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Lawmen of the West Unmasked

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Lawmen of the Old West Unmasked:

Heroes, Scoundrels, & The Famous Fighting Pimp

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Forward by Boge Quinn, Introduction by John Taffin

Author Hardin gives us a detailed look at the complex lives of 11 of the most fascinating Sheriffs and Marshals of the historic American West – from the con-artist and pimp Wyatt Earp to the true and often unsung heroes who so bravely wore the star.

Elfego Baca • Wyatt Earp • Harry Morse • Bucky O’Neill • John Joshua Webb • Wild Bill Hickok • Pat Garrett • Burton Mossman • George Scarborough • Bat Masterson • Bear River Tom Smith

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FORWARD

to Lawmen of The Old West Unmasked

by Boge Quinn

 

Jess Hardin is my kind of fellow. He is a knowledgeable historian, an accomplished poet, a skilled writer, an expert marksman, an able outdoorsman, a talented musician, and a gifted artist (the final two distinctions being particularly close to my heart, as I was a professional artist in my younger days, until I discovered the desire within me to make a living wage, and I continue in my feeble efforts at musicianship). Jess helps us to experience what it is like to have such abilities within our grasps. Jess is a man who can, for example, teach us how to hunt; why we hunt; how to use the weapons of the hunt; how to appreciate the techniques of hunting; how to cook what is hunted; and entertain us greatly while we learn from his experiences.

Some might consider Lawmen Unmasked to be revisionist history, or that it indicates a lack of proper respect for those who made their living enforcing (or, in some cases, not enforcing or selectively enforcing) the law, but this would be a mistake on the reader's part. Jess Hardin only seeks to tell the truth within these pages. Truth is all too often not precisely recorded in history books, and certainly not fully and accurately portrayed by Hollywood. I see Jess' work more as an honest and refreshing portrayal of Lawmen as just that: as men, complete with the foibles and imperfections that plague us all. Among any given group of people, one will find the virtuous and the vile; the courageous and the cowardly; the pure and the polluted; the saint and the sinner. Jess Hardin does not seek to destroy the reputations of historical figures whom we have held dear for so long, but he explores the human side of the legendary, and the lesser-known, Lawmen who helped forge the past into the present. He also touches on not just the actions of these great men of history, but also upon their motivations, leaving the reader with much to contemplate: do the actions of a man make him great, or his motivations? A man's actions are what propel history, but his often-private motivations are what propel those actions. This ability to draw the reader's mind into deeper contemplation is one of the hallmarks of a great historical work, and when coupled with Jess' accessible and appealing writing style, creates a work of historical importance.

-Boge Quinn www.gunblast.com

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INTRODUCTION

to Lawmen of The Old West Unmasked

by John Taffin

HollywoodLawmen1959My whole generation grew up being deceived. First there were the old West “B” movies which portrayed unreality to the limit. Everyone did not carry a sixgun in every town in the old West and certainly so-called heroes could not shoot a gun out of someone’s hand and especially not do it without any harm coming to the recipient of a bullet. Hats could not be shot off heads and the number of actual gunfights with two men standing and facing each other on Main Street can be counted on the thumb of one hand. Fast draw and waiting for the other fellow to go for his sixgun first is purely imaginative Hollywood hokum. Hollywood also invented the so-called fast draw holster, in fact Arvo Ojala called his creation the Hollywood Fast Draw Holster. Of course Hollywood didn’t stop with all of this but went on to singing cowboys, heroes dressed to the hilt carrying two ivory-gripped sixguns in fancy carved leather and riding beautiful horses almost as smart as they were.

 

WyattEarpWe could easily forgive Hollywood for all of this simply in the name of entertainment for easily impressed youngsters. However, they didn’t stop there. They often, more often than not, made heroes out of those who didn’t even come close to being as portrayed on the screen. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is a whole lot more interesting. But Hollywood pretty much stayed with fiction. In the movie “Sunset” with James Garner playing an aging Wyatt Earp and consultant to a movie being made with Bruce Willis as Tom Mix who is portraying Wyatt Earp for the film. When Willis/Mix/Earp asks Garner/Earp whether that’s the way it really happened the reply is “Give or take a lie or two.” Well there were a whole lot more lies in Hollywood movies than one or two. Movies about Wyatt Earp are classic examples and then when the TV series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” appeared on TV it definitely should have had a disclaimer saying “any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

WildBillHickockWyatt Earp was portrayed as the epitome of virtue and honesty something he never ever came close to as we see in Jesse Hardin’s book. Jesse strips away the lies and gives us a true picture of eleven “Lawmen of The Old West” and as he adds to the title, “Unmasked”. Most of them do not come out looking anything like they have been portrayed. All of them were human beings with failings, none were perfect, except some were perfectly bad. Here we see the real Wyatt Earp, along with others who were portrayed on TV as I was growing up such as Elfego Baca, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok. None of which in real life were as portrayed on TV. Entertaining? Yes. Factual? Not even close. Add in such other interesting characters as Bucky O’Neill, who served as a Rough Rider, Pat Garrett who betrayed a friend, and other tough lawmen such as Harry Morse, John Joshua Webb, Burt Mossman, Tom Smith, and also George Scarborough who is known as the last of the old-time gunmen, and it makes for a most interesting read.

I quote from chapter 10: “There are many who feel the need to tell only a partial story, to whitewash facts or sanitize the image of historical characters in order to be able to celebrate their lives… It bears repeating, that the Old West – and life itself – was never so clear-cut as some would have it. It was often only a disproportionately heavy application of power and the threat or actuality of violence that pulled in the reins on rampant criminal depredations, and the men who wielded that power were almost without exception a complex mix of good and bad, commendable and lamentable. Their every violent act was set in a complicated, multi-factional and political context that we can only begin to imagine from our seats of comfort over 100 years after the fact. And each violent act would have a nearly equal number of folks vociferously applauding it as condemning it. Because a shooting or hanging was done under the auspices of the law doesn’t mean it was – or is – always just. Not by any means! But neither is a deadly ambush, without warning, in all cases an inappropriate of tactic!”

