WRITERS ENSURE OUTLAWS, LAWMEN SURVIVE
August 11, 2003
KERRVILLE - ''Elvis and Jesse will never die,'' said writer Jack Koblas during his presentation recently at the 30th annual rendezvous of the National Outlaw and Lawmen's Association. ''We (writers) won't let that happen.''
The organization, known as NOLA, has about 500 members nationwide and in several foreign countries. Its purpose is the preservation of lawmen and outlaw history of the American West, focusing on the post Civil War period to 1920, or when the horseback era ended, said Chuck Parsons of Luling, one of the group's charter members and program chairman for the Kerrville meeting.
Parsons said the organization's first members started studying the Wild Bunch, and since 1974, members have expanded their interest to both well known lawmen and outlaws to those lesser known.
Many of the members have written books about various old west personalities, and NOLA publishes a soft-cover booklet each quarter that features six-eight stories along with current book reviews.
''We intend to provide accurate history (about the Old West) rather than myth and legend,'' he said.
Koblas, kickoff speaker for the final day, talked about the James and Younger gang in Texas. He said that Jesse James will live forever in the minds of Americans, much as Elvis Presley does today.
''Everyone wants to be Jesse James,'' he said. ''A prisoner in the Texas pen wrote me a letter once claming he was the reincarnated Jesse James. It's in the genes,'' he said, drawing laughter from the crowd gathered at the YO Ranch Hotel and Convention Center.
Drawing special attention from members at the final day's session was a panel discussion on ''Violence in Western History - How Violent was It?''
It was the first time a panel discussion about the old west had been scheduled during a meeting, Parsons said. Hopefully, it will not be the last as many members took part in the question and answer period.
Panelists were Ed Kirby, moderator, along with Allan G. Hatley of LaGrange, Rick Miller of Harker Heights, near Killeen, Harold J. Weiss of Jamestown University in New York, Robert Barr Smith of Nebraska and Nancy B. Samuelson of Connecticut.
It was the consensus of the group that violence in the Old West was not as profound as first believed, despite the old western movies that featured scores of men dropping from bullets from guns that never needed to be reloaded. In addition, many of the ''so-called gunmen'' were pretty good public relations men and could spin a big yarn to a newspaper reporter that made good reading during a cold, winter's night.
One question submitted to the group was where were the lawmen when the James Gang raided the bank at Coffeyville, Kan. Smith said that the sheriff actually was located in a nearby town, and the Coffeyville town marshal did not carry a firearm. Also, there was no lawman present when the gang raided the bank in Northfield, Minn.
''Were women safer in the 19th century compared to today?''
Nancy Samuelson said it was false that frontiersmen usually put women on a pedestal because records show a lot of crimes against women were never reported to the public
''There was plenty of rape and assault. How did the whores get into the West,'' Samuelson asked.
Rick Miller said there was as much domestic abuse of women then as in today's society, but families kept such things to themselves.
Robert Smith, who has written extensively about the early development of the cow towns in Kansas and Nebraska, said crime was not as common in those days. In fact, the code of the West actually was in place in which no doctor or preacher would be killed unless it was accidental. Apparently there was no such protection given to lawyers and judges since many were involved in shady deals.
Harold Weiss, who has spent years studying the Texas Rangers, said there was more violence in the countryside than in Old West townships, and cowboys from the trail usually behaved except when they got ''liquored up'' and started fighting among themselves.
''Liquor and gambling caused lots of killings,'' he said.
And what makes an Old West icon?
''You need a good writer, a press agent and the movies,'' Smith said.
West Texas writer Bill Leftwich of Fort Davis said a romantic name also helped, such as Billy the Kid, Belle Starr, Jesse James or the Sundance Kid.
The Old West is alive today, but in a different genre, said Weiss. ''The black hat gunfighter is no more to today's generation. ''Darth Vader is the bad guy of the future.''
I'll be seeing you Out Yonder.