Myth (?) of the Gun-free Old West Towns


Bob's Grandson
May 9, 2007, 09:09 AM

Whenever I speak to my boss about the concept of allowing licensed handguns to be carried here on the IUPUI campus he bring up this image of the Old West towns where guns where checked in when you came to town. "They must have known what they were doing!" says he. I've directed him to one example of where this was not the case:

James Gang at Northfield, MN (

but are there other sources I can direct him to that may disprove what I suspect is a cinematic creation? Or did they check their guns with Marshall Dillon?


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News Shooter
May 9, 2007, 09:30 AM
That the Earps outlawed firearms in Tombstone. I know that is no help to you and I'm certainly on your side (having attended IUPUI)
Good luck

May 9, 2007, 09:34 AM
It's not a cinematic creation


That the Earps outlawed firearms in Tombstone. I know that is no help to you and I'm certainly on your side (having attended IUPUI)
Good luck

Keep in mind that the Earps were far from being the good guys in real life as opposed to a movie that is mostly fiction.

M2 Carbine
May 9, 2007, 09:37 AM
That happened very little.

My friend's father died shortly before reaching 100. His stories of this area, West of Fort Worth, were what books are written about. The Indians were still coming down from Oklahoma and raiding and killing. No matter what they did, if they made it back to Oklahoma, they were home free.

The local news paper ran a series of stories about the town in the old days.
Far from checking in guns when coming into town, the men carried their guns everywhere, even in church.

One Sunday morning, in a church a block from the courthouse, the Preacher was preaching when a boy ran in yelling, "There's Indians on the square. The Preacher grabbed his pistol, that was laying on the pulpit, and yelled, "The Hell they are". The Preacher and the men in the congregation ran to the square where they killed the Indians. Then everyone went back to church to finish services."

May 9, 2007, 09:39 AM
Avoid the Old West references as much as possible. There's too much mythology around it. It's a red herring and has little relevance to today's world.

Point out that in this day and age people who live in states with no restrictions don't shoot each other more than states with heavy restrictions, don't have higher accidental shooting rates and don't have higher gun crime rates. Remind him that violent crime rates in the UK and Australia have gone up since the confiscations and that gun crime rates have gone up in the UK as well to levels well above those prior to confiscation.

Keep the discussion centered upon adults with carry permits. These are the only ones that would be allowed to carry on campus anyway. Cover the qualifications for permit holders. Detail the fact that permit holders are far less likely to be involved in an accidental shooting or a crime. The folks that might carry on campus won't be the irresponsible man-child he sees the students as being, but instead will be faculty and staff and adult-learners.

May 9, 2007, 09:55 AM
Did they outlaw firearms, or just open carry to discriminate against working men?

News Shooter
May 9, 2007, 10:03 AM
Banned the carrying of firearms in cerain sections of Dodge City.
It's not a myth

Creeping Incrementalism
May 9, 2007, 10:03 AM
From everything I've read, town like Tombstone where bearing arms was restricted were definitely the exception.

Have you ever seen Roger McGrath on the History Channel? He studied crime rates from available documentation, and found that the Wild West was more civilized than today.

Open carry was common during the pioneer era and in the American Old West. According to UCLA historian Dr. Roger McGrath in his book Guns, Highwaymen and Vigilantes: Violence in the Old West (1984), the rates of murder, robbery, rape, and other assorted violent crimes were far lower than they are today, and McGrath attributes those lower rates directly to the open carry of firearms.

In the book McGrath states that "the young, the old, and the female—those most vulnerable—were far safer in the most wild and wooly frontier towns than they are in any American city today," because "people had arms, knew how to use them, and were willing to fight with deadly force to protect their persons or property."

There is also a book about citizens in the Old West fighting against gangs of criminals:

It's a classic story from hundreds of western shoot-'em-ups: a gang of outlaws rides into town, terrorizes local citizens, and finally meets their match when the heroic sheriff appears. In real life, it was different. Some of the most notorious western outlaws were killed or captured by townspeople. And the trend continued throughout the Prohibition era.

