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Book tells of vigilante justice in the West

Book tells of vigilante justice in the West

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Every day, things happen that make us call out for justice, that make us want to right the wrongs done to our friends and family.

But we don’t take action because we live in a civilized society, with rules that govern our daily lives.

What if ... we could take matters into our own hands, mete out justice and make our world a better, safer place?

Back in 1884, in eastern Montana and western Dakota territories, a group of men were tired of  losing their cattle to organized rustlers and frustrated by the lack of law enforcement. At war with the outlaws, these cowboy vigilantes organized, tracked patterns of missing horses and cattle, made a list and went to work.

“Twelve Quiet Men” is the true story of real cowboys who took back the West. Author Michael Edward Little spent 10 years researching and writing the story and it rings true. But it’s not just a story of vigilantes and the rustlers they chased down, it’s a shoot-’em up Western with believable characters woven with authentic-sounding dialogue and detailed descriptions of the land we call home today.

The story begins with two cowboys being pinned down by bad guys they caught branding stolen stock. Outgunned in a dandy firefight, the pair kills three of the four rustlers but one is on the wrong end of some lucky shots.

The event sparks outrage among the hands working for the DHS, a huge cattle operation that’s the center of the book’s action. On the day of the young man's funeral, DHS ranch manager Granville Stuart holds an historic meeting on his back porch, with the ranchers in attendance agreeing to put an end to the rustling and thievery.

The vigilante committee is quickly organized, all sworn to secrecy and committed to going all the way in driving thieves from the territory. Eventually, the efforts involved the Marquis de Mores and Theodore Roosevelt, although both were deemed too high profile to ride with “Stuart’s Stranglers,” as the dozen quiet, determined men who did the actual work came to be called.

Because lawmen were non-existent, the leaders put destroying these predators ahead of their ranching obligations. But they agreed to keep their work quiet for fear they would find themselves at the wrong end of the rope.

This is not just a story about the vigilantes; it is a story about life in the West. In 350 pages, author  Little brings the West to life. His extensive research includes descriptions that take us back to the days when cattle grazed the open range in what is now eastern Montana and western North Dakota.

The narrative traces the history of early settlement including the development and arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the surge of lawlessness its progress across the plains brought. Stock growers associations were gaining power in both states, too, and ranchers had to work together — even if they at times had disagreements. Cattle gathers, rare social events and long winters were all part of ranching life.  It took many types of folks to bring civilization to the West and Little describes them in detail.

Much of Little's research involved reports from territorial newspapers, which are cited in the book. He describes in thrilling detail how the Stranglers hunted, killed and hung the outlaws as warning signs to  other outlaws. The vigilantes’ devastating raids result in wiping out nearly 100 outlaws in just two years.

Little doesn’t shy from exciting buildups to the raids and graphic descriptions of the killings, so this isn’t a novel for the squeamish. While this is an historical novel, remember that the dialog is made up, crafted from history and based on real events. Those who enjoy true stories, western novels and tales of justice should enjoy this fine book that details a relatively unknown piece of how the West was won.

(Kris Fehr lives on the Western Edge, in Dickinson.)

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