2016 is shaping up as an outstanding year for Frontier Partisans studies. New bios of Frederick Russell Burnham and Frederick Courteney Selous. Paul Hutton’s long-awaited tome on Mickey Free and the Apache Wars. My cup runneth over.
Add another to the list. Ace Western law enforcement historian John Boessenecker will drop a major biography of legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer on April 16. Boessenecker made his bones writing about the exceptionally violent and dangerous California frontier. “Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California” and “Gold Dust & Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes” are outstanding must-reads for anyone interested in the topic. He’s written biographies of the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez and lawman Bob Paul. He’s won many well-deserved awards for meticulously researched, highly readable non-fiction.
Now he’s turned his attention to perhaps the greatest lawman of the early 20th Century. Hamer is most famous for leading the posse that ambushed and riddled Bonnie and Clyde in 1934 (Hamer using a Remington Model 8 with an extended magazine — mucho firepower). But that episode — a well-deserved end for a pair of exceptionally nasty psychopaths — was only one incident in a long and storied career.
From the horseback days of the Old West through the gangster days of the 1930s, Hamer stood on the frontlines of some of the most important and exciting periods in American history. He participating in the Bandit War of 1915, survived the climactic gunfight in the last blood feud of the Old West, battled the Mexican Revolution’s spillover across the border, protected African Americans from lynch mobs and the Ku Klux Klan, and ran down gangsters, bootleggers, and Communists. When at last his career came to an end, it was only when he ran up against another legendary Texan: Lyndon B. Johnson.
As you all know, I am endlessly fascinated by that transitionary period where the Old West met the modern era, and Frank Hamer lived that transition intensely. Most “gunfighters” of the Old West had a handful of scrapes. Hamer engaged in some 54 gunfights — and died with his boots off. That tells you a lot.
Can’t think of a better biographer than Boessenecker to take on this outstanding lawman’s story.