Outgunned! True Stories of Citizens Who Stood Up to Outlaws-and Won describes a dozen such cases. There's Jesse James, whose gang was decimated by armed citizens while the James-Younger Gang was attempting to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. There's Tom Horn, assassin for the Wyoming cattle barons, who was shot by citizens during an ill-fated jailbreak. And there's George Birdwell, "Pretty Boy" Floyd's chief lieutenant; he and his partners were gunned down by outraged townspeople as they attempted to hold up a bank in the all-black town of Boley, Oklahoma. There's the notorious Dalton gang that entered Coffeyville, Kansas, one cold fall morning in 1892 and attempted to rob two banks at the same time; four of the outlaws were killed by armed citizens. Then there¹s Anthony Chebatoris, a Prohibition-era socialist who, after murdering an innocent bystander during an attempted bank robbery in Midland, Michigan, was shot by a dentist who kept a hunting rifle in his office.

Outgunned! True Stories of Citizens Who Stood Up to Outlaws-and Won is the first book to systematically describe cases of American citizens protecting themselves against criminals. All are documented in contemporary writings or by noted historians. In some cases, new information has been located and incorporated into the book. Many books romanticize outlaws or lawmen, but until now the role of townspeople who banded together to save themselves and their neighbors has been given little more than passing interest.

Eleven Mike
May 9, 2007, 10:22 AM
hso is right. One way to shut him up about the Old West might be to ask him where he gets his ideas, and why believes them.

May 9, 2007, 10:23 AM
I remember reading some years ago in "Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer" by John Sadlier, that a number of people were quite outraged after the Kelly Gang attacked Jerilderie that no-one tried to stop them.

Sadlier pointed out that one "resolute" fellow with a double barreled gun could have cleaned up the lot.

Like your western bad boys, more than a few of Australia's "bushrangers" encounted ballistic rehabilitation at the hands of those they tried to pillage.

Old Fuff
May 9, 2007, 10:28 AM
First of all, I agree with hso.

Now since we are on myths and the Old West I'll address this one.

That the Earps outlawed firearms in Tombstone.

The Earps did no such thing. Tombstone's city fathers did by passing a statute, and at the time none of the Earps were involved in local law enforcement. Wyatt Earp never was a Tombstone City Marshal. His brother Virgil was for a time, and Morgan Earp sometimes worked as a night deputy under Virgil. On occasions during an emergency, Virgil deputized Wyatt as a temporary "special" deputy. As a rule, Wyatt did not routinely carry arms while he was in Tombstone, and on at least one occasion had to borrow a six-shooter when trouble arose.

The law did not outlaw guns, but simply said that when someone came into town they had to check their hardware, at a hotel, saloon, or wherever, and the statute remained in effect well after the Earps had left.

There were two reasons for this. One was that the "cowboy" element would ride into town and shoot at, among other things, the gas streetlights. This could cause a fire, and while the events were not shooting related, Tombstone burned down twice. A fire was no joke.

The second reason was that the town was trying to present itself to the outside world as a safe place to come and invest money. Drunks and "sporting men" (gamblers) getting into gunfights did not help this image.

And for the record they had the same law in Dodge City, KA. – and for the same reasons.

Some folks read or watch too much fiction and too little history… :scrutiny:

AR-15 Rep
May 9, 2007, 10:48 AM
well here is a fact, criminals don't abide by the law. And just for thought lets say you were a criminal intent on robbing someone, would you rob someone who might be armed, or someone around them could be. Or would you rob the people that could not defend themselves because of the law, and they were law abiding citizens? You can't really expect everyone to be unarmed someone will be just for the thrill of it, and then it will take an armed person to stop them. Its a catch 22, some people had to be armed to stop the ones that didn't obey the law. And back then there were morals, code, common sense, and respect for other people and thier property. Today everyone is looking to get the upper hand in a situation, therefore criminals resort to firearms to get that upper hand. The only way to stop them is to either be equipped as well, or make the punishment so great that they think twice about doing the crime.

May 9, 2007, 11:02 AM
As far as Myth goes, the old timers didn't have the plethora of laws on the books we have today.
People carried guns as a matter of course in their daily lives.

The disarming of the citizenry didn't really lawfully begin until the coming of the roaming automobile bandits and gangsters of the twenties and thirties.

"Check your gun" basically meant:
Don't wander around town with your iron hanging out in plain sight. It is an open afront and shows intent to do violence.
You will be arrested.

