BADGE AND BUCKSHOT: Lawlessness in Old California by John Boessenecker

BADGE AND BUCKSHOT: Lawlessness in Old California

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Having spent more than ten years reseaching this history of brigandry and bloodshed in the Golden State during the second half of the 19th century, San Francisco lawyer Boessenecker was apparently reluctant to jettison any of the material he so painstakingly uncovered. The result is a volume that only dedicated California scholars will find of more than intermittent interest. Boessenecker devotes far too many pages to the hour-by-hour exploits of minor malefactors. Stagecoach hold-ups, each remarkably similar to the last, follow one another in a seemingly endless train. Even the details of the theft of kitchen spoons and tablecloths are recounted with numbing thoroughness. The locations of various gunshot and knife wounds--spleen, left shoulder, right heel--are recited with courtroom exactitude. The narrative does pick up slightly, however, when attention turns to the exploits of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Confederate sympathizers who represented approximately one out of every ten Californians during the Civil War. Here, a certain relevance is achieved and a little-known aspect of the state's internecine tensions is revealed. Overall, however, Boessenecker doesn't deal with the larger implications of his research. He fails, for example, to illuminate the reasons for the widespread violence and the seeming indifference to it that characterized the period. Why life and property were so little valued by a comparatively large percentage of the frontier population remains unexamined. Of value as a reference work to students of the Old West, perhaps, but far from the rip-roaring, action-packed narrative that general readers will expect.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0806125101
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma Press