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on February 12, 1999
I am an English teacher. I came across reviews of The Ox-Bow Incident while doing a search for a student. I have always regarded this as a book which should be required reading, both for its literary and social value; and when teaching 11th grade, I have used it as a class assignment. The first part of the book which some readers found slow is really quite necessary; it provides the background that shows the reader that these are quite ordinary people - people that one would meet everyday. It contrasts with the violence in which they later become involved. The lynching of three innocent men is really not the crux of the story but rather the pivotal incident which allows the author to lead the reader to see what happens when one abandons law and order and then, when there are tragic results, must come to terms with his own conscience. I would also recommend the film with Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn which is well acted and true to the novel. I have generally found that once students get into the novel, the book generates a good deal of thoughtful writing and discussion.
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This classic novel by Clark is a superb study of mob rule; of how normal men can allow their inner anger and authoritarianism to control their judgment and honesty. The story is told in the first person by Art Croft, a trailhand who rides into the small Nevada town of Bridger's Wells in 1885 with his friend Gil Carter. The first chapter (there are only five chapters) has all of the structure of a typical western novel (bar, poker game, fight), yet when a young rider arrives to say that some cattle have been stolen and a man killed, the story about how men let anger goad their actions sets the novel apart from other westerns. It is a true classic. In 1977 the Western Writers of America named it one of the top twenty-five western novels of all time (it was ranked second after Wister's "The Virginian"). The book was also made into a classic film starring Henry Fonda. I recommend this book highly. I really don't understand the comments of the reviewer from Massachusetts (of Jan. 10, 1999). The tale is very realistic.
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on December 2, 1999
When I think "western," I think of some piece of pulp that features cowboys 'n' injuns 'n' good guys 'n' bad guys, all shooting at each other and using words like "Partner."
But not this book.
What a raw, powerful, insightful story. It doesn't follow your typical western formula. No, this is a character study. It gives you a cold, unflinching look at mob justice, at how hard it is to go against the crowd, at how sometimes natural leaders should NOT be leaders, and the terrible, tragic results of acting on incomplete or outright false information and taking justice into your own hands.
If you really read it and let yourself become immersed in the events and characters, when you reach certain parts of the book it literally feels like you've been punched in the stomach.
It's moving, forceful writing that leaves you exhausted and almost despairing after the last page is done. It's rare that I read books that physically affect me, but this was one.
By all means, read it. Learn from it.
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on February 19, 2000
This is a study in mob violence. It is definitely slow starting and preachy in its first 100 pages. It demonstrates how a charismatic leader who is significantly above most of the gathered cowboys and townsfolk in social status, can override the voices of reason and turn ordinary people into a lynch mob. It plays on the distrust of the law (see the OJ trial for a modern example) common to everyday folk in the West of 1885. I wish there had been more character development. One knows little about any of these people, including the victims. However, it provides a valuable insight into the ease with which a crowd can be turned into a mob, and how hard it is for an individual to speak up against a mob. Definitely a worthwhile book to read.
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on October 15, 2012
In 2007, I was transferred from the United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana to the Marianna Federal Correctional Institute in Florida, which required that I spend two months in the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. Two months is a long time when all you're allowed to do is play cards, watch TV, or read, which is what I spent most of my time doing. They had a little push-cart in the unit with a hundred or so books on it, and they'd swap it with the carts in the other units once a week. If you actually stumbled upon a good book, you'd better read it fast because they don't tell you when you're leaving, they just wake you up at two o'clock in the morning and tell you it's time for your flight on "con-air."

Toward the end of my stay, I started reading a western called "The Ox-Bow Incident". I don't particularly care too much for the genre, but this was no ordinary western. It's considered a masterpiece according to the blurb on the front cover, and indeed it is. The more I read, the better it got, and I was coming to the climax at two o'clock one morning when I got the knock on my door letting me know it was time to go.

I recently got a chance to read it again and the ending is even better than I thought it would be. It deals with mob violence and the lynchings that were common in American frontier life. It makes me realize that I'm very lucky to be living in the time and place that I inhabit now, contrary to all appearances.

