John Boessenecker,
When Law was in the Holster
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2012)

Sure, we know all about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson (who all make appearances in this book) and the rest, but how many of us are familiar with the feats of Bob Paul? Paul, a man whose name is lost to popular history, was, in his time, one of the most famous lawmen of the West, a man whose career spanned the entire development of the western territories, from the California Gold Rush to the struggle for statehood for Arizona. He rode in posses with Earp and Holliday, refused to arrest the Earp brothers after the gunfight at the OK corral and kept the peace for close to 50 years.

Boessenecker takes us through his life from his childhood as a cabin boy and then full-fledged sailor on whaling vessels out of New Bedford to his days as a miner during the gold rush. He traces Paul's time as a shotgun guard on Wells Fargo stagecoaches to his service as deputy and sheriff in a string of Western towns. Bob Paul was like Woody Allen's Zelig; if something important was going on, he was there. He had a knack for finding himself in the middle of the action, so that he was present during many of the most important developments in Western history.

The author tells Paul's story in detail and that, for casual readers, might be a problem. This is academic history, and since it is the first biography of Bob Paul, it is meant to create a public record, a source for future historians. Therefore the book is dense with detail -- 400 pages of text, followed by 40 pages of notes. While researchers will find this a treasure trove, casual readers will find much more than they really need to know. When Bob takes a posse out for two weeks seeking outlaws, is it essential for us to know every twist, turn and double-back that the posse rides? And is it necessary to take us on a 14-page ride along with a posse only to discover that their quarry gets away?

Bob Paul lived a fascinating life. He was a man of contradictions: a family man who spent all his time away from his family chasing outlaws, a soft-spoken gentleman of violence, a man of action who was also a master politician, and a man who wanted to be rich but flushed away a couple of fortunes so that he always had to return to law enforcement. This book presents the man in all of his complexity.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

17 November 2012

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