The Harbison Mystery Series

by James R. Wilder

The Harbison Mystery Series tells the story of Chet Harbison, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Born and reared in the sleepy town of Grubville in Jefferson County, Missouri, Chet is a man of honor. Although he lacks a formal education, the hero of these historic novels constantly proves his intelligence when his life and the lives of others are in danger.

Unlike characters in many westerns, Chet is not a wandering stranger going from town to town. He has strong roots in his community and with his family. Although not a fan of modernization, Chet begrudgingly adapts to the changing times when it is necessary.

The series starts with Terror New Town, taking place in 1898, but then fast forwards to the 1930s with Tough Times in Grubville, Sheriff Without a Badge, and Murder at Morse Mill—a time known for speakeasies, moonshine, and murder. It is my hope that as you read these books you will truly get to know the characters. I encourage you to read them in the order they were published.

Local Booksellers

Support a local bookseller and get your copies of the Harbison Mystery books at the following businesses:

  • ABC Books, Springfield, MO
  • Books Galore, Festus, MO
  • Click a "Buy Now" button to purchase from Amazon
  • For autographed copies, contact me at

The Books

Terror Near Town

Terror Near Town

An accidental fire or a murderous arson?—that’s the question for Chet Harbison, fresh back from the Spanish-American War. The 20-year-old Rough Rider returns to his rural Missouri farm riding a tall, lanky horse that had only known a life of torture before being rescued by the war-weathered soldier. Three neighbors died in the horrendous fire with only a 17-year-old girl barely escaping with her life—and a faded memory. She and Chet soon discover both their lives remain in danger and his combat training is their only chance for survival.

Tough Times in Grubville

Tough Times in Grubville

Thirty years have passed since the harrowing events of Terror Near Town, and Chet Harbison’s world is is modernizing way too fast for him. The Great Depression has closed the banks, taking the newly earned money from his livestock sales. Chet is forced to wear a deputy’s badge and answer to a sheriff with questionable ethics. Soon, he is investigating cattle thefts, speakeasies, moonshiners, gangsters and the murder of an old friend.

Sheriff Without a Badge

Sheriff without a Badge

Newly elected Sheriff Chet Harbison has found that politics can be more harrowing than law enforcement, with two county office holders attempting to control his efforts and another doing everything possible to get him fired. While juggling the many responsibilities of a husband and father on top of his job as a sheriff, Chet encounters an uprising outside his jail, a lynching, and continuous reports of moonshining that cause havoc in the county.

If that was not enough, Chet soon discovers that someone in the community wants him dead, but who is it that wants to end Chet’s new career with the help of a bullet?

Sheriff Without a Badge

Murder at Morse Mill

Does Sheriff Chet Harbison have a checkered past? Is he really a man of low morals and a cold-blooded killer? Some may think so after reading a salacious novel. But Chet’s too busy trying to put a habitual livestock thief behind bars and solving the poisoning of a prominent cattle baron. Those matters make Chet's own backstory seem trivial when everything comes to a head with a gruesome murder at the historic Morse Mill Hotel.

Meet the Author

James R. Wilder is a veteran news reporter, trade-journal editor and photographer who has always been a fan of the Old West. In the continuing Harbison Mystery series, his third book, Sheriff Without a Badge, takes place in the rural community of Grubville, Missouri, and the surrounding Jefferson County area where Wilder spent much of his youth, learning its culture, history and folklore.


“I read [Terror Near Town] in four settings because it was exciting; almost like the author was reading the story out loud and in a live setting. This book is a cool combination of events that are happening today mixed with things from the days of cowboys. And being from the state of Missouri, it was even more fun to read since it was written around a midwestern setting. I’m ready to read the next chapter in the lives of Chet and Callie.”


Amazon reviewer

“A great book with wonderful details about what life was like back during the final years of the 19th century… it makes the reader feel like they are there with the characters, sharing their experiences! If you love books with adventure, mystery, romance, drama and humor with a western flavor, then I would recommend this book!”


Amazon reviewer

“An exciting novel by James R. Wilder chronicling the adventures of Chet Harbison, one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders returning to his Midwestern home, fresh from the Spanish-American War. Chet struggles to come to terms with the changing world at the onset of the 20th Century, while building his life as a man in the town that last saw him as a boy. Each page drips with history and Wilder's true love for the Old West subject matter shines through, while the story's themes of building a life against the struggle of changing times while fighting for what is right are relevant to today's times. This is a great opening chapter in the “Harbison Mystery” series, which promises to be very exciting and I look forward to the next installment.”


Amazon reviewer