Friday, 20 August 2010


A review of my short story 'ONE DAY IN LIBERTY' written under the name Jack Giles is now at Davy Crockett's Almanack.
It is just one of twenty one stories in 'A FISTFUL OF LEGENDS.

So here is a reprise of the background to the story:

Tuesday the 13th February 1866 was a cold overcast day. A blustery wind had picked up that carried a hint of snow. This did not deter the ten men who drifted into the town of Liberty, Missouri in twos and threes and who met up outside the Clay County Savings Association Bank.
Nobody took much notice after all it was not unusual to see groups of men meet up and hang around outside the bank.
Nor did it cause the bank cashier, Greenup Bird or his son, the teller, William much concern when, at 2 pm that day, two men entered the bank. One paused by the stove to warm his hands while the other approached William Bird with the request that he change up a $10 dollar bill.
So began what was to become the biggest bank robbery in the annals of the west.
What made this robbery different from any other was that it was the first bank robbery to be carried out in broad daylight.
Both the vault and the tills were cleaned out though the amount taken varies to different accounts. James Love, the bank president, claimed that only $50,000 in cash, gold and bonds were taken whereas contempory accounts put the figure as high as $75,000. The only consistent figure is that part of the haul amounted to between $40 -$45,000 in bearer bonds.
The robbery would have gone unnoticed had the robbers thought to have locked the vault where they had imprisoned both Greenup Bird and his son. The Birds escaped to raise the alarm and that was when the shooting started - fire was exchanged between robbers and citizens during which 19 year old William Jewell College student, George Wymore, was killed. His killing was laid at the robbers feet.
James Love posted a reward of $5000 for the capture of the robbers and return of the money - it was never claimed.
So who were the robbers?
Whoever robbed the Clay County Savings Association Bank knew the two Birds for when locking them up one of the robbers was heard to say: "All Birds should be caged." And, I rather imagine that Greenup Bird was well aware of who was pointing a gun at him.
Also of note is that at the outbreak of the American Civil War the State of Missouri declared for the Union while a vast majority of the people backed the Confederacy. Most of the inhabitants of Clay County alone were from Tennessee and Virginia and had brought their slaves with them and had hemp and tobacco plantations.
The Clay County Savings Association Bank was a pro-Union bank - therefore, a prime target for returning disgrunted Confederate soldiers some of whom would have not been happy with the state of their farms and greedy banks calling in loans etc.
Months later suggestions of names were put forward suggesting people who had ridden with Frank and Jesse James who lived 10 miles to the north at Kearney, Missouri. Feasible as the robbers rode north out of Liberty followed by a posse who lost the trail when a blizzard struck wiping out the trail.
The reward flyer put out by James Love states that the gang operated out of Sibley in Jackson County - which is to the south of Clay County.
One problem that I see with the James boys being involved is that at the time of the robbery Jesse was at home recovering from a chest wound.
Nor do any accounts of the James-Younger gang reveal that they were responsible for the first daylight bank robbery - then again, they didn't deny it.
Of one thing that is certain is that the robbery was carried out by people who were local to Liberty or residents of Clay County.
After reading many accounts of this robbery there are two things that stand out.
The first is that one of the robbers mentioned the Birds by name and I suspect that the elder Bird knew who at least one of the robbers was. Also, accounts say that when the Birds were placed in the vault the robbers forgot to lock the door. I do not think that the robbers forgot - they never intended to lock the door. This was not an oversight but carried out by someone who knew that it might be some time before they were discovered and released - by which time the Birds could have suffocated and died.
I believe that it was expected that the Birds would be too scared to try the door and thus give the robbers the chance to escape undetected.
The second thing that strikes me is the matter of the bearer bonds. There is no paper trail - though it was just about two and a half years after the robbery that the last bond was cashed.
To my mind this was a robbery that was planned down to the last detail and may have been a one off.
One other thought that occurs is that many of the investors were also Union supporters who were hit by the robbery. The bank trading was suspended and they were paid out at 60 cents to the dollar - damaging enough to put some people out of business.
Of course, all those involved in the events of that one day in Liberty are long dead and the truth may never be known. The identity of those who committed the first and largest daylight bank robbery will remain a mystery.

Writing about a true historical event is not easy. In fact the story was not even in my mind when the proposals for the anthology were first mooted. It took a cold and a day in bed for me to discover the threads of the story.
I was reading the December 1980 issue of the short lived Western Magazine where there was an article by Jeff Burton called 'Daylight Robbery At Liberty' in which he asked the question: Who were the dirty dozen who got away with point-blank murder?
After reading this a different type of germ began to take shape.
The first thing that I noticed when surfing the net was that there were a bunch of people out there who believed that the robbery was carried out by the James-Younger gang.
On the other side of the coin were another bunch of people who offered other ideas like the one where it was one of Quantrell's lieutenants who robbed the bank.
Yet not one account answered a simple question - why?
Because it was there? I don't think so.
My main concentration went to looking for a reason why. The first was easy the robbery at Liberty was the first daylight robbery - so it had to be planned. The second was the $40,000 in bonds - they were disposed off without leaving a trail.
There had to be a middle man in there somewhere.
All the time the germ of an idea was turning into a story.
There aren't many post-Civil War stories around. In fact I can only remember a scene from a John Payne movie (yes Payne, not a typing error)and another with John Chandler Davies that dealt with the Reconstruction era.
Without a word on the page the character of Nathan Clarke was forming. His fears for the future; the hanging of the Andersonville Commandant, Henry Wirz and the collapse of communities as the land grabbers moved in. I could feel his anger and frustration not only with the situation but with the prejudice against those who had fought for or supported the 'wrong' side.
He became the kind of man who would rob the bank in Liberty in daylight - a tactical surprise.
For the robbery itself I stuck to both the description and dialogue as reported.
As there are several accounts of the robbers escape and the chase I did condense several accounts into one.
I don't buy the story that the nineteen year old boy, George Wymore, was gunned down by the robbers. Again there are several accounts which place him in the locale but in different places ranging from raising the alarm himself to crossing the road further up from the bank. He could just as easily been a victim of 'friendly fire' as to being gunned down by a bunch of men trying to make their escape or a ricochet.

