Even Lawmen Get on the Naughty List Sometimes

Texas Tech Press Author’s New Book Traces Tales of the Bad Old Days on the Frontier

Written by: Barbara Brannon

It took a while for the gavel to catch up to the guns in the Old West. In a new book, “From Guns to Gavels: How Justice Grew Up in the Outlaw West,” veteran attorney Bill Neal takes readers from Mississippi to the frontiers of West Texas, Indian Territory, New Mexico Territory, and finally to the frozen Montana wilderness through a series of linked, true-life tales of crimes and trials. The book, published by Texas Tech University Press, traces the struggles of the fledgling criminal justice system in the Southwest through an engaging progression of outlaws and lawmen, plus a host of colorful frontier trial lawyers and judges. Neal draws on his 40 years as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor in Texas to look at how law and society matured together. A native of Medicine Mound, near Quanah, Neal draws on his home turf for accounts of murders, escapes and shootouts. He retells events that not only have historical significance but also observe human nature in the context of crime and justice. One story features Texas Ranger W.J. McDonald and how a well-placed plug of tobacco changed a gun fight. It was the winter of 1893 in the small town of Quanah, near the border with Oklahoma Territory. McDonald received word that his longtime enemy, Sheriff John Piearce Matthews, “intended to mosey down to Quanah and shoot McDonald between the eyes,” Neal writes. The gunfight happened in the middle of Main Street. McDonald’s first shots were dead on, but a thick plug of Star Navy chewing tobacco and a notebook in Matthews’ pocket stopped both bullets. Still, his good fortune was short-lived. Before the month was out Matthews would die of blood poisoning from the two other gunshot wounds. “From Guns to Gavels” is a companion volume to Neal’s 2006 book, “Getting Away with Murder on the Texas Frontier: Notorious Killings and Celebrated Trials,” also published by Texas Tech University Press. “Getting Away with Murder on the Texas Frontier” was named Book of the Year by the National Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History, received the Rupert N. Richardson Award for the best book on West Texas history from the West Texas Historical Association, and was a finalist for both the Violet Crown Award from the Writers’ League of Texas and the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America. Neal and his wife, Gayla, live in Abilene, Texas. For more information or a review copy of the book, contact Barbara Brannon, marketing manager, Texas Tech University Press, (806) 742-2982 or via e-mail at barbara.brannon@ttu.edu. All of TTUP’s books can be found at www.ttup.ttu.edu; for a complete listing of fiction published by the press, click on “Browse by Subject.”