Simply said this is a good read. Author Jesse has a writing style which pulls the reader into the story and not only entertains but also educates. Read the truth about these eleven Old West Lawmen and enjoy real history.

-John Taffin (www.sixguns.com) is the much loved author of Big Bore Sixguns, Gun Digest Book of The .44, and many more.

 

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PREFACE

to Lawmen of The Old West Unmasked

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Where I live is in the least populated county in the West, smack dab in the middle of the Gila wilderness of Southwest New Mexico. Among the many staunch individualists and rowdy opportunists who have either passed through these parts or called it their home, include the likes of the brilliant Apache war chief Geronimo and the classy yet deadly Billy The Kid. Butch Cassidy hung his Stetson at the WS Ranch down by the nearby village of Glenwood while laying low after his Colorado and Wyoming robberies. The Earp brothers rested up in the southern Gila’s Silver City whenever they were on the run, and when the fiery eyed Elfego Baca held off a passel of murderous cowpokes he did so only a few miles from here. Within a short drive of my elk refuge cabin is the site of innumerable historic confrontations and shootouts over issues sometimes as insignificant as the draw of the cards or a drunk’s unwise remark, other times in the course of unconscionable robberies, ambushes, and arrests. In some cases, all that was at stake was a cowboy’s fragile manly pride, other times it was a person’s liberty, a family’s safety, or an entire way of life that was on the line.

JohnWebbchainedLasVegasNMjailMost often, when there is an argument or a violent contest, there will be two sides who feel sure that they are right. In civilized times and places, it is judges – partial or impartial – who are called upon to objectively decide the facts of the situation, what injustices may have been committed, and what resolution might be fair. In the West of old, it was more often to one’s neighbors, village elders and heirloom firearms that a person would turn for clarity and redress. Even today, it takes an urban policemen so long to get to the site of an altercation, that he winds up doing a postmortem investigation rather than interceding in or preventing any conflicts or crimes, so you can imagine why folks often chose to take the law into their own hands in the sparsely populated parts of the historic West. And then as now, the region’s lawmen could easily be biased or prejudiced, have a vested interest in own part or outcome or the other, fabricate and plant evidence in the interest of a hard to get conviction, or even be the ones actually perpetrating the robberies and shakedowns.

Lawmen, even the most amazing and courageous of them, tended to embody a mix of compassion and prejudice, generosity and avarice. None are the complete good guy heroes that we once read comic books about or idolized on the silver (or computer!) screen. Nor were even the worst of them likely to be totally bad as some revisionists insist. Like all human beings, they sometimes did things they shouldn’t have, while other times gambling with their safety in order to save a stranger’s life. It’s only once we cease the lionizing and demonizing – the cynical sniping and blind worshipping – that we can look again at these fascinating personas from the 19th and 20th Centuries and see them for the incredibly complex individuals they were, people with common human traits and troubles doing extraordinary and occasionally incredible things with an undeniable intensity of character.

Whether known as sheriff, constable, marshall, deputy, ranger, policeman or peace officer, those who wore a badge found themselves caught between the demands of a city council or state government and the practical realities of hard-bitten frontier towns where freedom and opportunism were treasured and defended. Many received no pay other than a percentage of any money that those they arrested might be fined, contributing to the most honest officers having to moonlight at a second job, and others to turn to protection rackets or other crimes. Those who received salaries, usually made less than the not only the saloon-keepers but even the saloon sweepers, a monthly wage no better than that of the cowpunchers they rode herd on come Friday and Saturday nights. Their work could best be described as weeks of boring tasks, punctuated by moments of high drama and sometimes deadly confrontation. For these reasons and more, very few of even the most famous lawmen actually spent that many years wearing the star. While some like famed Jeff (Jefferson Davis) Milton could boast of lifelong lawman careers, they were the exceptions. Wild Bill Hickock, for example, served only a few stints between less officious gunslinging, while Wyatt Earp worked only as a policeman in a couple of Kansas towns and for less than 3 years, other than being temporarily deputized by his brother Virgil in time for the O.K. Corral gunfight.

GeorgeScarboroughThe tales of most of the many thousands of hard working Western lawmen will never be recounted, and were never written down. For the following eleven stories, I’ve focused on both the well known and the little known, demythologizing some of the most famous and singing the praises of a few whose stories for various reasons, will never make it into the movies. These stories are all the more compelling, however, because they are both true and unvarnished.

The chapter on my homeboy Sheriff Elfego Baca also appears in a longer, gun-focused version in my book Old Guns & Whispering Tales: Tales & Twists of The Old West. Most of the others first appeared in the Canadian Firearms Journal, and it is largely thanks to the firing of their history loving editor that I switched my efforts from a column there to creating this book for you. I hope that it serves to not only inform you about times and deeds past, but also to inspire you in the now – kickstarting your imagination and putting your ideas to the test, getting you up and off of your favorite reading chairs and outside where you can act out your own valued missions and exciting adventures. And affirming your decision to keep an old shotgun in the closet or under the bed. The law can’t help you, after all. They hardly ever could.

Opposing injustice and doing good is the job of every citizen even in a land with a zillion rules and laws, whether we work in law enforcement or take pride in being social outlaws. And it is not the timid, the self-doubting and retiring whose experiences and efforts will be remembered. It is the living of interesting, passion filled, highly driven lives that makes the tales of these eleven lawmen so memorable, and is that which can make our own lived stories worth retelling.

 

BuckyONeill

 

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