California Desperadoes

califdesperadoesBetween WWI and II, writers such as Stuart Lake and Walter Noble Burns penned popular, but careless, studies of Western outlaws and lawmen. They did not worry about errors and even fictionalized their narratives to make a good story “better.”

A remarkably different class of writers emerged after WWII; authors who researched the careers of frontier peace officers and badmen with the zeal of fusty academic archivists, yet with a resultant prose of great readability. Secrest’s latest book of stories on old California outlaws is a noteworthy example. He moves from urban crime of San Francisco’s vigilante days to train robbers more skillful than Butch & Sundance (Sontag and Evans). We meet rural badmen little different from those of the Southwest; Anglos such as Tom Bell and Hispanics such as Tiburcio Vasquez. For decades, Secrest has haunted libraries and courthouses, extracting data from old newspapers and legal documents to stuff a whole group of filing cabinets until ready for use in such first-rate books as this one. —Richard H. Dillon

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