CD, book from local musician, historian

       Mark Gardner, an area historian and musician who has worked with Rock Ledge Ranch for many years, has published both a non-fiction book and a CD in the last year.

Mark Gardner performs at last month's Fiddles, Vittles & Vino festival at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The theme of both is the same: outlaws of the American West.
       That's actually the title of the CD - “Outlaws: Songs of Robbers, Rustlers and Rogues,” which features Gardner on banjo and vocals. Most of the songs are from the late 1800s or early 1900s, with his own arrangments (or even melody, in his take on the sardonic poem, “The Finger of Billy the Kid.”
       Gardner's book, released in July and published by HarperCollins, is titled “Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid and the Wild West's Greatest Escape.”
       In an interview, Gardner said he's especially proud that the book clears up key points unknown to or misstated by previous historians, particularly that Frank James (not Jesse) murdered the bank teller in the Northfield, Minnesota, robbery which left three of the gang dead and the rest with one or more gunshot wounds; and that an eyewitness was ready to testify to it. However, because the Missouri governor was sympathetic to the Confederate side - which the James and Younger brothers had fought on - Frank was never forced to face his accuser in a Minnesota courtroom.
       The book follows another Gardner outlaw book - “To Hell on a Fast Horse,” about about Billy the Kid, published in 2010.
       Gardner said his interest in Jesse James dates back to his childhood in Missouri, when “he was a hero to me.” Although he's long since gotten over that, the fascination continues. “There's a sympathy I did not lose,” he said. “The Civil War warped a lot of people, and it really warped Jesse and the Youngers.” Yet at the same time, the war forged a strong bond between the two sets of brothers. For example, Cole Younger served 24 years in jail for his Northfield conviction, never revealing the Jameses' involvement, while Frank and Jesse got away clean, yet when Cole finally emerged from jail he and Frank immediately got together on a business venture, the book relates.
       Both CD and book are available through normal commercial sources. For local information, call the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site at 578-6777. Also, the book is on order by the Pikes Peak Library District.

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