and plenty of hangings.
The west was truly wild at that time as the civilised easterners saw the west as a barren wasteland. They did nothing to establish any law and order so there was none. It was truly, in every sense of the word, the law of the gun. No doubt this history of much of the west is the root of the gun culture in the USA today.
When justice did come, it was in the form of vigilante groups and lynch mobs because even the Sheriffs and Marshals were mostly self appointed or hand picked by the criminal elements.
The detailed stories of Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, The James gang and the Younger Brothers is fascinating. Learning where the expression "Dying with his boots on" came from, is interesting. Stories of just how dangerous the times were in the cities where Mark Twain was prospecting make one wonder how he came away unscathed, although he was robbed at gunpoint one more than one occasion.  
When, in the future, I travel to these locations, I will have a greater understanding of how the country came to be and how the soil was soaked in human blood so often. Knowing the history of a place always makes it all the more fascinating to visit.
This book is a great history lesson and no doubt was the ground work for every western novel and western movie to be made since. What you see in those movies is hardly exaggerated.
3 1/2 stars  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your reviews of "Roughing It" & "A Study of the Desperados". I'm fondly reminded of "The Lone Ranger", Matt Dillon, Gene Autry, etc. For the most part my wild west heroes were entirely fictional. According to your account though, they were certainly the type of men who were desperately needed at that time. Art