Shot all to hellGardner, Mark Lee, Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, The Northfield Raid, and the 
Wild West’s Greatest Escape, William Morrow (Harper Collins), New York, 
2013 (309 pp. $27.99)

Mark Lee Gardner is an independent historian and the author of a splendid life of Billy the Kid called To Hell on a Fast Horse, probably the definitive book about William Bonny. Shot All to Hell—the story of the James-Younger gang’s assault on Northfield Minnesota’s First National Bank (2pm, September 7, 1876) is a gloriously detailed and superbly written chronicle of what turned out to be a disaster for the eight-member crew of border ruffians, sadists and thieves.

Unlike the Earps, Jesse James, Frank his brother, and the Youngers (Cole, Jim and Bob) were plain-Jane criminals who often hid under the coattails of the Confederate Cause to justify their train and bank robberies. As teenagers, they had ridden with Bloody Bill Anderson, becoming skilled horsemen, excellent marksmen, and practiced murderers before turning sixteen. Riding together, the eight (Frank and Jesse, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger, later joined by Clell Miller, Charlie Pitts and Bill Chadwell), wore long tan dusters, big spurs and wide-brimmed hats. Armed with rifles and pistols, they were, in 1876, at the top of their game and must have presented an awesome and frightening sight to behold.

Shot All to Hell is without doubt the most detailed rendering of the assault on Northfield ever written, vividly evoking the town’s minute-by-minute response, the chase after six survivors across the lake and swamp country of south central Minnesota, the capture of Cole and the killing of his brothers, and the eventual escape of Frank and Jesse, the latter of whom returned to St. Joseph and took up life as a horse breeder and trader. Throughout the book are fascinating personal portraits of the sheriffs, posse members, farmers and town-folk who stood up to the gang and pursued them for weeks.  Shot All to Hell offers the reader an exciting glimpse into vanished forms of American life. The field of Western history has now entered a phase of precision scholarship, deep research and glorious writing that Stuart Lake in 1931 could hardly have imagined.