Getting Away with Murder on the Texas Frontier

by Neal, Bill

$18.95

In 1916, in the tiny West Texas town of Benjamin, a gunman slips into a courtroom and murders the defendant. In 1912, in Fort Worth's finest hotel, a young man kills an old gentleman in cold blood in the middle of the lobby. The verdict in both of these murderers' trials? Not guilty. The explanation? "This is Texas."

Laws passed by politicians in far-off Austin meant little to Westerners living on the Texas frontier. Sagebrush justice relied less on written statutes than on common sense, grass-roots fairness, and vague notions of folk law drawn from the Old South's Victorian code of chivalry and honor. In this very different time and place, a murderer might go free based on the following reasoning: "The son-of-a-gun is guilty all right, but we must turn him loose. He owes me for a pair of boots, and if we convict him I'll never get my money."

Inexperienced prosecutors, a lack of modern crime-detection methods, unavailability of witnesses, an acceptance of violence in society, and a laissez-faire attitude toward trial tactics all conspired to make guilty verdicts a rarity. In this first volume of a planned trilogy, Neal presents the evidence that shows how easy some folks found it to evade justice in the frontier West.

2009
Texas Tech University Press, 328 pages
Available in softcover



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