Dick, engage this person in conversation while I look around.
“My dear fellow, we want four suits of clothes with chicken fixings, nothing more. If we get them, all right. Otherwise I’ll break your neck. Dick, engage this person in conversation while I look around.” I was puttering among the shelves and showcases, trying to get an exact fit for all our party, when I happened to glance over my shoulder.
Al Jennings (1863-1961), lawyer, inept outlaw (train robber), raconteur, evangelist, actor and advisor on Westerns
The book was made a book via conversation, stenography and the editorial ministrations of Will Irwin, who also penned its colorful (and often-enough disturbing; see extracts below) opening chapter “Introducing Mr. Jennings.”
Will Irwin (1873-1948), wikipedia
see also the description of the Will Irwin and [his wife] Inez Haynes Gillmore papers, at Yale : YCAL MSS 603
on the law (from Irwin’s introduction) —
Those were the high times of the middle seventies, when half the Western domain, still unfenced, was pasture for the herds of long-horns — wild days, and glorious, if rough. Away from the settlements and frontier cities there was no formal law. Each man carried his own law “in leather on his hip,” his own hangman’s rope on his saddle-horn. The rules of the game were unwritten, but perfectly understood. By his own right arm a man defended his family and herds. An insult to honor called for death — but in a man-fight, face to face, with all opportunity for both contestants to draw. Assassination, however, was murder, to be avenged by the friends of the dead with their guns, or by the community with a riata.
When a man was killed in a fair fight over what the community considered a sufficient cause, the killer went unmolested. In the neighborhood of towns the law made a show of prosecuting these “affairs.” But community feeling was dominent there, as on the ranges. If the community felt that the killer had his quarrel just, and if he had slain fairly and in front, the old, overworked plea of self-defence got him off. In fact, the book law of the towns often worked less justice than the gun law of the ranges, since men with pull and influence might escape the penalty for crimes condemned by the community at large. All that was the dark side to a glorious man-life, filled with young vigor, mirth, cheerfully accepted hardships, and adventure.
and this on Oklahoma —
This brings us to 1889, in which year Oklahoma was opened for settlement. To understand the rest of this story, you must understand fully the civic condition, in that year and the following years, of the territory which is now the state of Oklahoma. It was then divided into two parts — Indian Territory and Oklahoma proper. The Territory had long been the home of the Five Civilized Tribes. The legal system was dual — Federal law, with certain special provisions to fit Indian necessities, and the strict, often curious tribal laws which the Indians administered among themselves. The whites occupied this district only by a kind of courtesy. Some had married Indian women, and so become lords of principalities in Indian lands. Certain stockmen leased ranges from the Indians, often for trifling payments. Further, there was the element known contemptuously among cattlemen as “nesters.” These pioneer farmers were also leasers, usually agreeing to clear the land in return for a five-year tenure.
Oklahoma proper, the other end of the State, had been held by the government, practically untenanted, for future use of the Indian tribes. By 1889, however, the Indian population had so dwindled, and the “boomers” had grown so insistent, that the government threw it open for settlement. That was the first and greatest of our land rushes. The settlers lined up on the border. At the sound of a gun they rushed, the first comer to any tract seizing it by right of arrival and holding it, often, by force of arms.
The formal law of the land came early into Oklahoma. Within a few years it was a settled and orderly district; now, less than a quarter of a century later, it is as though the old West had never existed in those prairies.
Until recently things went differently in Indian Territory. Held back from close modern settlement by its curious legal status, largely inhabited by Indian tribes which were civilized only in the relative sense, it became, in the next few years, the refuge for the “bad men” of the West, and for those who could live only under the gun law. The cattle business was changing. The range was shrinking every day. Under old conditions, a man got his seventy-five or a hundred dollars a month for work which required nerve, resource, and continual dalliance with danger. Now, a line rider at thirty dollars a month did the comparatively safe and monotonous work of keeping up the wire fences. Those who could breathe only under the old conditions drifted to the Territory...