As folks are being reintroduced to the Western classic True Grit, a topic at some dinner tables has been the appeal of executions, especially since the story shares how a crowd was drawn to one during Judge Isaac C. Parker’s Federal Court era in the Indian Territory.
That territory was abolished when Oklahoma became a state in 1907. And although R. Michael Wilson’s latest reference work, which chronicles legal executions in seven Western states from the date of statehood, does not include Oklahoma, it does include a state admitted to the union nearly 50 years earlier, in 1859: Oregon. That section of Legal Executions After Statehood (McFarland, $95) will be of most interest to folks wanting a better understanding of public executions. The other states included—North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington—all attained statehood after the mid-1870s, which is when, the author writes, the “phenomenon of privacy during executions swept through the West and territories and states required that gallows be constructed….” The stories of the hanged that take place in the other states will still excite lovers of Old West history, as the latest statehood date is 1890, for Idaho and Wyoming.
With Texas marking its 175th anniversary of independence from Mexico in 2011, we have some great Texas reference works to recommend. You’ll want to check out Stephen L. Moore’s series on the frontier battles during the 10-year period of the Republic of Texas, as he just finished the final volume of Savage Frontier (University of North Texas Press, $19.95). We know you’ll be including a stop at the Alamo, and even though this volume covers 1842-45, you’ll still find interesting nuggets about the Alamo, particularly in the tale of the 1842 Vasquez Incursion, when drunken citizens of San Antonio, anticipating that the Mexicans would loot the town, hauled the Alamo’s artillery pieces toward Seguin.
Another worthy Texas reference work is Written in Blood, by Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster, which shares the history of Fort Worth’s fallen lawmen from 1861-1909 (University of North Texas Press, $16.95). Of the 84 officers who have died in the line of duty, this book discusses the first 13, with the others to be covered in future volumes. Yet don’t be surprised when you see that “Longhair Jim” Courtright, a deputy sheriff at the time of his death in 1886, is not included. The reason? He died as a result of a personal feud.