As Dan mentioned in the last Weekend Roundup, the Spring 2013 edition of H-Law's "New Books in U.S. Constitutional/Legal History" is now out. (We owe a big thanks to Timothy S. Huebner, Rhodes College, for the yeoman service of compiling the list.) One title that caught my eye was Marianne Wesson's A Death at Crooked Creek: The Case of the Cowboy, the Cigarmaker, and the Love Letter (New York University Press, 2013). Intrigued, I looked up a fuller description. Here it is:
One winter night in 1879, at a lonely Kansas campsite near Crooked Creek, a man was shot to death. The dead man’s traveling companion identified him as John Hillmon, a cowboy from Lawrence who had been attempting to carve out a life on the blustery prairie. The case might have been soon forgotten and the apparent widow, Sallie Hillmon, left to mourn—except for the $25,000 life insurance policies Hillmon had taken out shortly before his departure. The insurance companies refused to pay on the policies, claiming that the dead man was not John Hillmon, and Sallie was forced to take them to court in a case that would reach the Supreme Court twice. The companies’ case rested on a crucial piece of evidence: a faded love letter written by a disappeared cigarmaker, declaring his intent to travel westward with a “man named Hillmon.”For more information, including access to the book's Introduction, follow the link.
In A Death at Crooked Creek, Marianne Wesson re-examines the long-neglected evidence in the case of the Kansas cowboy and his wife, recreating the court scenes that led to a significant Supreme Court ruling on the admissibility of hearsay evidence. Wesson employs modern forensic methods to examine the body of the dead man, attempting to determine his true identity and finally put this fascinating mystery to rest.
This engaging and vividly imagined work combines the drama, intrigue, and emotion of excellent storytelling with cutting-edge forensic investigation techniques and legal theory. Wesson’s superbly imagined A Death at Crooked Creek will have general readers, history buffs, and legal scholars alike wondering whether history, and the Justices, may have misunderstood altogether the events at that bleak winter campsite.