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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier

Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Luke Short and OthersFamous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Luke Short and Others by W.B. Masterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bat Masterson led the life that movies are made of. He was a buffalo hunter, a gunfighter, and a lawman in the Wild West. Unusually, he ended his days as a writer in New York. One of his most enduring works is a series of articles about his fellow gunslingers, assembled into this volume by Dover Books.

It's a cracking read with lots of insights into life in those wild years on the frontier. Masterson describes gunfights, Indian fights, cattle drives, and Wild West towns with a flair and detail that doesn't come off as too dated even a hundred years later.

The problem is that it's not terribly accurate. More sober studies of some of the characters, such as later biographies of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, show that Masterson highly exaggerated the level of violence these people engaged in. Holliday comes off especially bad, being ascribed several murders for which there is no evidence. Masterson was obviously writing to an audience brought up on dime novels and hungry for rip-roaring tales of the frontier.

In that, Masterson certainly delivers. He and other figures of the Old West played a great part in creating its mystique. If you want to read a partially true Western, pick this up. If you want accurate history, look elsewhere.

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  1. Did those books of Masterson's sell well in his day? It sounds like he knew his audience and took artistic license perhaps, to please his audience, his publisher or maybe himself. After all, how would a city-slicker know?

    Interesting info, Sean.

    1. I'm not sure how well they sold. Probably well. Masterson wasn't the only Wild West figure to write for magazines and publish books, although he was probably the most famous. The son of Jesse James also write a memoir. I reviewed it here:



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