"Bullets, Badges, and Bandits" by John Burchill. A Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While my wife and I toured the Dalton Gang Hideout in Meade, Kansas, walking through the underground tunnel, and touring the gift shop, we happened upon "Bullets, Badges, and Bridles: Horse Thieves and the Societies That Pursued Them." Here, I thought, was a part of the frontier that I knew little about. And so I was delighted to pick up this 192-page softback, penned by John K. Burchill, associate professor of Criminal Justice at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas. It was almost like sitting down with the author and allowing him to tell you the fascinating stories and accounts he had found in his studies. Sometimes a bit disjointed, but always informative, and at times downright fascinating.
Most of his material revolves around the ascent and exploits of anti-horse theft associations in the late 18th to early 20th Century. These secretive coalitions came about due to a lack of law enforcement, and the need for citizens to band together for the protection of themselves and their property. As the author notes, the "freedom from crime and the fear of crime has been the holy grail that societies have searched for since Jamestown" (77). To make his case, he even takes readers across the globe to display how societies did this in Europe and Russia at around the same time.
Burchill follows the path of vigilantes, and points out ways the anti-horse thief associations were distinguished from such groups. He further spends time showing the ways the KKK infiltrated and cloned anti-horse thief societies because of their secrecy and efficiency. The author also takes documented side trips to pursue horse thieves and bandits, as well as marshals and sheriffs. The author explains the tantalizing intelligence system the anti-horse thief associations came up with long before telephones, radios, electronic criminal record checks, and computers. Clearly our forebearers accomplished some amazing exploits and had astounding aptitudes!
All told, "Bullets, Badges, and Bridles" is an intriguing read that shows one way citizens banded together to keep their communities and properties safe. It is a piece of frontier history that has faded from social consciousness, but is worth knowing. I enjoyed reading the book and learning about these groups and how they functioned, what they accomplished, and even how they finally faded from the scene. I recommend the book.
If you're interested in the book, you can find it here: Bullets, Badges, and Bandits
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