When I first began researching my book on Augustine Chacón, I ran across an article, in a popular western history magazine, in which the author (who shall remain nameless) asserted Chacón had killed 52 men during his career. Among the murders this author attributed to Chacón were "Graham County Deputy Sheriff Pablo Salcido" (actually Salcido was a Morenci saloon-keeper), and a sheepherder, whose throat Chacón purportedly slit with a hunting knife (there is no record of this extant). The author continued on to say, "
(M)any of his killings took place in Mexico, and the reports are sketchy and usually unconfirmed." Horseshit.
If Chacón had really killed as many men as this author claimed he did, he would rank as the most prolific murderer of the Old West era, greater even than the sociopathic John Wesley Hardin, who claimed to have killed 4o. Chacón would be (in)famous. He would be appearing regularly in online lists of the greatest gunfighters of all time. His name would be a household word, and there would be a half-dozen biographies about him available on Amazon. As it is, Chacón has nearly been forgotten. Why? Simply because Chacón did not kill this many men.
What surprises me, is that this author, who has made quite a name for himself and is well-respected among western writers and old west aficionados, would have the audacity to make such a claim, especially one he could not substantiate. The author had to know this was absolute hyperbole. Even a person with only the most remedial of critical thinking skills would have balked at such an assertion, as it completely defies logic. It also defies the historical record. Even in that era, when, admittedly, record-keeping was sometimes lacking, no one could have killed 52 men, without leaving behind a substantial paper trail replete with names, dates, and places. And there is no such trail for Augustine Chacón.
If this author had bothered to do any research at all (which I am told by a reliable source at a state archive, he rarely does), he would have quickly discovered there is a dearth of primary source material to support his assertion. There are no arrest warrants, grand jury indictments, or court records - nothing which would serve to give credence to his statement. There do exist some contemporary newspaper articles which state that Chacón killed anywhere from six to forty-two persons people, However, these have been summarily refuted by scholars as being the inventions of racist Anglo newspaper editors, who had a specific socio-political agenda (namely, the repression and disenfranchising of the Hispanic population), and/or were trying to sell papers in the era of yellow journalism (murderous Mexican gang leaders made for titillating copy, just as the do today). The author feebly attempts to explain the lack of primary source documentation, stating, "(M)any of his killings took place in Mexico, and the reports are sketchy and usually unconfirmed," implying record-keeping in that country was inherently lacking (I am not even going to begin to unpack the latent racism evidence by this assertion). In fact, Mexico had a judiciary system, governmental bureaucracy, and numerous departments where records where kept, and much of the documentation still survives in repositories and archives south of the border. In other words, the author's contention about "sketchy" reports is just a dodge - a pathetic attempt to cover the fact he did not properly and diligently research his topic before writing about it.
This author is not alone in making unsubstantiated claims of this nature, which are not backed by research and analysis. Over half the old west histories I read in doing my research are like this. It is as if a whole generation of writers (I refrain from calling them historians) took to heart the pronouncement of the newspaperman in the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, who said,"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." It is as if this proclamation gave these authors permission to eschew all forms of research and analysis, pen the most outrageous and absurd stories, and pass them off as legitimate history. With so many hack-writers out there trying dissemble the spurious. the specious, and blatant fabrications as historical fact, it is no wonder respected academic publishers are so hesitant to touch a manuscript dedicated to the subject of law enforcement and criminal enterprise in the so-called Old West era.
For too long, the field of western U.S. history has been dominated by these irresponsible, indolent scribblers, proclaiming themselves to be real historians. It needs to stop. If you want to make up stories, write fiction, and leave history to those of us who put in the time and effort and actually do our fucking research.