I can’t resist a short historical true crime story that begins:
The hangman was drunk....
Thus begins the tale of the execution of Anthony Chebatoris, which is really the story of a dentist who responded to an armed robbery in his office building by shooting and killing Jack Gracy and shooting and wounding Chebatoris, who’d just held up a bank and murdered a bystander. Chebatoris would face his just reward with the aid of a drunken executioner. The dentist, Dr. Frank Hardy, would become a local hero.
The stories of that dentist and many other everyday folk who bravely thwarted outlaws are told in Outgunned! True Stories of Citizens Who Stood Up to Outlaws—And Won by Robert A. Waters and John T. Waters, Jr, recently published by Cumberland House. The stories come largely from the 1870s through the 1930s, and turn the typical Wild West anti-hero legends on their heads. As the authors explain:
Many thousands of books have been written about the bloody deeds of Wild West outlaws and Prohibition-era gangsters. Romance and legend have fogged reality and, in many cases, made heroes of these bandits and murderers. Their names are etched in our collective psyche: Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cole Younger, the Daltons.... Numerous books have also been written about the lawmen who pursued the desperadoes.... But from the very beginning, other forces were at work in the fight against crime. The decent, unsung citizens who populated the towns and villages of America did as much to bring law and order to the nation as the lawmen, judges, and jailers....
And, as the authors point out, these citizens sometimes took up arms in response to robberies. This book repeats the stories of the two most famous town defenses by residents: the downfall of the James-Younger Gang in Northfield, Minnesota, and the last stand for the Dalton Gang in Coffeyville, Kansas.
Beyond these well-known tales, the authors relay the story of the train conductor who brought down a multiple murderer; the all-black town that took vigorous exception to the murder of the local bank president; the teenage farm boy who crippled an infamous outlaw (said the bad man afterward: “I don’t mind getting shot. It had to happen sooner or later. But a kid with a hog gun — that hurts my pride”); and many other ordinary folk who braved death to mete out justice to the murderous thugs who roamed the countryside for too long.
Robert and John Waters are wonderful storytellers who have earned their good reviews from the Second Amendment set.
And what makes these stories most enjoyable to me is they show how stupid and brutal these robbers were. There is the story of the murderous idiots who robbed a bank with a getaway car that had no gas in it. There is the story of the random killer who ignorantly tried to rob a train single-handed. But my favorite is the story of the dentist. The one who kept a weapon in his office above the bank, just in case. The one who managed to shoot a fleeing killer in the head with a deer rifle from a distance of 150-200 yards. A moving target -- an old hunting rifle -- two hundred yards! Now that’s a crack shot. And a hero.