THE GREY FOX by Mark Dugan


The True Story of Bill Miner--Last of the Old-Time Bandits
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 A recounting of the turn-of-the-century exploits of Bill Miner, ``one of the most wanted outlaws in North America.'' He also turns out to have been one of the least colorful. Dugan (Interdisciplinary Studies/Appalachian State Univ.) and Boessenecker (Badge and Buckshot, 1988) attempt to breathe dramatic life into their protagonist with frequent references to Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, et al., but Miner, it seems, was about as exciting as oatmeal. Born in 1846 in Michigan, he moved in 1860 with his family to the California gold-rush town of Yankee Jims. Soon, the teenager began his criminal career, starting out by stealing horses, then moving up to robbing stagecoaches. When trains replaced coaches, Miner made the switch with aplomb, though his success was spotty: During his career, he spent more than 30 years at San Quentin and other jails. Many of his escapades were almost comic, complete with slipping masks, uncooperative sticks of dynamite, and hoboes wandering unwittingly onto the scene. Meanwhile, the authors contend that Miner was the first gay outlaw in the Old West--but their evidence for this claim is nebulous. That the bandit engaged in homosexual activities while behind bars is unsurprising, and that he frequently traveled with young men is hardly irrefutable proof that he was gay. Because, in his later years, ``Old Bill'' invariably targeted the widely hated railroads, he acquired a reputation for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. From the evidence here, though, his generosity was largely imaginary. The authors are at their best, however, when discussing the folkloric elements in Miner's ``Robin Hood'' reputation. Occasionally diverting but mostly as grim as a sheriff's posse. (Seventy-three photos.)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8061-2435-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992


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