Old West Shootists

The Johnson-Sims Feud: Romeo and Juliet, West Texas Style (University of North Texas Press, $24.95), by Bill O’Neal, features as the star-crossed lovers, the children of major cattle ranchers who see their marriage turn sour—and deadly.The pistol-packin’ Juliet helps kill her not-so-soul mate, his pals seek revenge and the body count rises. Nobody comes off looking good, except for Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who rescues (and marries) our heroine. Like the Bard, O’Neal has a way with words and storytelling that keeps you turning the pages.

In A Pair of Shootists: The Wild West Story of S.F. Cody and Maud Lee (University of Oklahoma Press, $29.95), Jerry Kuntz offers the tale of Buffalo Bill wannabe Sam Cowdery, who changes his name to S.F. Cody and hits the entertainment circuit as a trick shooter. His young wife Maud Lee helps out with her own sharpshooter skills. When the marriage crumbles, the two take wildly divergent paths. S.F. becomes a popular performer in Europe, while Mae descends into madness. This great story is a fascinating look at 19th-century entertainment.

Laurence Yadon and Dan Anderson’s Arizona Gunfighters (Pelican Publishing Company, $16.95) is not a compendium of shootists. Instead, nearly half the book is a retelling of the Tombstone story, followed by major sections on the Pleasant Valley War and the Arizona Rangers. The authors offer nothing new, and they rely too much on outdated and debatable sources (like Billy Breakenridge’s 1928 book Helldorado). Worse, the authors make sloppy mistakes—like saying “Black Jack” Ketchum was mortally wounded in a train holdup, when he was actually hanged 19 months later.

William B. Secrest is the dean of California’s Old West historians. Showdown! Lionhearted Lawmen of Old California (Craven Street Books, $15.95) features six officers who aren’t well remembered today, but each made a name for himself during his own time. William J. Howard was the last of the California Rangers who broke up the Joaquin Murrieta gang. Hiram Rapelje chased down train robbers Evans and Sontag. Emil Harris arrested Tiburcio Vasquez. Secrest tells their stories honestly; several of these lawmen had dark lawless sides. 

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