There is a certain politician whose name is not unknown to many of you who is seen in a certain fashion by both ally and enemy.
That fashion is most often described as a cowboy, more particularly a Western sheriff, which is understood to mean a no-nonsense, squinty-eyed guy who is long on principles and short on conversation. Waste no nuances here; hand over that shooting iron, stranger, or slap leather pronto.
It should interest us, living as we do in the celebrity/anonymity era, that the names of many of those Western marshals were known well by their contemporaries, much better than Good Guys nowadays. (To offset this, Good Guys today often have the services of helicopters and flame-throwing trucks.)
Nonetheless, fame is a light jacket to be worn against the winds of change, and you may not recall the names and deeds of Western heroes of yore. Here, then, is a brief refresher course.
Let's begin with a name somewhat familiar, that of Bat Masterson. Bat was alleged by some to have gunned down as many as 35 men, but his friend and fellow lawman Wyatt Earp dismissively put the number at four. Far more in the Masterson mold was the matter of Dave Rudabaugh and his gang of train robbers. After a caper in Kinsley, Kansas, Bat tracked the bad guys through a blizzard. He guessed they'd head for Lovell's cattle camp and was there waiting when Rudabaugh's outfit stumbled half-frozen into that camp. Not a shot was necessary.
Later, Masterson was offered a job as U.S. Marshal of Arizona by Theodore Roosevelt, but refused. "If I took it," he explained, "inside of a year I'd have to kill some fool boy who wanted to get a reputation by killing me." Instead, Masterson had a full life and natural death, marred only by the ignominy of dying a newspaperman.
Not so John Selman, El Paso lawman and killer of the greatest killer of them all. That would have been John Wesley Hardin, who became the subject of a Bob Dylan album via a career that featured 35 dead men before his incarceration at age 25.
In jail, Hardin studied natural and divine law like his preacher/lawyer father, but after his release 16 years later, he fell back into a routine of gambling and petty crime. When Selman came for him, Hardin was shaking dice at the Acme Saloon. His last words were "four sixes to beat."
Taking no chances, Selman shot Hardin in the back of the head. In his trial, Selman was ably defended by Albert B. Fall, later Secretary of the Interior. Eight months later, Selman was shot down by George Scarborough, who was in turn shot down by Kid Curry of Arizona, who was
Far more wholesome were the exploits of Billy Tilghman. "Uncle Billy" he was known as, and he had started as a teenage buffalo hunter on the Medicine Lodge River. As such, he set up an ambush of an Indian raiding party and killed four of them with his own hand. Later, as a lawman in Dodge and Oklahoma, Tilghman became even better known as the man who never shot first and then only if he had to. Uncle Billy was shot at more than a hundred times, but he was more often involved in scrapes, like when he captured Bill Doolin in Eureka Springs -- a guy who'd once passed on a chance to kill him, saying, "Bill Tilghman is too good a man to shoot in the back."
But Uncle Billy was shot and killed, by a drunk who was firing his pistol riotously in the air.
Then there was the pint-sized Arizona Ranger with the unheroic moniker of Burton Mossman. He tracked the Mexican bandit Salivaras across the cactus-covered desert until the outlaw's horse died. Salivaras buried himself chin-high under a bush, but was found by Mossman's dogs. Shots were swapped. Mossman was hit in the side and lived. Salivaras was hit in the chest and did not.
There were many others. Some, like "Mysterious" Dave Mathers, were found on both sides of the law. Some, like Billy Brooks -- who had once killed four men in making one arrest -- lost their nerve and disappeared. Bucky O'Neill was a shy poet who later became a judge and still later was killed in Cuba as a member of Roosevelt's Rough Riders.
In other words, like law enforcers at all times and all places, some were cynics and some were idealists.
Let's finish with maybe the most famous of all: Pat Garrett, the man who killed Billy the Kid. Garrett was hired specifically to capture the Kid, whom he knew. He captured the Kid, whose real name was Bill Bonney, and bravely turned away a vigilante mob who wanted to lynch him.
Billy repaid this kindness by later escaping and killing two deputies. Garrett and two deputies went looking at Pete Maxwell's ranch. They arrived at night, and Garrett went looking for Maxwell, a known friend of Billy. The two deputies were hailed by a voice demanding, "Quien es?" It was the fugitive himself, who next went into Maxwell's room to ask, "Who are those fellas outside, Pete?" At that moment, the outlaw caught sight of Garrett in the dark. "Quien es?" Billy asked again. Garrett fired from where he sat.