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David R. Gross

Defender of the Texas Frontier: A Historical Novel

iUniverse, 242 pages, (paperback) $13.99, 9781532071560(Reviewed: August, 2019)

Review by Blueink reviews:

John Coffey (“Jack”) Hays was the most famous and charismatic of the Texas Rangersduring his tenure in the mid-1800s. In this meticulously researched novel, David R.Gross brings Hays’s story to life as narrated by his best friend, John Caperton andvarious other friends and enemies of the heroic lawman.

At 19 years old, Jack and John leave their homes in Tennessee and arrive in Nacogdoches, where Jack begins to establish his reputation by killing the town bully in self-defense at the local saloon. The bully is the first of many to meet their maker shortlyafter making Jack’s acquaintance.

This is a violent time in Texas, as settlers advance on lands previously held by the Comanche and/or the Mexican government. After joining a group under the command of respected leader “Deaf” Smith, Jack quickly rises through the ranks to captain, thencolonel, of what became known as the Texas Rangers.

By copying the tactics and violent cruelty of the Indians and Mexican military, Jack and his men are successful in wiping out many threats to the encroaching settlers. One ofthe amazing facts the author discloses is how Jack’s troop kept being disbanded because of insufficient funding; yet, when they were needed, the same men who hadn’tbeen paid before came back repeatedly, just to serve with Hays.

Some of Hays’s and his Texas Rangers’ exploits in this episodic novel are so similar that they border on repetitious. However, such similarities merely emphasize Hays’s remarkable career and make one wonder how he possibly survived. Gross doesn’tmince words when describing the atrocities Jack and his men visited on their enemies,and some will be shocked that the “good guys” were every bit as sadistic and vicious asthe Comanche warriors and Mexican army.

In all, Defender of the Texas Frontier is a fascinating window into a little-understoodperiod in America’s past, as well as an absorbing story about one hero’s westward expansion.

Also available as an ebook.

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David R. Gross’s dramatic retelling of a historical legend, Defender of the Texas Frontier, captures an era as it follows a young man’s rise to hero status.

Nineteen-year-old John Coffey Hays missed fighting in the battle for Texas’s independence. Full of vim and vigor, Hays joins up with a ranging patrol to defend the Texas border. So begins his storied career, which spans close to two decades. Along the way, Hays leads a ragtag group of men and forges an elite squad known as Rangers. Hays and his Rangers defend the US while skirmishing with both Mexicans and local native tribes. As his exploits become legend, Hays continues to affect change in Texas that ripples outward.

Hays’s story is entwined with the Texas Rangers’s origins. Known as the toughest and most judicious lawmen in history, the Rangers are shown starting out as a rough group, but becoming a power to be reckoned with. With strong attention to historical detail, the narrative shows how Hays learns and evolves while helping his men do likewise.

The book’s tone blends textbook dryness with drama and reads like an embellished historical document. The story unfolds through two primary perspectives: Hays’s, and that of his childhood friend, John. The focus shifts back and forth between the two, with highlights given to other important characters, too. These character transitions round out the narrative, allowing each character to give it their own touch. Hays’s commander and the commander of the tribal army are two of these: Hays’s commander comments on tactics, military prowess, and his personal life, while the tribal army commander highlights the respect between the Texans and the tribe as both defend their lands. It’s an interesting dichotomy that enriches the narrative.

Frequent dialogue tags are almost unnecessary because of the distinctiveness of the characters’ voices, whose subtle vocal tics make their discussions engaging and individualized: one character, despite being able to converse in fluent Spanish, speaks Spanish with a southern drawl, and words like “Mexicans” come out as “mesicans.”

This fictionalized version of Jack Hays uses key events from his life to build up the legend, enjoyably following him from his youth into his established adulthood. It is an artful take on Texas history.

Defender of the Texas Frontier fleshes out a Texas legend with aplomb, setting him in the midst of an engaging historical adventure.

Reviewed by John M. Murray 
July 29, 2019

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