A young man given to adventuring and little thought of risk, Mac gets himself involved with horse thieves, Indians, homesteaders, and even John Brown and the Underground Railway. He works for a time as a freighter between Omaha and San Francisco. During the war between the states, he spends some time in the U.S. Cavalry, escorting prairie travelers and providing protection from the Sioux.
The book is a character sketch of a man remembering the good old days. Each chapter is a different episode or collection of them. What they add up to is his main argument, that the pioneers in the territory did just fine without “civilization.” They were basically trustworthy, self-sufficient folk who didn’t need rules and laws to run their lives.
|Book illustration by W. H. Dunton|
Like Will Rogers, he seems never to have met a man he didn’t like. People are mixtures of good and bad, he says, which seems to be what the good Lord intended. Even a horse thief has a “native sense of integrity.” His first story is about being deputized to bring in a half-deadbeat by the name of Turk Wesley, who’s been running off horses from the local Pawnee.
Mac gets his man but is unlucky enough to get shot in an exchange of gunfire with the Indians. Honoring the code of the West without a second thought, Turk takes the wounded Mac to a settlement where there’s a doctor. Problem is, Turk has been thieving from the folks there, too, so he knows he’s taking a big risk. When Mac recovers weeks later, he learns that the residents have caught Turk and he’s met his end. A “born fool,” Mac says, but not without integrity.