SHOT All TO HELL by Mark Lee Gardner

I love Westerns.

Ever since I was a kid, it didn’t matter if it was John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or if it was some fantasy like spaghetti western or a Sam Peckinpah sweat drenched nightmare. Also I didn’t care if it was based on historical fact or was the creation of some long forgotten screenwriter. I just loved westerns. My dad turned me onto them when I was very young. I will forever be thankful for that. As years passed, I’d start to learn more of the history surrounding certain legends portrayed in the films I’d grown up with. Like for instance how Wyatt Earp wasn’t that much of a hero or that Billy the Kid was a complete psychopath. Books have started to come out that are based completely on facts verified by deep extensive research. Now when I watch those films, I still enjoy them but I know that what I’m seeing isn’t how it was.

Countless books and films have been made about Jesse James, the Civil War guerrilla fighter turned bank robber. This new one by Mark Lee Gardner aims to set the record straight about a certain period of time in James’s life, in particular the infamous 1876 raid of Northfield, Minnesota which changed everything for Jesse James. Before that incident, Jesse James and his crew were total rock stars. They were untouchable. They were robbing banks and trains with impunity. Law enforcement was impotent. No matter what they tried, they could not get close. The James gang had friend, family and sympathizers who would go out of their way to protect the gang. In 1876 the gang couldn’t ignore the heat they were feeling in their home territories of Missouri and Kansas. They had to start looking father and father out for banks and trains to take down. They decide on a bank in Northfield, Minnesota which is father out than any other job they have done. The gang had never been to Minnesota. They didn’t know its terrain or the nature of the people. A couple member of the gang had severe reservations about going but out of loyalty to their team, they went. Well, they rode up there looking exactly like what they were which was….Fuck it, they rode into town looking like complete gangsters and acted the part as well. Saying they stuck out would be putting it lightly. The townspeople of Northfield immediately took notice. As quaint as the town looked to the outsiders, when the first shots rang out, the quaintness disappeared and the rage filled defenders appeared. They shot the hell out of the James gang. The only reason the gang made it out of town alive was their Civil War combat experience and the 10 years of armed robbery since the war ended. What followed was a manhunt of epic proportions.

This book was great. All the details amazed me. In some ways reading it was like watching a horror movie. You want to yell at the main characters to not do this or don’t do that. When the robbery begins, it’s like watching or reading a slow motion train wreck. You know the destruction is going to be epic and you are powerless to stop it. After the Northfield raid, nothing was the same for Jesse James. This was not a situation where you could put the band back together. This is the story of how a legend began to fall. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer. I’ve already picked up Mark Lee Gardner’s book about Billy the Kid from the library. The man can write.