Lynching in the West: 1850-1935

by Ken Gonzales-Day, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., 2006, $22.95.

The title is misleading— the book covers hangings in California, not the entire West—and the writing is often self-serving, but few can fault the meticulous research and details of Ken Gonzales-Day’s Lynching in the West. An accomplished artist as well as a writer, Gonzales-Day chronicles 352 lynchings in California over an 85-year period, the bulk of them occurring in the 19th century.

“After statehood,” the author writes, “and contrary to the popular image of the American West as a lawless frontier, it was those areas with the most law enforcement that had the greatest number of summary executions, vigilance committees, and lynch mobs. The primary reason for this was not that larger towns were more populated and could inspire more drunken brawls and vigilance committees, but was due, in part, to a legislative change that required all capital cases be tried in the county seats.” Lynching in the West includes 52 photos and an appendix of lynchings and summary executions since California statehood in 1850.

 

Originally published in the October 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here