I am old enough to have had the pleasure of talking to the even older people who were there and who had even older parents who were there before them.

It isn't a myth, it was the way it was and contrary to what the myth portrays, it was a whole lot less violent in those times than people may think it was.

May 9, 2007, 01:51 PM
I thought that "check your gun" laws/rules were geared towards visitors (not residents) of towns that would have large influxes of cowboys after a cattle drive.

Flush with money and ready to cut loose after several months on the trail, these guys were the definition of "civic disturbance".

another okie
May 9, 2007, 02:22 PM
"Check your guns" was in a few cattle towns in Kansas and a few gold mining towns. In general, a lot of people carried and almost everyone had a gun nearby. The McGrath book is excellent because it is a real historical book, not a movie or a fantasy novel. He examined actual rates of crime and gun ownership in two mining towns along the California / Nevada border. I've read the book and recommend it.

May 9, 2007, 04:38 PM
The Southwest is where the towns banned carrying handguns and most of this happened after the Civil War.

May 9, 2007, 05:10 PM

Does he realize what neighborhoods surround the campus? Or that many, many people take night classes? Or how far lone females must walk to their cars? Or why he thinks words on a piece of paper will stop crime or criminals? Ask him why he is afraid of the good guys and why he thinks he is "safe" if none of the good guys have guns? (by law only good guys are allowed to carry guns)

Tell him that I carried every day at IUPUI when I was a student there.

I never shot anyone.

No one (almost) ever knew, and I carried a full size S&W autoloader IWB.

It was 11 years ago when I graduated at age 25.

I still carry.

I still haven't shot anyone.

I am NOT the exception.

The reason for the no gun policy is very simple. Liability.

Blue .45
May 9, 2007, 05:55 PM
There is also a book about citizens in the Old West fighting against gangs of criminals:

Great Book! I just ordered "The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves With a Firearm' by the same author. Similar to the first book, only the events are from more recent times.

May 9, 2007, 05:59 PM
There are several historical guns (generally pocket model revolvers from Colt and Remington, and Derringers of many sorts) that existed only because people carried them when they didn't want to be seen carrying them. This included places where guns "weren't allowed."

So while there may have been some restrictions on carrying, that didn't mean that there was a gun-free town, saloon or riverboat in the land. There weren't.:) It just meant that people carried concealed weapons instead.

May 9, 2007, 11:02 PM
The locals in and around Tombstone never were far from the necessary hardware regardless of the town ordinance. Apparently the law pertained mostly to visitors and folks wandering in from parts unknown and a scattergun behind the bar or a hogleg in the cash register drawer was acknowledged as necessary and prudent. BTW - if you're ever there, stop in the gunshop around the corner from the OK corral - now THAT's a gunshop.:D

May 10, 2007, 01:29 AM
Actual murders in the old West were less (per capita) than in Washington D.C. since the 1976 handgun ban.

There have been several studies and books about this, some of them mentioned by others here.

Movies exaggerate (dramatize) EVERYTHING. That's why we watch them.

People who don't bother to learn actual history, and get their info from movies with historical settings are in the same category as people who base their sexual relationships on porno films. They have a skewed view of reality.

Eleven Mike
May 10, 2007, 02:11 AM
People who don't bother to learn actual history, and get their info from movies with historical settings are in the same category as people who base their sexual relationships on porno films. They have a skewed view of reality.

Hey, we do not! I know a lot of girls who...

Oh, wait, forget I said anything. :o :o


May 10, 2007, 02:44 AM
Bob's Grandson, check this out.....

Thursday, April 19, 2007


25 years murder-free in 'Gun Town USA'
Crime rate plummeted after law required firearms for residents

Posted: April 19, 2007
1:52 p.m. Eastern

© 2007

Kennesaw, Ga., City Hall

As the nation debates whether more guns or fewer can prevent tragedies like the Virginia Tech Massacre, a notable anniversary passed last month in a Georgia town that witnessed a dramatic plunge in crime and violence after mandating residents to own firearms.

In March 1982, 25 years ago, the small town of Kennesaw – responding to a handgun ban in Morton Grove, Ill. – unanimously passed an ordinance requiring each head of household to own and maintain a gun. Since then, despite dire predictions of "Wild West" showdowns and increased violence and accidents, not a single resident has been involved in a fatal shooting – as a victim, attacker or defender.

