The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

The Ox Bow IncidentHaving never read the book nor viewed the movie, I somehow knew the general plot before perusing The Ox-Bow Incident.  This was not necessarily a bad thing, however, as there was much more to this book than an overzealous vigilante mob.

The fictional mid-west town of Bridger’s Falls in the mid-1800’s serves as the setting for a cautionary tale of those coming too quickly to judgment.  Following inaccurate information about rustlers and an unsubstantiated murder, a group of men and one woman, form a posse, led by a cold and relentless rancher and hang three innocent men.  Most unsettling were the many opportunities to stop the executions that were disregarded, as no man wanted to be the first to step forward.

Art Croft narrates this unnerving tale and oscillates between doing what’s right and going along with the majority.  He does actually assist by trying to find the sheriff and getting a judge to talk to the mob, yet he still rides with the gang and does nothing to stop the killings.  He is mistaken for a robber and gets shot in the shoulder which puts him in the background, and allows him to no longer feel a part of the lynch mob, and therefore, not actually committing a sin of omission.  You just want to shake this man by his (bad) shoulder!

The conscience for all, Arthur Davies, is a store owner who tries to convince the mob to wait and allow the justice system to handle the situation.  He tries reason, pleas and tears, yet nothing gets through to the mob so he decides to follow along and continue his appeals.  The guilt that follows the hangings takes it toll on him and he begins to unravel, admitting he could have done something to stop things, but was fearful of the ruthless leader Tetley, like most of the other men.

Donald Martin, one of the three falsely accused, tries to reason with the group, to no avail.  His emotions range from shock to outrage and eventually belief that there was no surviving this horror.  His one request is to write a letter to his wife who was awaiting him in their new home with their two small children.  Surely the most depressing letter a wife could ever receive, yet its delivery is left unconfirmed.  He would be one very busy ghost with all the haunting he’d need to do.

Perhaps I’d suggest a ride on horseback through the hills with Mr. Clark.  I’d love to hear about his teaching style and his own personal writing methods.  Obviously an observant man, perhaps he’d share his keen translation from impression to paper.

My rating for The Ox-Bow Incident is an 8 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, David Gutterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars…Snow Falling on Cedars


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