To Hell on a Fast Horse

A retro review from January 25, 2010 …

Review: To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West, Mark Lee Gardner, 2010.To Hell on a Fast Horse

What do you know about Pat Garrett?

Probably not much more than that he killed Billy the Kid. (Some would even argue that, but Gardner is decidedly not in that camp.) Billy is one of the key foundations of New Mexico tourism. He’s the subject of novels, songs, movies, and a ballet. Every jail break of the Kid’s is commemorated with a plaque, his grave well maintained. Garrett’s grave isn’t. People do DNA tests more than 100 years after the event to prove the Kid didn’t die in 1881. No one much remembers Garrett’s murder, a far more mysterious and interesting death than the Kid’s. The Kid had imposters. Garrett never did.

Part of that may have been the name. If William Bonney aka William Antrim aka the Kid aka Henry McCarty hadn’t been rebranded as Billy the Kid seven months before his death, both men would have ended up as obscure historical figures. The Kid was already famous, but, when Garrett instinctively shot him in that dark room, he was dragged into history’s spotlight with Billy. Continue reading

The Saga of Hugh Glass

Since I brought up Hugh Glass, you might as well get this retro review from September 2, 2013.

Review: The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man, John Myers Myers, 1963.Hugh Glass

Crawling for hundreds of miles, near naked and armed only with a razor, to take revenge on the men who left him for dead after he was mauled by a grizzly bear, the story of Hugh Glass is a classic story of survival. It very well might be, as Myers maintains, unique in all the history and legends of the world.

It was a story doubted for a long time. The existence of Hugh Glass is certainly documented. We even have a letter in his hand. But no sources actually verifying the attack seemed to exist until one came to light in 1957. Myers spends the first part of this brief book outlining the historiography behind the Glass story and its developments and corruptions by various sources.

It’s a uniquely fascinating life. Glass was a ship’s captain and captured by Jean Lafitte’s pirate gang sometime around 1816. Given the choice to take up piracy or die, Glass seems to have spent about a year as a pirate before escaping Lafitte’s base around Galveston Bay. However, during that escape, he was captured by Pawnee Indians. His companion in the escape was burned alive by the Pawnee, and Glass lived with the tribe, a combination captive and foster son of its chief, until 1822. In 1823, he joined the Rocky Mountain Fur Company expedition up the Missouri River and participated in its somewhat farcical battle with the Arikara Indians a few weeks before his legendary encounter with the bear. Seemingly affected by his many traumatic experiences, Glass preferred a solitary life even by mountain man standards, and he met his end in 1833, aged somewhere in the fifties, fighting Indians. Continue reading

Wild Bill Hickok, Gunfighter

A retro review from July 31, 2006.

Review: Will Bill Hickok, Gunfighter: An Account of Hickok’s Gunfights, Joseph G. Rosa, 2003.Wild Bill Hickok

If you’re looking for one book on Wild Bill’s life, this is not it. Instead, read Rosa’s They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok. This book has nothing on Hickok’s Civil War experience, no evaluation of the tales of his shooting prowess, no account of his days on the plains or on the stage.

It is a detailed look at the five documented gunfights — and death — of Hickok. Rosa reconstructs each with contemporary records, presents diagrams and timelines, and looks at the weapons each party used. He also looks at how Hickok wore his guns and the provenance of several guns claimed to have been carried by Wild Bill.

For hardcore Wild Bill devotees, there is some new information uncovered by Rosa since They Called Him Wild Bill.

The illustrations are both plentiful and useful.


The Old West page.

Reading Bitter Bierce: Life After the Civil War

BierceBierce LOA

After mustering out of the Union Army in 1865, Ambrose Bierce took a job as a US Treasury Agent charged with collecting “captured and abandoned property”.

He wrote about the experience in his autobiographical essay “‘Way Down in Alabam'”. I found this a very entertaining essay partly because I’ve done some time in the tax collecting business myself, though never with as much danger as Bierce faced, and partly because it fleshes out that time covered under the generic heading “Reconstruction” in American history books. Continue reading