There’s a great bit of conversation in Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy,” where the Boy is quizzing the Old Man about hard cases of the Old West. The OM answers his questions for a while and then says:
“You wouldn’t want any of them within five miles of you.”
They were, indeed, an unpleasant and extremely dangerous bunch of people, and Field & Stream contributing editor and Conservationist blogger Hal Herring describes them–and their chosen tools–all the way from John Brown and his Sharps Model 1850 Sporting Rifle to Frank Hamer and his Remington Model 8 semi-auto. Not all the subjects in “Famous Firearms of the Old West” are outlaws; some, like Hamer (who has my personal nomination as the hardest case of all) and Bill Tilghman (I hunted with a descendant of his years ago in Colorado) were lawmen. It’s a mixed bag of the truly crazy, the courageous, and the simply homicidal.
The photos deserve special mention. I have no idea how Herring got hold of them, but they are a hoot. There is a shot of 22-year-old Frank Hamer, taken the day after he killed a gunman named Ed Putnam in a shootout. Hamer looks like a choirboy. There’s a photo of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after Hamer and his posse got through with them. They don’t look much like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
“Famous Firearms” is a terrific read, and my only criticism of it is that you go through it too fast. Maybe there’ll be a second one. God knows there were enough colorful thugs around then to write about. The book is $19.95 from Globe Pequot Press.