A leather-bound book sat on the shelf in the basement of my grandparent’s home in Darien, Illinois, just waiting for a kid crazy about the Wild West to open its pages. Years later, it also wound up on the shelf at my old childhood home in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
In both places the kid crazy about the Wild West opened its pages to read, read, and read some more.
The kid in question: me. The book: The Gunfighters, one of a series of Time Life books about the Old West.
Everybody –and I mean everybody who was a gunfighter, both outlaw and lawman- are in this book. Jesse and Frank James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Ben Thompson, the ill-fated Dalton brothers, John Wesley Hardin, Wild Bill Hickcock, and many more populate the pages capture in beautiful prose accompanied by many photos, paintings, and illustrations.
One thing the book reveals is that lawmen could- and often did- come from the ranks of men who once were outlaws or, in reverse, were lawmen who became outlaws. (Situations, incidentally, accurately reflected in at least two westerns: For A Few Dollars More and Silverado.)
Ironically enough, this book also covers the end of the “gunfighter” era by exploring the rise of law in the Wild West pioneered by the likes of “Judge” Roy Bean and “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker. It also documents how the cattlemen of the posh “Cheyenne Club” concocted a war with ranchers in Johnson County, Wyoming, who were letting their stock graze on land they thought was there. A private war they almost lost until the US Cavalry got them out of a ring of enraged citizens who had them penned up in a ranch.
In sum, it is yet more quality work on the part of Time Life books.