Law and Order in Buffalo Bill's Country: Legal Culture and Community on the Great Plains, 1867-1910

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Overview


Celebrated accounts of lawless towns that relied on the extra-legal justice of armed citizens and hired gunmen are part of the enduring cultural legacy of the American West. This image of the frontier has been fueled for more than a century by historians—both amateur and academic—and by various popular images. In the twenty-first century, Great Plains communities continue to perpetuate this image with tourist attractions and events that pay homage to their “lawless” past. But these romanticized depictions of the violent frontier do not accurately portray the legal culture of most early Great Plains communities.
 
Law and Order in Buffalo Bill’s Country is a case study of law and legal culture in Lincoln County, Nebraska, during the nineteenth century. Mark R. Ellis argues that nascent nineteenth-century Great Plains communities shared an understanding of the law that allowed for the immediate implementation of legal institutions such as courts, jails, and law enforcement. A common legal culture, imported from New England and the Midwest, influenced frontier communities to uphold traditions of law and order even in the “wild and wooly” frontier community of North Platte, Nebraska. This study is one of the first to examine legal institutions on the Great Plains. By setting aside the issue of a violent frontier West and focusing instead on community building and legal institutions, this study presents a very different image of the frontier-era Great Plains.
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Editorial Reviews

Lincoln Journal Star
"It is extremely well researched and presented in layman's terms that all of us nonlawyers can understand."

—Francis Moul, Lincoln Journal Star

Kansas History
"[The author] has used an impressive variety of sources, including state and county archives, newspapers and relevant secondary works. With them he built a convincing case challenging the accepted view of frontier lawlessness."

— Michael J. Broadhead, Kansas History

Wild West History Association Journal

“This is an important book because it emphasizes the rule of law as a core value of Western settlement. It is a point often lost in stories of gunfighters and lawlessness and a reminder that the violent West was a passing phase, not the whole story.”—Wild West History Association Journal

Nebraska History

“Ellis makes no allusions to today’s debates on criminal justice, but readers can make their own comparisons and will probably want to do so in the light of this thorough and serious monograph.”—Nebraska History
 
Great Plains Quarterly

"Ellis's is a well-researched and well-written microstudy of a west central Nebraska community created primarily by the Union Pacific railroad in the late 1860s. . . . This work is yet another important resource in helping historians dismantle perhaps the primary myth that has chronically occluded our accurate understanding of the region''s history."

—Keith Edgerton, Great Plains Quarterly

Journal of American History - Peter J. Hill

"Well worth perusing by anyone interested in how those in the frontier west dealt with issues of crime and justice."—Peter J. Hill, Journal of American History
Choice - M. A. Byron

"Ellis offers a fresh interpretation of the legal culture of the Wild West. Written to dispel the myth of the lawless western culture, this book on Nebraska and the larger Great Plains demonstrates that most communities on the plains contained clearly defined legal systems, and that only on a few occasions did lawlessness appear. . . . This work will provide historians with a better understanding of the West as a tamer place than previously thought."—M. A. Byron, CHOICE
Lincoln Journal Star - Francis Moul

“It is extremely well researched and presented in layman’s terms that all of us nonlawyers can understand.”—Francis Moul, Lincoln Journal Star

Kansas History - Michael J. Broadhead

“[The author] has used an impressive variety of sources, including state and county archives, newspapers and relevant secondary works. With them he built a convincing case challenging the accepted view of frontier lawlessness.”—Michael J. Broadhead, Kansas History

Great Plains Quarterly - Keith Edgerton

"Ellis's is a well-researched and well-written microstudy of a west central Nebraska community created primarily by the Union Pacific railroad in the late 1860s. . . . This work is yet another important resource in helping historians dismantle perhaps the primary myth that has chronically occluded our accurate understanding of the region's history."—Keith Edgerton, Great Plains Quarterly
Journal of American History
"Well worth perusing by anyone interested in how those in the frontier west dealt with issues of crime and justice."

— Peter J. Hill, Journal of American History

Choice
"Ellis offers a fresh interpretation of the legal culture of the Wild West. Written to dispel the myth of the lawless western culture, this book on Nebraska and the larger Great Plains demonstrates that most communities on the plains contained clearly defined legal systems, and that only on a few occasions did lawlessness appear. . . . This work will provide historians with a better understanding of the West as a tamer place than previously thought."

— M. A. Byron, CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803227873
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2007
  • Series: Law in the American West Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 0.67 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Mark R. Ellis is an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     viii
Preface     xi
Acknowledgments     xvii
Prologue: State of Nebraska v. John Burley     1
Buffalo Bill's Country: Lincoln County, Nebraska, and Its Crime     19
Conservators of the Peace: Sheriffs, Deputies, and Railroad Detectives     53
Receptacles of Crime: Jails, Reformatories, and the State Penitentiary     80
Regulating a Great Plains Railroad Town: Police Courts, Municipal Ordinances, and the North Platte Police Force     110
Temples of Justice: Criminal Courts and Their Officers     141
Hanging Out the Shingle: Lawyers and Legal Communities on the Great Plains     181
Conclusion: Law and Order in Buffalo Bill's Country     210
Notes     219
Bibliography     243
Index     253
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