Cover image for Ride the devil's herd : Wyatt Earp's epic battle against the West's biggest outlaw gang
Ride the devil's herd : Wyatt Earp's epic battle against the West's biggest outlaw gang
Physical Description:
510 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

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The little-known story of how a young Wyatt Earp, aided by his brothers, defeated the Cowboys, the Old West's biggest outlaw gang.

Wyatt Earp is regarded as the most famous lawman of the Old West, best known for his role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. But the story of his two-year war with a band of outlaws known as the Cowboys has never been told in full.

The Cowboys were the largest outlaw gang in the history of the American West. After battles with the law in Texas and New Mexico, they shifted their operations to Arizona. There, led by Curly Bill Brocius, they ruled the border, robbing, rustling, smuggling and killing with impunity until they made the fatal mistake of tangling with the Earp brothers.

Drawing on groundbreaking research into territorial and federal government records, John Boessenecker's Ride the Devil's Herd reveals a time and place in which homicide rates were fifty times higher than those today. The story still bears surprising relevance for contemporary America, involving hot-button issues such as gang violence, border security, unlawful immigration, the dangers of political propagandists parading as journalists, and the prosecution of police officers for carrying out their official duties. Wyatt Earp saw it all in Tombstone.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian Boessenecker (Shotguns and Stagecoaches) delivers an exhaustive account of lawman Wyatt Earp's takedown of the "loosely organized" gang of bandits and cattle thieves known as the Cowboys. Boessenecker traces the Cowboys' origins to New Mexico and west Texas in the mid-1870s, where future members robbed stagecoaches, raided cattle ranches, murdered rival desperadoes, and fought in border wars. Meanwhile, Wyatt Earp left behind his "unsavory" background as a horse thief and alleged pimp to become a peace officer in Dodge City, Kans. By the time Wyatt and his brother Virgil, a deputy U.S. marshal, arrived in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1879, there were roughly 100 Cowboys rustling cattle on both sides of the border and selling them to local ranchers. Boessenecker details numerous confrontations between the Earp brothers and the Cowboys and their associates, culminating in the infamous 1881 gunfight at O.K. Corral, for which Wyatt stood trial for murder. Once acquitted, he led a posse against the Cowboys and "effectively end organized banditry in Arizona Territory." Boessenecker overstuffs this granular history, clogging the narrative but providing a plethora of intriguing details about the politics, economics, and culture of the Old West. History buffs with a tolerance for tangents will be rewarded. Agent: Claire Gerus, the Claire Gerus Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Kirkus Review

A ripsnortin' ramble across the bloodstained Arizona desert with Wyatt Earp and company.Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the like may be best known for the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, but, as trial lawyer and popular historian Boessenecker ably shows, that was but one episode in a drama with many moving parts. Some of it traces back to points east, where ruffians known as "Cowboys"not at all an admiring term in those days, "synonymous with desperado, bandit, and cutthroat"robbed and murdered with abandon. The presiding genius of one band was an Irish New Englander who joined the Army and found frontier New Mexico a congenial place to conduct his nefarious business, including cattle rustling, horse thievery, and other affronts to public order. The story of Billy the Kid figures in this history, as does that of Earp paterfamilias Nicholas, hard-drinking, opinionated, and sometimes in trouble with the law. Indeed, at points in this narrative, readers may need a score card to keep track of which side of the law Wyatt and company were on at any given time. By the time they went to war with a Cowboy named Curly Bill Brocius, they were vigilantes who themselves would be in trouble with the authorities, Wyatt having gunned down a quarry on the streets of Tucson without much regard for the niceties of a fair warning. Throughout, Boessenecker displays a fine eye for period detail: He notes that much Old West violence had a political dimension that makes our time look tranquil by comparison. It was made all the nastier by the "entertainment vacuum" that existed on a frontier without much to do except drink and brawl. Charges that the Earps took part in dark-side activities such as gambling "were inflammatory but true," writes the author, good reason to stay a step ahead of the law and get out of Tombstone after the shooting stopped.A pleasure for thoughtful fans of Old West history, revisionist without being iconoclastic. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Table of Contents

1 Devils from Hell: The Cowboysp. 11
2 Fighting Men: The Earp Boysp. 37
3 Blood on the Borderp. 69
4 The Earps Come to Tombstonep. 105
5 Curly Bill Takes Chargep. 127
6 Death on the Tombstone Stagep. 152
7 Wanted Dead or Alivep. 175
8 Cowboys and Mexicansp. 196
9 Ride the Devil's Herdp. 216
10 The Fight Has Commencedp. 244
11 A Trial in Tombstonep. 267
12 The Cowboys Strike Backp. 287
13 Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshalp. 308
14 Wyatt Earp, Frontier Vigilantep. 329
15 Curly Bill Cashes Inp. 351
16 Last Ride of the Cowboysp. 376
17 The Sunset Trailp. 403
Appendix: The Cowboy Rosterp. 437
Acknowledgmentsp. 441
Notesp. 445
Indexp. 497