That’s a tough one. Fictional characters come from the fertile imagination of writers, but authors often have some real person in mind. We do know that Schaefer based the plot on Wyoming’s Johnson County War of the early 1890s, but it’s unclear that he had any role models for the title character.
One Old West gunfighter I could liken to Shane was Jim Roberts. I became friends with his son Bill in the late 1960s. Jim moved to Pleasant Valley, Arizona, about the time the Graham-Tewksbury War broke out in the 1880s. He didn’t go looking for trouble, but when some of the Grahams rustled his horses, he joined the other side. Jim was a dead shot and absolutely fearless, becoming the top gun for the Tewksburys. After the war ended, he hired out as a deputy sheriff for Yavapai County Sheriff Buckey O’Neill. Thus began a long, distinguished career as a peace officer in which he tamed several towns. He had his last gunfight in 1928 at the age of 70 when he brought down two bank robbers in Clarkdale.
I think Jim and Shane, both quiet men who didn’t boast about their feats, had much in common.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write:
Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org