Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies

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The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies
by Ron Franscell
Globe Pequot Press, 2011

Review by Robert A. Waters

In The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies, Ron Franscell writes: “Place matters, even in crime. I grew up in Wyoming, and I understand how it’s possible to drive a long, straight road for hours without ever seeing another human. I know how lofty philosophies about law and justice dissolve in remote places where cries for help will go unheard...” The author then proceeds to take the reader into hundreds of remote outlaw hang-outs.

There’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who rode those lonesome trails into oblivion. Franscell has devoted an entire chapter to these enigmatic robbers and their Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

There’s Big-Nose George Parrott, a would-be Wyoming train robber who was lynched after killing two deputies. Local doctors filleted his skin and used it to make shoes and a medical bag. They also made a change purse from his scrotum and fashioned his skull into an ash tray. As a final insult, Big Nose George was buried in a salt-filled whiskey barrel. (Who says doctors don’t have a sense of humor?)

There are tragic tales, too. The Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, in which hundreds of Indians, mostly innocent women and children, were slaughtered by Union Colonel John Chivington and his Colorado Cavalry. The Arapaho, with their chief Black Kettle, had surrendered to the U. S. and were given land near Sand Creek. They lived there peacefully, although other Arapaho still fought the hated whites. In order to show his loyalty to the U. S., Black Kettle flew an American flag over his camp. On November 29, Chivington and hundreds of drunken troops attacked the encampment. As the attack began, Black Kettle raised the white flag of surrender. Chivington ignored it and he and his troops blasted away until the ground ran red with Indian blood. For this atrocity, the colonel got off scot-free. Chivington lived a full life, unlike the women and children he massacred. He died in 1893.

Then there are the modern stories: the Columbine High School massacre; Charlie Starkweather’s merciless rampage; and the Alan Berg murder. You can read about Lisa Kimmel, kidnapped by a suspected serial killer who buried her car in his front yard. If you're interested in true tales of the high and mighty, you can read about the murder of Spider Sabich. His wife, popular singer Claudine Longet, was charged, but, as happens so many times, the beautiful Longet got off after serving a mere thirty days in the county jail. Other less well-known crimes are as intriguing as the sensationalized stories mentioned above.

Part of the fun of this book is that crime buffs can visit the sites where outlaws roamed and madams plied their trade and vigilantes often lynched the baddest of the bad. GPS coordinates are given so the reader can drive straight to the scenes of many famous (and infamous) crimes.

This book is a sequel to Franscell’s earlier tour guide, The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas.

I highly recommend The Crime Buff's Guide to the Outlaw Rockies. Buy it, you’ll love it.

C'mon Ron, I'm ready for the next guide.

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