The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004 Page: 339
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County, supplied beef to the military post, married into a prominent ranching
family, was captain of a vigilante mob, and headed an outfit of rustlers.
In part, the paucity of sources that naturally attend a secretive double life has
long stumped many a prospective Larn biographer. An even more formidable
obstacle that has kept this enigmatic figure from joining the pantheon of west-
ern outlaws has been the hostile silence of local people, many whose forebears
found themselves ensnared in Larn's activities. Long ago, southwestern historian
C. L. Sonnichsen, related DeArment, "found that few old-timers cared to talk
about it 'because it was painful to so many good people"' (p. 4). More accurate-
ly, Larn's story would have revealed that many of these "good people" were not
so good. Almost fanatically, some of their progeny have guarded their history.
DeArment has benefited from even this brief lapse of time during which emo-
tions have moderated and sources have accumulated. He is an accomplished au-
thor and tells a captivating story in the prose of traditional western history--that
is, long on action and largely uncritical of his sources. He also brings to the biog-
raphy some salacious details heretofore unpublished as well as a daguerreotype
reputed to be the only known image ofJohn Larn.
As a work of scholarship, however, Bravo has little to recommend it. DeAr-
ment's enthusiastic portrayal of a society that casually accepted violence is simply
inaccurate. A single example illustrates on one hand how the law more typically
responded to violence, and on the other how DeArment was quick to seize upon
the apocryphal as fact. A Fort Worth gambler, he relates, "returned to town
wearing Cheap John's $18 boots" after following this man onto the prairie and
murdering him. He was only collecting on a bad debt, "and nothing more was
said" (p. 157). Two recent studies would have pointed the author to the case
file, where he would have learned that the court vigorously pursued this compli-
cated matter. The supposed murderer sweated for his life in front of a jury be-
fore they finally returned a deserved acquittal along with his $5,000 bail. More
egregious, however, is the author's liberal use of Edgar Rye's The Quzrt and the
Spur for a host of material facts. This 1909 classic is a work of historical fiction.
Life in the West, however precarious, was rarely as simple as DeArment makes
it appear. Like many western towns that courted business from trail drives and
hide hunters, Fort Griffin winked at wildness but took violence most seriously.
Contrary to an environment where, between 1874 and 1880, "'there were more
cold-blooded murders that went unnoticed and there were killings for which no
trial was ever held"' (p. 50), the courts did in fact deliver convictions for mur-
der, attempted murder, and assault. Larn's story begs the question whether his
activities and those of the ruling elite contributed to a momentary breakdown of
law and order. Certainly the vigilantes usurped the authority of the Texas
Rangers, and the military's policy of leaving civilian matters to civilians can be
traced directly to Larn's machinations. DeArment fails to address these and oth-
er matters as well, choosing instead to present a "shoot 'em up" that squanders
an opportunity to contribute to our understanding of the West.
Robert DeArment has produced some solid scholarship during his long career
as a writer. Bravo, however, falls outside the usual range of his work. No doubt
his reputation will survive this one errant shot; give him a mulligan on this one.
Sam Houston State University
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004, periodical, 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/m1/383/: accessed August 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.