The story of the five Marlow brothers and their tribulations in late nineteenth-century Texas is the stuff of Old West legend (and served to inspire the John Wayne movie, The Sons of Katie Elder ). Violent, full of intrigue, with characters of amazing heroism and deplorable cowardice, their story was first related by William Rathmell in Life of the Marlows , a little book published in 1892, shortly after the events it described in Young County, Texas.
It told how Boone, the most reckless of the brothers, shot and killed a popular sheriff and escaped, only to be murdered later by bounty hunters. The other four brothers, arrested as accessories and jailed, made a daring break from confinement but were recaptured. Once back in their cells, they were forced to fight off a mob intent on lynching them. Later, shackled together, the Marlows were placed on wagons by officers late at night, bound for another town, but they were ambushed by angry citizens. In the resulting battle two of the brothers were shot and killed, the other two severely wounded, and three mob members died. The surviving brothers eventually were exonerated, but members of the mob that had attacked them were prosecuted in cases that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The original 1892 edition and expanded reprint of 1931 are both quite scarce. Later writers drew upon Rathmell's account when telling the story of the Marlows, but all accounts were slanted sympathetically toward them, given the same bias by Rathmell. Now Robert K. DeArment, a noted historian of outlaws and lawmen of the West, has sifted through the evidence and presents herein an objective, annotated edition of Life of the Marlows , which contains extensive clarifying and corrective footnotes and an index. Now the complete story can be told and readers can judge for themselves: were the Marlows as law-abiding as Rathmell claims? Or was the mob reacting with justified anger?