Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Real Grit: The Branch & The Scaffold ~ In the time of hanging Judge Isaac Parker's court

Here is the perfect follow-up to both the novel and movie versions of True Grit.  I just finished reading Loren D. Estleman's The Branch and the Scaffold, a Novel of Judge Parker which is currently available in paperback as well as hard cover.

Most everyone that saw True Grit or read the book is aware that Rooster Cogburn was a deputy US Marshall attached to the 8th District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. This was in the period after 1875 when Judge Issac Parker took over the efforts to maintain the law (not necessarily justice) in an area that included the Indian Territories just to the west. Not only were the Territories lawless, they were geographically rugged.  The map below which was taken from The Lost Antique Maps of Indian Territory CDROM shows the Winding Stair mountain area just to the south and west of Fort Smith.

Click to enlarge map
Rooster Cogburn was a fictional character.  Issac Parker wasn't and the cast of characters around him including Ned Christie, Belle Starr, Cherokee Bill, the Dalton's, Hack Thomas, Chris Madsen, Bill Tilghman and the Doolin's, were not.  The Branch and the Scaffold fills out the real story that True Grit opened to us.

Estleman, who is considered a master of westerns as well as mysteries at the level of Elmore Leonard, weaves a fictional story of Parker and many of the characters good or bad that were part of the history of that Court in the late 1800's.  There is no mystery and it's not really a classic western. It's just excellent story telling with a deep factual base and a great deal of humor in the right places.

The author's note at the end which he titles "A Summation for the Defense" is worth the price of the book itself. I have been reading Estleman's books since he began which was in the 1980's I think.  This may be his best..

1909 USGS map image from an original in The Electric Books Collection

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