- Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen: Volume I, 1861–1909
The grim visages of Fort Worth lawmen stare out from the cover of Selcer and Foster’s first volume in a two-volume series exploring the lives, and deaths, of fallen peace officers. Making the claim that our modern-day “cop killings” possess a substantial historical lineage, the authors identify their work as both a recovery and memorial project. Not content with simply relaying biographical facts, Selcer and Foster contend that the thirteen accounts contained therein provide “a wonderful [End Page 221] prism through which we can view law enforcement during a critical era in our history” (11).
Focusing on men who served within the Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, the text is divided into two parts: The Frontier Years, 1861–1888, and Black and White Justice, 1889–1909. Each section contains a number of short biographical entries based on newspaper accounts and genealogical source materials. Unfortunately, the authors were unable to draw upon institutional records in the production of their study. Despite this limitation, Selcer and Foster construct an image of Fort Worth law enforcement entities gradually making progress toward professionalization and modernization. While officers in the frontier period only needed to possess brass cojones and the ability to operate a firearm, by 1908 the FWPD had enacted a list of qualifications for service including age and health standards (17). The obstacles faced by legal authorities also changed during the period of study from problems associated with a frontier cattle-town, such as cowboy rowdies, to issues stemming from an urban environment riddled with slums and poisoned by rising drug use.
Within the individual accounts, Selcer and Foster chronicle numerous “firsts” in Fort Worth law enforcement history: the first man to die in the line of duty, the first to die while assisting in another state, “first plainclothes detective,” and the “first (self-styled) traffic cop” (73, 176). Although the officers vary in age and background, their deaths contain many striking similarities. Questionable circumstances surrounded the majority of the incidents described, including Deputy Marshall Christopher Columbus’s mortal injury following a gambling dispute. In addition, dispelling the romantic myth of the law officer, the authors make a partially successful effort to depict how these men quite often operated out of overtly racist motives, refusing to grant all citizens equal protection under the law. And, representatives of the law frequently received little to no recognition upon death with memorials taking place hastily and formal legal proceedings moving in a haphazard fashion, generally concluding without a satisfactory result for any of the parties in question.
Readers approaching Selcer and Foster’s text hoping to find an interesting collection of frontier tales will have their expectations readily met. However, scholars will also encounter some frustration in navigating between anachronistic references, including a mentioning of “the Man,” a slang label for law enforcement, that serve only to distract from the work’s stated purpose (136). On the whole, the authors present an engaging example of how to breathe life into a narrative inspired by death.