Like all the other authors in the anthology 'A Fistful Of Legends' we had an excellent editor in the shape of Nik Morton. He asked a few questions and made a couple of suggestions and the result is what you read.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

EDGE: A Welcome Return

George G Gilman's creation Edge is set to return via e-books and print on demand paperbacks by Solstice Publishing.

Back in 1972 Edge was depicted as a new kind of western hero - or anti-hero.
A violent man in a violent world. A man who survived by being far more brutal than those who came against him.
The kind of man who could sit back and watch a woman being raped because it was none of his business. Sooner or later it was the actions of others that would make it his business.

The character of Edge spans the traditional with the spaghetti western and over the course of 61 books he both evolves and ages. It is this point that is generally missed. Edge can be chauvinistic but could he ever be capable of any emotion? Gilman's skill in creating a moment when Edge marries Beth only to have her die shows that Edge has more depth than is suspected.
The series of books were not only influential in the seventies but their appeal continues in today's world. The US saw only 49 Edge books published by Pinnacle and the remaining books are highly sought after.

And now I get personal.
Without Edge there may never have been a Jack Giles.
The paperback series started me on a trail with Poseidon Smith and Pad Maghee as two possible series. They went to all the trade paperbacks and the response was highly encouraging but no one was taking on new western writers. I had arrived just a tad too late and the series western was coming to an end.
So I wrote to George G. Gilman aka Terry Harknett and asked for advice. He gave me a suggestion and the rest is history. Poseidon Smith was published by Robert Hale in 1984 and the Pad Maghee story 'The Man From Labasque' was my fourth published book.
Terry Harknett wrote to me to congratulate me and hoped that one day our books would be on the same shelf. My wife tells me that it happened on the shelves at Bromley Library.

Edge now gets a second run and I wish Terry all the success and hope that Edge will influence and inspire new writers to turn to the west.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


Who Do You Think You Are? is a tv programme that tells the family stories of celebrities who have all sorts of researchers popping up to tell the celebs all about their history. Even when they type in a name on an Ancestry search site they get a result.
In real life the amatuer researcher doesn't always get that lucky.
The programme itself is designed to get people interested in geneology.

Geneology was something that I was into long before the tv series began and there certainly no experts popping out of the woodwork to say that they had found out something about my relatives.
My mother's side was relatively easy - I knew enough that to get to the 1700s family in Ponypridd, Wales took less time than I expected.
My father's side not so easy.

While my mother's family were happy to talk about their history my father's were very tight lipped except my great-grandfather who often spun tales about a mythical great aunt Sarah and The Saracen's Head near St. Paul's. She became almost legendary and the truth was, I discovered later, that Sarah was a formidable person. On reading the London Illustrated News for 1868 - the year that my great-grandfather was born - most of what he had told me was there. Though there was other stuff that I knew and not all of it in the public domain. To find them you have to read her will and old trials at the Old Bailey.
He was so proud of great aunt Sarah yet never knew the truth that he wasn't related to her - not by blood.
Certainly, Richard the man who became his father may have been related for my great grandfather and his brother were born before Richard married their mother.
Even then I have my doubts for there are no records of his birth except that he was an inmate of the Bermondsey Workhouse - but he did have a brother who was christened there and his father was certainly related.
But therein lies echoes of my great-grandfather's life for he was placed in an Industrial School after his father left the family. His mother remarried but he never knew what happened next.
Today we have access to numerous records and, to a degree, I do know what happened next and it is sad to note that there was another brother that he never knew about.

Geneology can be fun but the human side can be found.
If someone was to say that I come from a long line of bastards - they wouldn't be wrong for there are three generations of them and link two brothers from the 1700s who form a circle to my dad's paternal grandfather.

In many ways it is like writing a book. As each piece slots into place it builds into a family saga.
Death at sea during the Seven Years War; Ecclesiastical lawyers; fairground gypsies; marriners and shipbuilders; cigarette factory workers; bricklayers; carpenters; carters.
All with their triumphs and tragedies - christenings that are followed days later by a buriel are amongst the realities that life was harsher then than it is now.

When it is all said and done who we are is who we are - but it is good to know where the roots lie.
Be quite fun if one of my off spring became a celeb in a hundred years time and some researcher came up and says: 'I've just discovered this blog that your great-great grandfather did.'

In the labels section are a load of names just in case there are those out there who think they may have a link.