Man-Hunters of the Old West, Volume 2 by Robert K. DeArment
As settlements and communities grew in the American West, so did the population of criminals seeking to take advantage of a region sparsely policed by the federal government. Many criminals threatened the livelihood of American settlers by utilizing brutal tactics to increase their wealth and popularity. Addressing this in 1987, historian Patricia Nelson Limerick wrote in The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, "The West was once the Wild West, the old image held, and then, heroically, law and order were introduced and the wilderness was mastered." Robert K. DeArment, a prolific and respected author of the American West, uses a microhistory approach to trace the lives and careers of eight lawmen, termed "man-hunters," who played vital roles in the process Limerick described. In Man-Hunters of the Old West, Volume 2, DeArment suggests that while the eight figures highlighted in this book used ruthless tactics to hunt down—and sometimes kill—fugitives, their success between 1810 and 1867 changed the American West for the better.
Following much of the same narrative of Man-Hunters of the Old West, Volume 1 (2017), this new collection of biographies remains focused on the man-hunters and the practices they employed to subdue criminals. This second volume covers the lives and careers of Harry Love, Tom Tobin, Granville Stuart, Harry Morse, Bass Reeves, John Hughes, and Frank Norfleet, and highlights the trials and tribulations of working as an unrestricted agent of the law. DeArment seeks to place these men in historical perspective, connecting their exciting, if relatively [End Page 142] unknown, stories to a critical analysis of how they transformed the West with strength and willingness to uphold American law.
Rather than dwelling on the blood-thirsty men, often understood to be just as violent as the men they hunted, DeArment successfully personalizes each man-hunter so that readers grasp their motives and experiences. In chronological fashion, DeArment addresses social and cultural issues that some of the man-hunters experienced. One example is Bass Reeves, a former slave who worked diligently in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), stalking and capturing fugitives. His life experiences, according to both DeArment and a short historiographical section on past scholarship on Reeves, were overshadowed by his white counterparts. Examples like this showcase how meticulous DeArment was in preparing and writing this book, so each of their stories is fully developed.
While many separate biographies have been produced on these individuals, DeArment's detailed understanding of these stories furthers the field of the study of western lawmen. DeArment utilized the extensive collections on the eight figures, including a few self-written biographies, as well as governmental documents, U.S. Census reports, and a rather large collection of newspaper articles. In addition to credible secondary sources, DeArment blends these sources together to make a compelling argument, one that alters the way Americans visualize bounty-hunters during the nineteenth century.
While a more comprehensive study on man-hunters as a cohort of American lawmen could also benefit the field of western history, Man-Hunters, Volume 2 is refreshing in that it reminds us that the Old West is not simply a dusty old story of "cowboys and Indians." Rather, this book is a work of synthesis that brings together a complete understanding of who these bounty-hunters were in the American West. Not only does it address eight individual agents in this story, but it connects a larger understanding of how man-hunters worked during this time period. DeArment has expertly written a narrative that flows and will become, in conjunction with volume one, a standard text in looking at the lives, practices, and experiences of these sort of American lawmen.