How much violence is too much? I'm probably not the best person to examine this topic...it makes me wince. Violence makes me wince... in movies and in books ... much less in real life! I have no stomach for it. For my first historical mystery set in Leadville, Colorado (Silver Lies), my then-agent and my publisher wanted me to ratchet up the violence in the Prologue.
I did it, but it wasn't easy or comfortable.
What I find fascinating in my research in Leadville's past are the descriptions of incidents of violence and crime that appeared in the newspapers of the day. Along with descriptions of the latest fashions worn by some of Leadville's finest ladies to the most recent ball or gala, the local newspapers regularly reported on "bloody deeds," often with a flair for language and turn of phrase that I can't help but admire.
For instance, here is an account that appeared in Leadville's Evening Chronicle, April 7, 1880, about an innocent bystander who strayed into the path of a gunfight. The article is titled "Scalped."
Peter Girksen was found on State street this morning in an almost insensible condition, and covered from head to foot with blood. His face and head were completely matted with gory scales, and his general appearance was that of a man who had been terribly beaten and cut. When interviewed by the Chronicle reporter, Girksen was in a partially intoxicated condition, and his story may or may not be correct. He first exhibited a fearful wound, running from the forehead over the left eye-brow upward, over and almost to the back of his head. The appearance of the wound is as if a bullet had ploughed its way through the scalp, and he says this was the case. He says that at the time of the shooting on State street last night he was standing below the parties firing, and was suddenly knocked senseless by a flying bullet. His story is plausible enough, and we can discover no other clue to his misfortune. His wounds were dressed to-day and he is in charge of friends.
There are plenty of accounts of violence recounted in newspaper accounts "back when," and not just from Leadville. Obviously there was as much a fascination with tales of blood, gore, crime, punishment... and oh yes, guns and gunfights... then as there is now.
The historical American West is full of such accounts--mythical and real--and I have to wonder if part of the appeal of the "West" (at least for some) is the unbridled lawlessness and "easy" violence that has been ascribed to it. Ah well. Another topic for another day...