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George Scarborough: The Life and Death of a Lawman on the Closing Frontier.

Among the legion of renowned western lawmen, George Scarborough is not exactly a household name, but he probably should be. Best known for a single event - the 1896 killing of gunman John Selman - Scarborough's moment of glory ironically overshadowed his credible career as a Texas law enforcement officer from 1884 to 1900. First as a constable and later as a sheriff of Anson, Texas, this son of a Baptist preacher quickly demonstrated his abilities to track down troublesome cowboys and to stand fearlessly against numerical odds that might have spelled an early death. These skills and his strength of character seemed to have come naturally, but the young sheriff also received excellent instruction from widely respected Mitchell County Sheriff Dick Ware, who, as a Texas Ranger, previously had apprehended the celebrated outlaw Sam Bass. The two became lifelong friends, and it was Marshal Ware who brought Scarborough to El Paso in 1893 as his new deputy.

No town in the Southwest equalled El Paso as a magnet for outlaws, con men, teenage pistoleros, and borderland revolutionaries, and this is why the citizenry demanded tough, no-nonsense lawmen to maintain order. Along the southern edge of the city ran the international border, making it possible for desperados to escape both Mexican and U.S. authorities with relative ease. Furthermore, El Paso sat at the geographical center of an East-West axis stretching from Midland, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona, where wide open spaces and a shortage of law officers proved an ideal setting for outlawry that would continue even into the twentieth century.

Despite his thorough identification of the geographical, social, and racial factors that contributed to patterns of violence in the El Paso area, Robert K. DeArment is careful to point out that the acts of violence were sporadic and certainly not the mini crime waves that some novelists have portrayed. Yet the city did provide a unique setting where the lives of legendary gunfighters crossed paths. Among the elite were John Selman, Bass Outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, and "Black Jack" Ketchum, all of whose later years and violent deaths added to a chain of events that would ultimately claim Scarborough's life.

Equally revealing is the fact that throughout their bloody careers all of these men (except Ketchum) had periodically served as representatives of the law. Bass Outlaw had been a respected Texas Ranger at one time, Selman had served as sheriff and constable in several Texas towns, and Hardin had passed the Texas bar exam following his sixteen-year stay in the Texas prison system. Like other famous western lawmen such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Wild Bill Hickok, these men had a long streak of larceny running through their lives, often even while they were serving as peace officers. For example, while employed as a deputy sheriff in Shackelford County, Texas, Selman had joined his boss, Sheriff John Lam, in a profitable rustling operation. Likewise, Dan Red" Pipkin briefly became deputy sheriff of McKinley County, New Mexico, after his release from Yuma Prison. Even paragons of virtue such as Scarborough and his equally celebrated friend and partner, Jeff Milton, could go beyond the letter of the law by arresting what were probably the wrong men in the Stein's Pass mail robbery of 1897. Despite the appearance of new evidence that proved the cowboys' innocence, Scarborough and Milton refused to yield, and the three were not released from prison until 1904 by a special pardon of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Often biographies of gunfighters and frontier lawmen assume a "life-and-times" approach because what is specifically known about them does not stretch far enough to warrant a full-length treatment. Such is not the case with this effort. DeArment's meticulous research into newspapers, manuscript materials, and published recollections has produced a wealth of detail about Scarborough's life. It truly is his story and not just an interpretation of his times.
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Author:Tate, Michael L.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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