Review written by David Allan Reeves
Author of "Running Away From Me"
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on September 6, 2003
Walter Van Tilburg Clark's classic novel begins like many Westerns: two ranchers, Art Croft and Gil Carter, ride into the town of Bridger's Wells. They stop at the saloon, have a few drinks after which a poker game begins followed by a fight. Things change quickly when a young man storms into town with a tale of murder and cattle rustling. Though he hasn't actually seen any of the events he's describing, the young man's tale is strong enough to insense the men in the bar. They form a lynch mob and go after the murderers and rustlers.
"The Ox-Bow Incident" is told through the eyes of Art Croft. From him, we see and hear Farnley who is dead set on forming the mob to exact justice; of Osgood and Davies, who both try to convince the group that justice can only be handled properly by the law; and Art himself who has doubts about the lynch mob but goes along, like every other man.
This is a story about who determines what is right and wrong and how justice should be determined with all the facts instead of partial truths and one-sided ideals. It deals with the mob mentality and its consequences. Not your typical fare with a Western. Clark expertly handles the subject matter, and as I was reading, I felt as though I were part of the mob, knowing the mob is not right but powerless to do anything to stop it, swept along for the ride and the outcome. A definite classic.
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on May 31, 1999
In modern-day America it seems that people are constantly questioning authority. Law after law is challenged, or even disregarded, by Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. However, American citizens of today are no different from those of the Old West. "The Ox-Bow Incident" is a powerful story that explains what happens when the common man (or men) takes the law into his own hands. Centering around a supposed murder, and cattle thievery, a group of men form a posse to exact their own idea of retribution. Van Tilburg Clark lets the reader know how anger leads to irrational and hasty action by the way the characters' emotions shift from moment to moment. The posse fears that the law will not punish the criminals in a "just" way (death). Therefore, the posse sets out for a lynching. The story is told in a manner that never allows the reader a moment of rest, always wondering what will happen next. I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a work of art.
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on January 4, 2000
I teach a literature class that focuses on crime and punishment in America, especially capital punishment. Among the books and films on this course are Sister Helen Prejean's "Dead Man Walking," Walter Mosely's, "Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned," and "The Ox-Bow Incident."
Since "Ox-Bow" is the oldest of the works in terms of both writing and time period, I begin with it. This story of a mob hysteria that begins in righteousness and boredom and ends with the lynching of three innocent men never fails to stun and intrigue my students, most of whom could at first care less about "Westerns," whether they be novels or films. What gets them primarily is the relentless of the action. Everyone who reads the novel at some point wants to throw it down and shout, "For god's sake, these men are obviously innocent, let them go!" The laconic, collective insanity of the "posse" is so severe that the hangings push the novel's premise very hard, hard enough that the deaths of the men are almost unbelievable. Yet that is Clark's point. Mobs don't reason; one or two men can sway them. And from this dangerous combination, utterly unreasonable events can happen.
The faceless mob that goes along with its leaders is possibly instructive in the debate over capital punishment in America. Other than Japan, which still hangs a few criminals ritualistically each year, the United States is the last industrially-advanced country in the world to execute prisoners. The pro-capital punishment forces in the U.S. tend to be led by politicians and district attorneys with political agendas and egos not entirely unlike Tetley, the leader of the mob in "Ox-Bow." Of course, the faceless populace of America goes along with these leaders - although recent polls show that support for executions is declining here.
"Ox-Bow" was written sixty years ago and takes place 115 years ago (in 1885). Yet it is still an important American novel, driving as it does to the hearts of men and how mindless retributive justice can lead them to horrific acts of violence.
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on May 22, 2014
Terrific western that doubles as a legal thriller. Maybe not in the strictest keeping with the genre's usual recipe, but a great, thought-provoking story. Will they lynch these guys or not? Which argument will carry the day (or night)? After reading the book, see the fine film starring Henry Fonda and a host of other big stars. Enjoy it more with a big ice-cold Coca-Cola to wash down that delicious Big Mac and double order of world famous .... oops! I got a little carried away with my plugging.
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on February 10, 2014
This is a sad story of violence and how people react to it or fail to. Although it's set in the west, it's by no means a "western." The story of how violence exists and people fear trying to stop it more than the violence itself could take place anytime, anywhere, I rated the book with four stars which shows that I liked it. You cannot really "like" a story like this because it is painful and cruel. We see the violence and cowardice in others - and worse, in ourselves - and we wonder what we would have done that dark snowy night. Faced with violence and tyranny and indecision and swayed by the so called "leaders" of the mob we found ourselves in, would we also be afraid to stop the violence. You may find yourself - as I was - trapped an haunted by the story but I doubt if you will :"like" it.
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