Tell Cotten tells me his favourite of his novels is LEE, number #6 in the Landon saga.
Tell is indirectly related to Texas legend Charlie Goodnight. He has won numerous awards, including Best New Western in the Laramie Awards, Gold and Silver in the Readers' Favourite awards, and bronze in the Global ebook awards for CONFESSIONS OF A GUNFIGHTER.
LEE tells of outlaw Lee Mattingly who decides to give up the outlaw trail for the life of a gambler, runs into John Wesley Hardin and finds himself in Huntsville Prison.
Gamblers out west deserve a blog all of their own. I thought I’d take a quick look at the career of JOHN WESLEY HARDIN.
Hardin was one of the breed of loners described in Time Life’s Old West volume The Gunfighters as: ‘emotionally maimed and socially alienated killers who, for the most part, took up the gun in their teens, murdered men with profligate ease…’
He was born in Bonham, Texas in 1853. In adulthood Hardin was described as 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair. But this slight, pleasant-faced young man became one of the worst ‘man-killers’ on the frontier. At age 15 he killed his first man, and spent the next 9 years as a fugitive, drifting between Texas and Kansas. In that time he killed between 27 and 44 men. As a large number of his victims were either black or Mexican, there can be little doubt many of his killings were racially motivated.
Hardin made a living as a gambler and once – briefly – a school teacher.
He kept his guns in an unusual place. He had holsters sewn into his vest (waistcoat for British readers) so that the butts of his pistols pointed inward across his chest. He crossed his arms to draw. Hardin claimed this was the fastest way to draw, and he practiced every day.
In 1871 Hardin arrived in Abilene, Kansas where he managed to not get into a confrontation with the town marshal JAMES (known as ‘WILD BILL’) HICKOK. Young Hardin seems to have hero-worshipped this legendary gun man.
A few of Hardin’s killings might have been justified, but most seem to be plain murder. A killing he committed in Abilene shocked even the hardened citizens of that ‘wild and woolly’ cow town. Sleeping in his hotel room, Hardin was awakened in the night by loud snoring coming from the room next door. Hardin shouted several times for the snoring man to "roll over" and then, irritated by the lack of response, fired several bullets through the wall between them. The luckless snorer was hit in the head and killed. Hardin exited through a second-story window onto the roof of the hotel and fled Abilene. The incident earned Hardin a reputation as a man "so mean, he once shot a man for snoring.” Years later Hardin reportedly said, "They tell lots of lies about me. They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain't true. I only killed one man for snoring.”
After killing Deputy Sheriff Charlie Webb in Comanche, Texas in 1874, Hardin fled his home state with a $4,000 reward on his head. The Texas Rangers pursued and 3 years later found him on a railroad car in the unlikely location (for a western gun man) of Pensacola, Florida. When the rangers approached he attempted to draw a .44 Colt pistol but it got caught up in his suspenders. The officers knocked Hardin unconscious and hauled him back to Texas.
After serving 17 years (1877-1894) in Huntsville Prison Hardin obtained a lawyer’s license and opened a practice in El Paso. In 1895 he got into a dispute with two local lawmen after they arrested a prostitute Hardin was acquainted with. One of these men, Constable JOHN SELMAN SNR. approached Hardin in the Acme Saloon, where he was playing dice. Selman shot Hardin in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Ironically Hardin died as his hero, ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok had died.
Despite strong evidence that Hardin was a racist psychopath, Hollywood gave us a sympathetic Hardin (played by ROCK HUDSON) in ‘THE LAWLESS BREED’ in 1952.
Among many 5 star reviews for LEE:
‘A tense narrative filled with action and fascinating characters… a master of writing terse dialogue… If you enjoy westerns with a hardboiled quality, Tell Cotten is one writer you need to check out.’
‘A wonderful story.’
‘Another exciting and refreshing story recounted by his easy flowing style.’