Wild West


JOHN WESLEY HARDIN: DARK ANGEL OF TEXAS (1996, by Leon Metz): Texas’ most notorious gunman as profiled by the dean of Western historians. What could be better? While neither the first nor the last Hardin biography, it remains the best. Metz brings the complex, sociopathic Hardin (1853–95) to life. The subject reportedly killed as many as 40 men in gunfights—a tally, even in Texas, that justifies the enduring popular interest.

Bloody Bill Longley (2011, by Rick Miller): The very definition of an unreconstructed Rebel after the Civil War, Longley (1851–78) left a string of bodies strewn across the West, only regretting that John Wesley Hardin had more kills to his credit. Author Miller, a onetime police officer and lawyer, has made a second career out of writing well-received biographies of outlaws and lawmen. This may be his best.

Sam Bass (1936, by Wayne Gard): Bass was Texas’ most infamous stagecoach and train robber, if not particularly successful at either. The boyish-looking outlaw (1851–78) became an improbable legend in his own time. Read this biography by venerable Dallas newspaperman and Texana writer Gard for the storytelling, not the scholarship.

Shotgun for Hire: The Story of “Deacon” Jim Miller (1970, by Glenn Shirley): Sadly out of print though available second-hand, this slim volume is the best biography of the man known variously as “Deacon Jim” and “Killin’ Jim.” James Brown Miller (1861–1909) was a paid professional assassin who lived for killing and had as many as a dozen successfully executed contracts to his credit. Shirley, the prolific author of more than 20 books on legendary frontier figures, keeps the scholarship front and center.

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde (2009, by Jeff Guinn): They blazed a trail of romanticized murder and mayhem from Texas to Minnesota before going down in a hail of bullets. Bonnie Parker (1910–34) and Clyde Barrow (1909–34) lived a life of crime together and died together. This is the definitive dual biography of the Depression-era criminal darlings by a respected journalist turned author who has won awards in both fields. Guinn puts his subjects in a broader historical context as media archetypes.


(1969, on DVD, 20th Century Fox): This classic Western turns the namesake outlaws into charming heroes and personifies the buddy film. Directed by George Roy Hill, it

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