An exciting, fast-paced account of crime and punishment at the close of the American frontier.
While researching his book Dead Run (1999), an account of prison escapee Dennis Stockton, freelance journalist Jackson happened across the tale of Frank Grigware. Sentenced in 1909 to life imprisonment in Leavenworth, Grigware hijacked a supply train with a group of inmates, and successfully avoided recapture for the next 25 years. Jackson confesses that at first he wasn’t enthusiastic about following Grigware’s trail, not wanting “to devote more years to yet another prison saga.” Fans of true crime will be glad that he did, though, for besides charting Grigware’s curious career and still more curious retirement, Jackson does a fine job of summarizing the West’s none too admirable record in preventing and punishing crime, which was all too common in a country where alcoholism and madness were epidemic. As with Stockton, Jackson tends to explain away Grigware’s alleged crimes, which ranged from petty thievery to train robbery (or, at the very least, hanging out with train robbers, a pastime that western lawmen did their best to discourage). Unlucky and perhaps a little stupid, Grigware got caught, did a little of his time, broke free, and vanished, leaving a dim trail across the Northwest and eventually settling in the mountains of British Columbia, where, having changed his name, he became a solid citizen and good neighbor. When his true identity was discovered years later, Grigware successfully fought extradition in a legal brouhaha that took years and involved Depression-era figures such as J. Edgar Hoover, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and Attorney General Homer Cummings. In his closing pages, Jackson depicts a Grigware old, ill, and a little bewildered by the flood of Americans—this time fleeing the draft—into his adopted country.
With an occasional lapse into a breast-beating aside, Jackson ably depicts a culture bent on fencing in men as well as rangeland.