July 30, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Author Relitigates Battles of Johnson County War

But Warren survived despite doing “everything humanly possible to support and promote” the goals of the cattlemen. He lost his seat in the election of 1892, along with many other Republican supporters of the invasion. But he was returned to the Senate in 1894 when Republicans regained power after Democrats and their Populist allies wasted their 1892 victory.

Warren went on to a long and distinguished Senate career, setting the record for longevity (eventually broken by Arizona’s Carl Hayden) and serving as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Davis nods to the part the Johnson County War played — as one of the last acts — in the narrative of the Wild West. But he puts the incident in a more political context, comparing the invasion conducted by hired guns serving landed interests to another phenomenon of the era, arguing it more closely resembled the class warfare represented by the Haymarket riot, the Homestead and Pullman strikes, and other examples of labor strife than it did New Mexico’s Lincoln County War, maybe the most famous example of violence run amok in the Old West.

There are a few minor problems with the book. The cast of characters is large and varied, and sometimes you barely get introduced to some of them before they’re shot down or leave the scene never to return. Also, Davis cloyingly and repeatedly refers to the larger producers as “big cattle,” an anachronism the story could have done without. (At least it isn’t Big Cattle.)

But those are minor quibbles. Davis’ Johnson County is a sprawling place, and he keeps the action moving forward while retelling a fairly well-known tale from a different angle — the perspective of the regular people who lived through it, or, in some cases, didn’t last that long. Unlike most Westerns, this tale doesn’t really have a happy ending: The bad guys lost the battle but won the war. Still, that doesn’t lessen the gritty charm in the telling.

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