The crime rate initially plummeted for several years after the passage of the ordinance, with the 2005 per capita crime rate actually significantly lower than it was in 1981, the year before passage of the law.

Prior to enactment of the law, Kennesaw had a population of just 5,242 but a crime rate significantly higher (4,332 per 100,000) than the national average (3,899 per 100,000). The latest statistics available – for the year 2005 – show the rate at 2,027 per 100,000. Meanwhile, the population has skyrocketed to 28,189.

(Story continues below)

By comparison, the population of Morton Grove, the first city in Illinois to adopt a gun ban for anyone other than police officers, has actually dropped slightly and stands at 22,202, according to 2005 statistics. More significantly, perhaps, the city's crime rate increased by 15.7 percent immediately after the gun ban, even though the overall crime rate in Cook County rose only 3 percent. Today, by comparison, the township's crime rate stands at 2,268 per 100,000.

This was not what some predicted.

In a column titled "Gun Town USA," Art Buchwald suggested Kennesaw would soon become a place where routine disagreements between neighbors would be settled in shootouts. The Washington Post mocked Kennesaw as "the brave little city … soon to be pistol-packing capital of the world." Phil Donahue invited the mayor on his show.

Reuters, the European news service, today revisited the Kennesaw controversy following the Virginia Tech Massacre.

Police Lt. Craig Graydon said: "When the Kennesaw law was passed in 1982 there was a substantial drop in crime … and we have maintained a really low crime rate since then. We are sure it is one of the lowest (crime) towns in the metro area." Kennesaw is just north of Atlanta.

The Reuters story went on to report: "Since the Virginia Tech shootings, some conservative U.S. talk show hosts have rejected attempts to link the massacre to the availability of guns, arguing that had students been allowed to carry weapons on campus someone might have been able to shoot the killer."

Virginia Tech, like many of the nation's schools and college campuses, is a so-called "gun-free zone," which Second Amendment supporters say invites gun violence – especially from disturbed individuals seeking to kill as many victims as possible.

Cho Seung-Hui murdered 32 and wounded another 15 before turning his gun on himself.

May 10, 2007, 06:45 AM
Having had the privelege to have had a family member who was once called:
"The Last of the Old Western Badmen"...U.S. Marshal John Gilley...and I remember some of the things that he told in my presence...

The banning of openly-carried firearms in some of the towns was usually enforced at night when the drinking was in full swing, and that pocket pistols, derringers and such for personal protection were normally ignored.
During the day, a rancher, farmer, or cowpoke going about his business with a six-shooter on his belt was watched for a time to determine his demeanor and intent...and if he was apparently peaceably disposed...was allowed to finish his business and go back to work without fanfare.

I guess they all agreed in the same common-sense approach that likker and hoglegs make for troublesome bedfellows...which is true.

John was murdered in his sleep near Pikeville, Kentucky in the early 60s...when he was about 94 or 95 years old. His killer was never found, but was assumed that it was one of his takedowns who came for revenge after being released from prison. Investigation revealed that the killer stood on a rain barrel and shot him through a window as he slept on a screened-in back porch. Neighbors said that it was one of the rare days that he slept past daylight.

May 10, 2007, 08:14 AM
My grandpa died in the early 60's. My dad recounted conversations he had with him about the last two decades of the 19th century. Both grand pop and dad were born and grew up in southern New Mexico, Lincoln County to be specific. It was relayed to me that generally anyone packing on the hip was trouble. Everyday citizens were ranchers, farmers, shopkeepers, etc had no need of and hence did not want to be bothered by a rig on the hip. Cow punchers would have firearms but they were seldom on the hip and on the saddle horn or bag instead. Ranchers would generally carry a rifle if anything at all. I also heard the story that gun limitations were generally enforced at night and only for sidearms and shoulder guns. Belly guns were generally ignored. At no point did I ever get the idea the the west was a Victim Disarmament Zone. The land was hard the people were harder. Being armed made sense.

May 10, 2007, 09:55 AM
It is true, in some cities they restricted the carrying of guns.... But the criminals still had theirs... Same story then as today.

Mostly they did it so that the drunken cowboys / miners wouldn't get drunk and kill each other, they would just get drunk and fight.

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