The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

The Western Peace Officer: A Legacy of Law and Order. By Frank
Richard Prassel. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972.
Pp. xii+ 330. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $8.95.)
This book is a good one. It deserves a place on the shelf of every per-
son interested in western law enforcement, ,because it gets beyond the
legendary images of frontier lawmen to the work-a-day world of sheriffs
and marshals, constables and policemen. Prassel's book offers an ex-
cellent beginning for the uninitiated and a useful reference tool for
buff and scholar. It is hardly surprising that the view of frontier law
enforcement that emerges is both more complicated and more mundane
than the simplistic stereotypes of flinty-eyed, gunfighting frontier
That, after all, is Prassel's main purpose-to locate the frontier law-
man lost in the mists of legend and to examine that figure's real world.
The author's opening chapter is almost certain to arouse some discus-
sion, since his conclusion is that the West was not the cradle of lawless-
ness, as is generally assumed. He admits the peculiar problems of law
enforcement, courts, and justice of the frontier, but he insists that the
violent frontier was no more violent than the eastern urban centers. It
is an interesting and important argument.
Prassel examines western law enforcement in all its aspects, from
marshals and rangers to the particular problems of law enforcement
with regard to the Indians, and the federal government's role in main-
taining law and order in the territories. Hickok, Earp, Masterson,
Tilghman, Stoudenmire, Horn, and Garrett are all here, along with Roy
Bean, Judge Parker, and John Slaughter, but these legendary charac-
ters have been "put in their place." Of particular interest to scholars
is the effort to demonstrate the continuity of law enforcement from the
nineteenth century into the twentieth.
In pursuit of his subject, the author has diligently studied the sources.
The extensive bibliography and notes reflect wide knowledge of avail-
able materials (and the manuscript collections should interest the stu-
dent of western legends). There are, however, some peculiar omissions.
Much of the recent literature on violence in American history is
ignored, but the most striking case is Prassel's failure to cite Nyle H.
Miller and Joseph W. Snell's encyclopedic Why the West Was Wild, the
truly basic volume on law enforcement in cowtown Kansas.
The author's background is law and law enforcement which brings


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 27, 2016.

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