Have you ever wondered how a young man became a gunfighter in the Old West? Did he set his sights on becoming a lawman, for instance, as young people today might aspire to become a policeman? Did he desire to model himself after someone he admired, a local legend, perhaps, or even a relative? Or was it a set of circumstances, fate, if you will, that set his feet upon this path?
Johnny Whittaker, the subject of my series of novels Johnny Alias, fell into the third category. When his family was threatened, his friend and mentor encouraged him to learn the gun, and he defied even his mother to practice his skills, believing it to be the only avenue to oppose the evil that threatened him. And no doubt the allure of the gun played a part.
The convergence in the frontiers in the mid to late 1800s (and even into the early 1900s––the last western gunfight is thought to have occurred in 1925) of minimal law enforcement, a society of mostly men, the availability of firearms, a surplus of emotionally maimed soldiers from the Civil War, and just plain evil individuals with the means and opportunity, gave rise to an era of gunfighters who used their guns as a tool to advance their purposes, be it law enforcement, greed, or self-respect.
Yet surprisingly few of the legendary gunfighters recounted in books or portrayed on the screen actually fought in classic western duels, face to face, Mano a Mano. Most were opportunistic killers, shooting from ambush or without warning. Some killed without thought or reason. There are stories of killers who shot their victims for snoring or to see if a bullet would bounce off a bald head. Clay Allison became a killer while under the influence of alcohol, Billy the Kid shot from ambush or killed unarmed men, John Wesley Hardin killed most of his forty-four victims seemingly without provocation.
In Johnny Alias, we see the world through Johnny’s eyes and see the rationale for the justice he dispenses with his guns as he views it. We may not agree with his actions––in act, he carries his own guilt and regret in a few cases. But society does not condemn him out of hand, either, which speaks to the general proliferation of violence in those times. Some considered it necessary.
The first two books of the Johnny Alias series, Johnny And The Kid and Johnny And The Preacher, will appear in an ebook box set next month at reduced prices for each book. We call it the Johnny Alias Saddlebag.