The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001

Book Reviews

and finally American attacks. Alternately favored and reviled by Mexican offi-
cials, Kirker rejoined his former countrymen in 1846 and served as an effective
auxiliary for the southward-moving American army.
In presenting this volume, the late Ralph Adam Smith acknowledges previous
works dealing with James Kirker, stating that in the interim, "new material has
been discovered" (p. ix). Smith is quite successful in parlaying Mexican archival
materials and his own considerable knowledge of Mexican-Apache conflict into
a detailed account of Kirker and the contract warfare system in which he
engaged. Turns in Mexican-Apache relations are well documented and
explained, as are Mexican-Kirker and Apache-Kirker relations. Notwithstanding
the difficulty of separating fact from the fiction of Kirker's exploits, Smith regu-
larly evaluates his materials and readily identifies dubious sources. A tendency to
take frontier military reports at face value is the most significant exception.
Smith describes Kirker's campaigns against Apaches and his actions in the
Mexican-American War in detailed, though sometimes over-heroic, terms. In
one leap of hyperbole, Smith nearly attributes the winning of the war to a single
charge led by Kirker (p. 19o).
In attempting to resuscitate his subject's reputation, Smith places Kirker in
the context of his times. Famed in his day, Kirker was often praised by rural set-
tlers and mine owners subject to Apache raids, as well as sympathetic newspaper
editors. However, Kirker was ineffective in reducing Apache or Comanche raids
and actually delayed peace settlements. Kirker's tactic of surprise dawn attacks,
even on bands already under treaty agreements, provided little incentive for oth-
ers to end raiding and submit to restrictions on their movements. Kirker failed
to engage Apache bands most damaging to Mexican settlements and avoided
better-armed Comanches entirely. Yet, Kirker was regarded as the most effective
tool available against raiding tribes, and forms of the quirquismo mercenery sys-
tem continued well after the Mexican-American War.
As some may recall from a serialization of Borderlander (in Great Plains Journal,
32/33, 1993-94: 1-106; 34/35, 1995-96, 1-104; 36/37, 1997-98, 1-112),
Smith's insistence in referring to Kirker as "James" becomes truly confusing
when also referring to Thomas James (p. 11-14). Maps omit many place-names
given in the text and include modern boundaries, aiding little in understanding
contemporary places and events. Despite these minor shortcomings, Borderlander
stands as an important contribution to the study of Mexican-Native relations on
the eve of the Mexican-American War.
University of California, Davis Steven M. Fountain
Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of
America. By J. Anthony Lukas. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. Pp.
875. Author's note, epilogue, notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, index.
ISBN 0-684-80858-7. $32.50, cloth.)
Big Trouble is an amazing book. Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama,
part true crime, and fully a fine history, this book seduces the reader back to the

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/. Accessed October 22, 2014.