- Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth's Fallen Lawmen: Volume 2, 1910-1928
In the first volume of Written in Blood, Selcer and Foster traced the lives, and deaths, of thirteen fallen peace officers who passed away between 1861 and 1909. Working with conflicting newspaper accounts and fragmentary court records, the authors attempted to recover and memorialize the past experiences of lawmen who perished in the line of duty. The second volume in the series carries this project forward and focuses on fatalities in the early twentieth century.
The text is divided into two parts: "When Blood Ran in the Streets, 1910-1919," and "When Life Was Cheap, 1920-1928." Each section proceeds chronologically and contains a brief contextual introduction followed by a series of biographical portraits. Although it may seem surprising, death is not the focal point of this work. Indeed, Selcer and Foster use mortality as an entry point into a discussion of the historical relationship between law enforcement, modernization, and urbanization. The advent of the automobile, for example, significantly changed the nature of peacekeeping. Throughout the 1920s the Fort Worth Police Department struggled to keep up technologically and acquired a series of patrol cars and motorcycles. However, these advances also spawned new categories of criminal activity, including vehicular homicide and auto theft.
One of the strengths of the work lies in its presentation of a wide variety of life stories. The authors do not limit themselves to violent expirations or profiles of victimization. As a result, the meningitis-induced death of James R. Dodd receives equal attention alongside the bloody shotgun shell dispatch of John A. Ogletree. Selcer and Foster also demonstrate that the reaper preyed upon all classes of lawmen, although rookie officials assigned to nighttime patrols in the notorious Hell's Half Acre faced particularly dangerous odds. Peace officers could not afford to underestimate the turbulent and transient nature of this area as Deputy Constable Mordecai Hurdleston found out when he allowed his extended family to 'ride along' as he served papers to the Acre's residents.
Moreover, it is hard to escape the feeling of economic struggle that is found within Written in Blood. For many of the men profiled, law enforcement was not a life's calling, but a temporary attempt at financial solvency. In addition, officer fatalities often represented the culmination of ongoing struggles to regulate illegal economic activities, such as bootlegging or theft. In the ultimate financial commentary, the families of fallen peace officers generally received little to no monetary assistance from the city's governing bodies. While the widow of Police Commissioner C. E. "Ed" Pasley was gifted "an elegant cut-glass punch bowl," other spouses scrambled to pay for funeral costs (202). [End Page 340]
Readers familiar with the first volume of Written in Blood will most likely enjoy this second installment. The text is readable and engaging. In the end, Selcer and Foster set out to tell stories and do so ably.