LAWMAN by John Boessenecker


The Life and Times of Harry Morse, 1835-1912
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 Six-shooter justice in a Golden Gate setting. Attorney Boessenecker (Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California, 1988) complains that California lawmen are largely unknown outside California because moviemakers located the Wild West in places like Wyoming and Texas. There's no doubt that Harry Morse's exploits could fuel a screenplay or two; as a lawman in Alameda County, just across the bay from San Francisco, Morse had his share of facedowns, shoot-'em-ups, and dry- gulchings. Boessenecker chronicles Morse's life and times, drawing heavily on the lawman's carefully self-serving, sometimes published accounts, which are invariably more interestingly written than his biographer's. Fans of law-enforcement history will enjoy reading about Morse's single-handedly busting up rings of savage desperadoes and ill-tempered banditos, who seemed to be legion in Alameda; some of the details of mass murders and gang killings could be taken from today's headlines. Boessenecker does a good job of separating invention from reality, and he's combed the archives to provide details about the usually forgotten bad guys. He's also careful to maintain that Morse was less racist than the run of Anglo California cops of the time; although Morse usually referred to the Hispanic citizens of Alameda as ``greasers,'' Boessenecker notes that Morse's intervention helped acquit a Mexican-American falsely accused of murder, and that he employed many Mexican-Americans as deputies. That some-of-my-best-friends defense aside, Boessenecker is content to regale his readers with tales of murder and mayhem, the best among them his account of Black Bart, the gentleman-poet stagecoach robber whose intriguing life would make just the movie the author calls for. A modestly interesting addition to the library of Old West lawmen. (55 b&w photos, 3 drawings, 2 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8061-3011-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998


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