JOURNAL OF THE GUN YEARS
THE MEMOIRS OF WILD BILL HICKOK
BY THE LAW
I recently posted on The Gun Fight by Richard Matheson and I have read three more excellent westerns by the man.
JOURNAL OF THE GUN YEARS is the story of lawman Clay Halser told in journal format. Supposedly edited by reporter Frank Leslie, who first meets the nineteen year old Halser near the end of the Civil War and then just a few minutes before his death at age thirty-one. In checking the man’s possessions to be sent to family, Leslie finds a collection of journals kept over the years and gets them in shape for publication.
The book covers his rise to prominence as a gunman to his career as a lawman, his marriage, and the disintegration of everything he valued until he was a shell of the famous figure he’d once been, the last entry made the morning of his death at the hands of a nervous young man wanting a reputation of his own.
Matheson won the Spur award for this one.
THE MEMOIRS OF WILD BILL HICKOK
Matheson says up front that this is not a strict accounting of the life of the famous gunman. As he’s known for his fantasy, this might be considered in that vein.
Frank Leslie, the reporter, is here again, this time approached by Hickok’s widow because of his editing work on Halser’s journals. She has a manuscript written by her late husband to set the truth about many exaggerations in his life(like many of the time, Wild Bill could spin a yarn and was known to stretch the truth when it suited). She wants him to perform the same duties on Wild Bill’s memoirs and get them ready for publication.
It begins when James Butler Hickok is a boy with a strict father who begins tutoring him in the use of handguns and carries through to the last days of his life.
Another good one.
BY THE GUN
By The Gun is a bit different. It’s not a novel but a collection of six stories of varying lengths.
A lawman has lost his sight and must work on developing his other senses. He only has a few days to do this as the brother of the outlaw/killer he has locked up in jail is coming to free him.
An Eastern boy has read too many dime novels and comes to the west to be a gunfighter, looking for the fastest gun in town. His simple plan is to travel from town to town killing the fastest in each. Quite good, and fast, with a handgun, he doesn’t realize life is not a dime novel.
A ranch hand simply wanting a drink wanders into a saloon to encounter a drunken outlaw spoiling for a fight. More by luck than skill, he kills the infamous gunman and suddenly finds himself the toast of the town. As well as every would-be gunman looking for a reputation.
A once great lawman has lost his nerve and must find the courage for one last battle with an outlaw to keep from being killed or disgraced in the eyes of the townspeople.
A sixteen year old boy has a small herd of cattle he’s bought with money earned by hard work. A group of hard edged men wants them and he has to take on a fight he shouldn’t be able to win.
A wanted outlaw holds a saloon full of people hostage as he tries to negotiate his way out of trouble. It can’t end well.
A fine group of stories. Two of them were incorporated into Journal Of The Gun Years and The Gun Fight, although in substantially altered form.