Okay, let me rant about these and then we’ll get back to guns. Here are two books that no Old West fan should miss. Oddly enough, both are fiction.
First is a book called The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer, by Douglas C. Jones, written in 1975. Jones, who was a retired Army lieutenant colonel when he wrote his, had a great premise: Custer is the sole survivor of the Little Bighorn, and is brought back to Governor’s Island, in New York City, for trial. The Army, it seems, it very cross with him for getting a third of his command killed.
Jones is a hell of a fine writer, a meticulous researcher, and had a deep understanding of the way the Army works. Once you get into his book you’ll be unable to put it down, and you’ll have to remind yourself periodically that you’re reading fiction, not history. It’s that good.
Second is The Shootist, written in 1976 by Glendon Swarthout. (Yes, the very same Glendon Swarthout who wrote the anti-hunting book, Bless the Beasts and the Children. ) The book was made into a truly lousy movie of the same name, and it was John Wayne’s last film. He deserved better.
Swarthout, like Jones, is a first-rate writer and researcher, and his book is not only a vivid look at the very last of the Old West (the story takes place in 1900) but is probably as good a look inside the head of a gun man, or shootist (which is what they were called then, not gunfighters) as we are likely to get. It will make your blood run cold.