Frontier Gun Control

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The year is 1878. The place, Gold Creek – a mining town in the territory of New Mexico, not far from the Mexican border. The West is still young, but not so young that Gold Creek is without law and order. Society is based on responsibility and respect for individual rights. But after a stern gun law leaves Gold Creek defenseless, 17-year-old Blackie Sheffield and Gold Creek’s former marshal Morgan must set off together on the trail of The Wolf, a Mexican desperado who has ransacked the town.

Morgan was deposed after a young boy playing in the streets was killed by a stray bullet, and a new “hotshot” was voted into office. This new marshal, Wiggins, persuades the townspeople to ban all guns within the town’s limits – after all, no guns in town, no shooting of innocent bystanders; simple as that. The law was passed in spite of Morgan’s warning that “the proposed law is dangerous. A citizen may never have to use his gun in self-defense; but if he should ever need it, it’s his right to have it at hand.” In response to the law, all guns in town were delivered to Wiggins for safekeeping.

When The Wolf and his band of outlaws learn that the town is essentially defenseless, they consider it an easy target. Early one morning, they shoot up the town, kill many people and wound many more – including Federal Marshal Wiggins – set buildings afire, kill all the horses they can’t take with them, and escape with the bank’s gold bullion and as many young girls as they could corral, including Blackie’s resourceful sister, Dusty. The Wolf and his gang leave the town in shambles; buildings burning, windows broken, and the street strewn with the dead and wounded – men, women and children.

Blackie, who had been jailed by Wiggins for disrespect and “for violating the gun law,” misses the excitement; he isn’t found for several days because no one but Wiggins knew he was there. As soon as Blackie is released, he tries to organize a posse to

go after the bandits. After failing to rouse the townspeople, he grabs his good friend Morgan, who had gone to work at an out-of-town ranch, and the two of them set out to track down the Mexican outlaws before they reach Mexico and safety – back then U.S. lawmen were prohibited from crossing the border into Mexico “‘in hot pursuit.” Although The Wolf’s band far outnumber their pursuers, the determination of the two men, their knowledge of the terrain, and their tracking skill eventually payoff.

“The Trail of the Wolf” (Clear Stream Communications, 2002, 299 pages) is extremely well-researched. W. Richard Trimble describes in detail the guns and bullets used by western settlers, and the geography of the region over which the story takes place. He describes the tenuous relationship between the United States and Mexico back when Arizona and New Mexico were still territories. The book offers a realistic account of life on the western frontier in 1878. And it is also a well-written, exciting story.

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