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From MetaFilter:

 Lea F. McCarty painted portaits of Old West killers. In 1959 he collected twenty of his paintings, each paired with an essay, in a book called The Gunfighters.

From the Foreword to the book:

“I’ve often heard tell that the gunfighter has his beginning when pistol types were changed from those old flintlocks to the cap-and-ball.  He could draw and shoot these faster and more accurately.  All the formalities of the duel were forgotten.  Draw.  Shoot.  That was it.

 I’ve often heard Wyatt Earp say Jesse James was among our first gunslingers to carry a Navy Colts six shooter, the same as Butler Hickok, or “Wild Bill,” who carried two of these cap-and-ball equalizers in his red sash.  Wild Bill was presented with these ivory-handled guns by the Vice-President of the United States – – a Senator Wilson then.

 Ben Thompson and Wes Hardin brought the draw-shoot era into prominence, in my opinion, and all our gunfighting took place in about 20 years.

 The gunfighter was a fellow with a cool nerve.  You had to have it to last.  Personal histories of the gunfighters show that the top hands had it, and the cold blue stare of a killer was unmistakable.  About 95 per cent of all the gunslingers were blue-eyed.  Many were related, like Jesse James to the Youngers, the Youngers to the Daltons, and Cole Younger, the uncle of Tombstone killer, John Ringo.  Wes Hardin had relatives all over Texas.

 Yes, the gunfighter was a product of the Civil War.  Post-war feeling, according to Earp, ran high.  The new Negro police caused a lot of trouble and actually bred gunslingers, such as in the case of John Wesley Hardin.  Railhead towns of the big cattle drives also generated the gunfighter, and many a gunman has stood before an old, dusty, warped mirror to stretch and admire himself from hat top down to his sparkling “waistband of death”, as I once heard it called.

 Anyway, it is all history now.  Yet, it happened only yesterday when you come to think of it.  There was an old boot dug up from Custer’s Little Big Horn burial ground a couple of months — sole on the boot, hooks and nails, lookin’ like you could wear it.  And when I come to think of working with Wyatt Earp not so many years ago — well, it hasn’t been too far back in history.

 Every man has a place to fill in the making of America.  The gunfighter has been no exception.  The great, in both sin and morality, stand shoulder to shoulder in stone, bronze or on canvas; and many a boy, yes even grown men, would rather hear of the deeds of Wild Bill Hickok than read all the books written on George Washington or Abe Lincoln.

  — A. M. King Wyatt Earp Deputy Arizona and California 1900

The portraits:

Joaquin Murrietta
Jesse James
Wild Bill Hickok
Bill Longley
Ben Thompson
King Fisher
Jim Courtright
John Wesley Hardin
Wyatt Earp
Doc Holliday
Clay Allison
Bat Masterson
Luke Short
Old Man Clanton
John Ringo
Curly Bill
Mysterious Dave Mather
Pat Garrett
Billy the Kid
Calamity Jane 

History has always favored the bold.




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