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Hunting outlaws through old records

Max Roberts cannot escape the past – nor does he want to.

The Grass Valley resident combs the historical libraries and archives here and in the state’s capital in search of information to study, dissect and review. And he tends bar at the historic National Hotel in Nevada City.



“It gives you a lot of prime time to be at the library, be at the archives when the rest of the world is doing the 9-to-5 thing,” said Roberts of his bartending work.




Roberts, 40, is particularly intrigued with a facet of western U.S. history – outlaws and lawmen.

“I guess I’ve been interested in the Wild West aspect of the Old West all my life, and its part of our culture, the model of the gunfighter and the lawman,” said Roberts. “Even if you look today into the newspaper, you listen to the news, the trouble we’re having all over the world … these Third World countries are using terms like cowboy, OK Corral, gunfighters, because that’s how we’re viewed. It is part of our culture.”

About 10 years ago, he realized he wanted to explore his longtime hobby more intensely. He moved to Nevada County in 1995.

“One of the primary reasons I moved to Nevada County was because of the history,” Roberts said. “There’s so much of it, and it’s so well preserved.”

Writers have tapped into Roberts’ interest, asking him to research local aspects of popular history for magazine stories. And now he has his own research project, exploring a Nevada County chapter in the outlaw-lawman history.

Roberts is delving into the history of six Nevada County lawmen killed in the line of duty during the 19th century.

From 1856 to 1899, W.W. “Boss” Wright, David Johnson, Jake Teter, William Pascoe, Dave Douglass and William Kilroy died in Nevada County.

He plans to speak on their history in July at the International Congress on Outlaw-Lawman History in Sacramento. The National Outlaw-Lawman History Association and the Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association are sponsoring the July 24-27 congress to be held at the Radisson Hotel.

Roberts will videotape his presentation for distribution to state and local government officials. The goal: to get the lawmen’s names on monuments to fallen peace officers.

Roberts doesn’t takes sides between lawmen and outlaws.

He fascination isn’t with the good guys or bad guys, or cops and robbers.

Instead, it lies with the multifaceted personalities of historical figures on both sides of the law, whether it’s gunman Billy the Kid or Wells Fargo Bank Detective James Hume, people “who just capture your imagination.”

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Each week, The Union profiles one of your friends or neighbors. It might be the supermarket checker, the beer truck driver, or the fellow down the street with the green thumb. If you have ideas on someone you would like to read about, just give the newsroom a call at 273-9561.


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