When I got stuck in a hotel in Savage, Minnesota, ten years ago about the only fun I had was hiking up to the Savage Public Library and browsing through books. I soon found this one, and proceeded to devour certain chapters over and over each time I hiked up and in through the libraries doors.
Walker has a delightful way of “setting the stage” for the Old West “legends and lies” under his microscope, such as how he sets up his discussion of the alleged “survival” of Jesse James in his chapter entitled The Man Who Would Be Jesse James: J. Frank Dalton Vs. DNA:
On July 18, 1995, a backhoe punched through the grass on Jesse James’ grave at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri. For three days a team of forensic experts shaped, troweled, and brushed their way to the disintegrated wooden coffin and picked among the pieces of skull, miscellaneous other bones, teeth, cloth, and bullet fragments.
The bones and teeth were especially important: they contained deoxyribonucleic acid—DNA—that unique genetic material scientists use as a biological “fingerprint,” and the forensics people wanted to learn if that was really Jesse buried in Jesse’s grave these past 113 years.
Fifteen high powered scientists puttering around in a famous outlaw’s grave in a small town Missouri cemetery to learn something everybody knew?
Actually, there are people who say Jesse lived sixty-nine years after he was supposedly killed by the “dirty little coward” Bob Ford; a lot of people who believe the real Jesse is buried in a graveyard in Texas under a stone marker reading “Jesse Woodson James, Sept. 5 1847 – August 15, 1951.
Walker also discusses the mysterious deaths of Davy Crockett and Meriwether Lewis, the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre (which I never knew of until this book) as well as the alleged “survival” of Billy the Kid and the Lost Dutchman Mine, and, yes, General Custer, Crazy Horse, and many, many more people and events.
If you get a chance, read this book. It can’t be missed!