By R. Michael Wilson (TwoDot Books, $12.95 each, softbound) Grade: B
Wilson loves the Old West. He is a former law enforcement officer from southern California and has spent more than a decade pouring through old documents and references in his quest to mine nuggets from the region’s past. His writing philosophy is a simple one: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Determining the truth about the American West is never an easy task, but Wilson’s latest two books are as close as we are apt to get.
The railroad reached the West during the years immediately after the Civil War. It didn’t take long for road agents to shift their attention from robbing stagecoaches to the more lucrative iron horses. “Great Train Robberies of the Old West” is an action-packed collection of stories about gangs too notorious, hauls too large and murders too coldblooded to fade into the dust of history. Of local interest is a chapter dealing with the 1889 robbery of the Atlantic & Pacific Express at the Canyon Diablo station.
“The Great Stagecoach Robberies” documents a time when express boxes became a favorite target of robbers. Arizona’s “petticoat bandit” Pearl Hart liked to rob stagecoaches with a polite and ladylike .38 caliber revolver. She was eventually arrested and after serving a short sentence, she was paroled by the governor on the condition that she leave Arizona. She moved to Kansas City where, once again, she turned her attention to stages, not as a robber but as an actress.