Getting Away With Murder on the Texas Frontier: Notorious Killings & Celebrated Trials
Human life was cheap on the old frontier, unless one shot a horse. That’s only one of the conclusions to be drawn from this collection of Old West tales that are by no means tall. Where popular culture tells us that Western mythmakers were often apt to “print the legend,” this work reminds us that the real story was often better than any legend.
Neal’s book combines a scholarly attention to detail with the earthy feel of old saddle leather. In between these stories of cattle rustlers, lynch mobs, and witnesses killed in full view of crowded courtrooms are a few explanations as to why frontier justice had a largely arbitrary feel. The carving out of a criminal justice system, Neal explains, was as hard fought as the taming of the range. Lawyers’ tactics might involve firing blanks at a jury in order to secure a mistrial, or playing to prevailing assumptions about personal honor. The circumstances, the victim, even the crime might disappear for any number of reasons.
Part of this book’s allure is in the individual stories themselves, such as the courtroom speech that managed to free Minnie Stacey, a woman on trial for prostitution, or the honorable Rev. G.E. Morrison’s conviction for poisoning his wife. In the end, the only explanation for many of these cases might be the one offered by a jury foreman, questioned after the acquittal of a known murderer: “This is Texas.”