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Pioneer Lawmen

June 2024
1min read

IN HIS DECEMBER STORY “WHO WAS Wyatt Earp?,” Alien Barra paints an excellent portrait not just of Earp but of 1870s- and 1880s-era law enforcement—complete with the warts, as it were. As a kid growing up in the sixties, I always suspected that Guy Madison’s Wild Bill Hickok and Hugh O’Brian’s Wyatt Earp were a little far-fetched. (The one I felt sorry for, though, was James Arness’s Matt Dillon. Kansas Territory always seemed mighty big to me for one U.S. marshal to have to patrol all by himself.)

On a more serious note, a close friend of mine who had some law-enforcement experience in New Mexico in the 1960s would have agreed with Mr. Barra that at least 70 percent of the job is knowing when to bend the barrel of your pistol over some drunk’s noggin, haul him to jail, and let him sleep it off, as opposed to simply shooting him (or, nowadays, her) dead.

Even with the warts still in place, Wyatt Earp and his fellow lawmen set standards for those who would follow them—both for good and for not so good. Mr. Barra is to be commended for bringing one of them back to life as a real man, not just a legend.

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