Monday, March 10, 2014

Review Roundup: The Short Life of the Law

Some Gave All: Forgotten Old West Lawmen Who Died With Their Boots On
By J.R. Sanders
Moonlight Mesa Associates, November 2013
$19.95 paperback, ISBN 1938628233
(no e-book available)
262 pages

For all but a few, the life of a lawman in the 19th Century American West was far from glamorous. Overworked and underpaid, often overlooked and usually under-respected, the men who wore badges risked their lives to wrestle order from chaos on the frontier. They had no formal training, no instant communication, and often no backup … but one thing they possessed in abundance was guts.

A handful became legends — Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok — but for the vast majority, the job of sheriff, marshal, or policeman didn’t even pay a living wage. Many worked second jobs to support families.

When they died in the line of duty, most were given a hero’s funeral … and then quickly forgotten.

J.R. Sanders calls forth the ghosts of fourteen such men in Some Gave All: Forgotten Old West Lawmen Who Died With Their Boots On. Some of the real-life stories are touching, some sad, and some downright bizarre, but in every case the men behind the badges deserved better than to be consigned to historical footnotes.

Sanders does a good job of bringing the lawmen to life. In addition to illuminating the career leading up to each man’s death, he provides background on familial relationships and the other roles the subjects played in their communities. Then he does the unexpected: He follows the aftermath of each murder, revealing investigations and court proceedings by citing primary sources. In a surprising number of cases, the cop-killers escaped justice due to vagaries of the legal system. In an even more surprising number of cases, though local newspapers invariably eulogized the fallen officers as heroes, within a few years even they misremembered details or spelled the lawman’s name incorrectly. A hero’s glory, it seems, is fleeting.

Some Gave All is an educational read for anyone interested in law-enforcement history. Though non-fiction, each chapter brims with personality and wild-west action — shootouts, stabbings, and prisoner escapes. The subsequent courtroom shenanigans provide a great deal of evidence that miscarriages of justice and legal loopholes are nothing new.

This is not dry, “just the facts, ma’am,” reporting, thanks to Sanders’ lively voice and irrepressible editorializing. The book is worth a read.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and an author. She received a review copy of Some Gave All from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. Links in the review are for convenience only; they do not produce affiliate revenue.


  1. It it this type of book that gives the researcher in me great pleasure. Thank you for letting the rest of us know about this one.Doris

  2. Kathleen,

    Another good review! I looked on Amazon and couldn't find how many stars you gave this nonfiction book.

    By the way, do you ever give five stars? (I know, tough but kind).


  3. This is very cool. great job on the blog.

    Im currently working on 3 ComicBook titles set on the old West and i was very happy to find this blog for research.

    Great job

    i wonder if it is possible to share with this blog reader the prologue issue currently available on our site?

  4. Charlie, I post my reviews to the WF blog before I post them to Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, etc. I realize how much reviews can help books at the various etail outlets, but I like to give the blog an "exclusive" on content for at least 24 hours. There are several reasons for that, but a biggie is the way Google's search algorithm penalizes duplicated material. :-)

    Doris, we history nerds have reputation to uphold, after all. ;-)

  5. Kathleen, sounds like a wonderful book--I am anxious to read it and appreciate you calling it to our attention. It sounds like one that will go on my keeper shelf for the research, alone.

  6. Kathleen,

    Thank you very kindly for a great review - I'm humbled and grateful. It's gratifying to me to see these fourteen brave fellows getting their day in the sun. They've waited a long, long time.


  7. Another great review, Kathleen. This looks like a very useful book to have on the shelf.

    And thank you, J.R. for doing the research and giving us this book.


  8. Added to my TBR list. Thank you for the post!

  9. Solid review, Kathleen. JR has provided an up-close-and-personal glimpse at the reality of fontier lawmen.

  10. Thanks to everyone who commented! Some Gave All is ensconced on my research shelf, and other western historical authors might consider adding a copy to theirs, as well. J.R. Sanders' research was extensive; he documents some surprising details I've not seen anywhere else, particularly about the way the legal system worked back then. :-)

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