In the spring of 1938, L.A. private investigator Nate Ross searches for an alcoholic screenwriter whose absence is stalling production on Republic Pictures’ latest Western. When he finds the missing rummy dead, Nate’s plunged into the world of B-movie cowboys and a tangled case of murder and sabotage pointing back nearly forty years to a bloody, real-life, “wild West” crime.
This is an authentic (and authenticated) photo of Billy the Kid. (Spoiler Alert: No, not THAT Billy the Kid – although they do appear to have had similar taste in hats}. To find out more about this Billy, see my feature articles “Billy the Kid of Kansas” and “Train Robbery at Mound Valley” in the upcoming (April) issue of Wild West Magazine.
As a bonus, my Roundup article in the same issue rounds up ten wannabe BTKs of the Old West. It’s more Billys than you can shake a stick (a billy club?) at!
Every now and then you come across a piece of writing that hits you square between the eyes with its clarity and truth. Happened to me yesterday when I was rereading Craig Johnson’s excellent Longmire mystery, “The Dark Horse.” How I missed lighting on this particular passage the first time I read the book I don’t know, but this time around it stopped me dead in my tracks:
“I thought about how we tilled and cultivated the land, planted trees on it, fenced it, built houses on it, and did everything we could to hold off the eternity of distance – anything to give the landscape some sort of human scale. No matter what we did to try and form the West, however, the West inevitably formed us instead.”
Seems to me this 60-word paragraph encapsulates the theme of pretty much every Western novel ever written. And I imagine that last sentence describes perfectly the journey of every Western writer. I know it does mine, anyway.
Kindness is an admirable trait in a lawman, but it must be tempered with a healthy dose of suspicion. It was a lesson U.S. Marshal Hal Gosling learned too late. His good nature led to his death, setting events in motion that would break up of one of the worst outlaw gangs to plague south Texas in the 1880s.
You can read about Marshal Gosling’s sad demise, and the end of the Helotes Gang, in my article from the December 2013 issue of Wild West Magazine, now online at HistoryNet.
“In the 1993 film Tombstone, Doc Holliday asks his pal Wyatt Earp, ‘Since when is faro a business?’ Holliday follows up with the wry observation, ‘Only suckers buck the tiger; the odds are all on the house.’ Catchy dialogue, but historically it would seem to miss the mark—a thing the real John Henry Holliday rarely did. Dentistry never got Doc much beyond a nickname, but for him and many contemporaries, faro, mainstay of saloons and gambling houses across the Wild West, was indeed a business—generally lucrative and often respectable, if rarely honest…”
Wild West Magazine, recently put my August 2008 article on the shady dealings of the faro table online. See it here.
Time flies. Here’s a link to an interview I did with Old West writer, historian and blogger Tom Rizzo just about five years ago. We talked about Some Gave All, the Newton General Massacre, the real vs. the “reel” West, and more:
In time for a little Halloween ghoulishness, the December issue of Wild West magazine (available in October) has my story “Grave Business.” Read about the 19th-century “resurrection men” who robbed graves and sold bodies for profit, and the inventors who developed wild – sometimes deadly – ways to thwart them.
And be sure not to miss Kellen Cutsforth’s excellent piece, in the same issue, on the cremation rites of the Mojave Indians.
On August 20, 1900, Sheriff John Henry Dillingham of Platte County, Missouri, was summoned to the sleepy little town of Farley over a case of multiple murder. A local physician named Sterling Price “Sturley” Harrington had gone on a day-long, drug and alcohol fueled killing spree. Taking his ten-year-old daughter along on his bloody errands, the doctor shot and killed his mother-in-law in cold blood, then calmly drove to the home of his wife’s uncle and killed him as well. He drove across the state line into Leavenworth, Kansas, where – apparently with further killing in mind – he resupplied with ammunition and more weapons before returning to Farley.
In what was likely part of an addle-brained plan to escape, Harrington tried to rob the town’s general store, and engaged in a point-blank shootout with the store’s clerk. About this time Sheriff Dillingham arrived with a trio of deputies, one of whom was his son, Henry. As the lawmen approached the store, Harrington met the sheriff at the entrance, the two men exchanged shots, and Sheriff Dillingham was killed instantly. As the murderous doctor fled toward his wagon, Henry Dillingham fired three times and Harrington fell dead in the street.
Twenty-two year old Henry Dillingham was appointed to finish out his father’s term as sheriff. Thirty years later he would also serve as the United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri
Sheriff John Dillingham’s eventful career and the tragic events leading up to his death are detailed in Chapter 8 of Some Gave All.