The Myth of Old West Gun Violence


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the iron horse
January 13, 2011, 10:59 PM
In his book, Frontier Violence: Another Look, author W. Eugene Hollon, provides us with these astonishing facts:

* In Abilene , Ellsworth, Wichita , Dodge City , and Caldwell , for the years from 1870 to 1885, there were only 45 total homicides. This equates to a rate of approximately 1 murder per 100,000 residents per year.
* In Abilene , supposedly one of the wildest of the cow towns, not a single person was killed in 1869 or 1870.

Zooming forward over a century to 2007, a quick look at Uniform Crime Report statistics shows us the following regarding the aforementioned gun control “paradise” cities of the east:


* DC – 183 Murders (31 per 100,000 residents)
* New York – 494 Murders (6 per 100,000 residents)
* Baltimore – 281 Murders (45 per 100,000 residents)
* Newark – 104 Murders (37 per 100,000 residents)


~Google and you will find the same results.

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hammerklavier
January 13, 2011, 11:09 PM
Any numbers for self defense killings, duels, etc?

scrat
January 14, 2011, 12:22 AM
You should check out horrace bell. he has some pretty good writings. i guess at one time the murder rate in los angeles was the highest rate in the country

Tedzilla
January 14, 2011, 01:51 AM
If W. Eugene Hollon’s figures can withstand a rigorous fact check they would be valuable in demonstrating that an armed society is a polite society.

Boberama
January 14, 2011, 05:29 AM
It was all unreported. People got shot with arrows and dumped in the outback. Of course there weren't many recorded homicides. Would people go searching for a body dumped in the middle of a forest 100 miles away? No.

Thats my $0.02.

After the fur traders came, the violence lessened with the introduction of firearms.

scaatylobo
January 14, 2011, 10:32 AM
BUT,there were a great deal less than the 300 MILLION plus than we have now.

That has to be figured in too.

wishin
January 14, 2011, 11:06 AM
Thanks for sharing. That's also some good info to have when our anti-gun acquaintances bring up that more guns and less regulation brings more gun related deaths.

MrOldLude
January 14, 2011, 01:01 PM
Yep. This is what happens when people substitute western-films in place of actual historical references.

svtruth
January 14, 2011, 01:43 PM
I always thought guns were actually pretty rare in the old west. Most people were subsistence farmers or ranchers. Ammo was prolly too expensive to practice much.
And, no, I have no citations to back up my opinions.

md2lgyk
January 14, 2011, 02:37 PM
Handguns might've been rare, but I'm sure every farmer had at least a shotgun. Probably a rifle too, since many hunted for their food.

eye5600
January 14, 2011, 02:51 PM
The way I heard it, the gunfight at the OK corral was all about gun control.

W.E.G.
January 14, 2011, 02:59 PM
You mean Gunsmoke wasn't real?

http://i227.photobucket.com/albums/dd7/rkba2da/movies/ruth.jpg

TexasBill
January 14, 2011, 03:00 PM
The "Old West" as most people perceive it is almost entirely the product of Hollywood and TV westerns. Showdowns in the latter part of the 19th Century were rare; dueling had been outlawed in the U.S. for years.

A lot of men had weapons, including various revolvers, left over from service in the Civil War. But from all the photos I have seen from that period, weapons were seldom carried in day-to-day life unless your occupation required one for some reason (hunting, Indians, etc.).

Actually, a lot of towns prohibited the carrying of firearms and it was illegal to carry a handgun in the entire state of Texas after 1871, a situation that persisted until George Bush became governor of Texas. That didn't mean nobody carried one, though. My great uncles, who lived in Luling, would stick revolvers in their waistbands if they had to go into town on Saturday night. People getting liquored-up was one part of Hollywood lore that had some basis in fact.

DFW1911
January 14, 2011, 03:02 PM
We also need to remember that what constitutes a homicide in the late 1800's vs. our time are not necessarily equal.

How many "fair fights" went unreported and / or undocumented because they were, in the eyes of the court / court of public opinion, people exercising their Constitutional Rights?

Thanks for posting.

the iron horse
January 14, 2011, 08:01 PM
Only four people died at the O.K. Corral, but the story made the headlines in New York City newspapers. I'm trying to imagine the recent homicides in my area making the front page of the New York Times.

CoastieShep
January 14, 2011, 08:22 PM
How many went unreported because they happened out in the middle of nowhere? Who knows. But yeah, movies are pretty much the exact opposite of real life. To watch a realistic movie that followed all the facts and only the facts would probably be pretty boring.

Cosmoline
January 14, 2011, 08:25 PM
I always thought guns were actually pretty rare in the old west. Most people were subsistence farmers or ranchers. Ammo was prolly too expensive to practice much.

It depends what you mean by "the old west" and "guns." If you're talking about the early 19th century fur trade, smooth bore guns were prized and not easy to get west of the Mississippi just because of the sheer logistics involved and the fact that every gun was essentially hand made. Rifles were even more rare. The mountain men who had them were loaded with money from the fur trade.

If you're talking about the post civil war west, the situation had changed dramatically. Not only was there a wash of millions of surplus military arms but the big makers had learned how to mass produce modern firearms by the million. It's true that fine Colt revolvers were never on everyone's hip as is sometimes portrayed. They were far too expensive for most. But guns, in general, became very easy to get ahold of. Even a poor sod buster could afford a scattergun or beater rifle musket (I've seen some of these smoothed out to eliminate the rifling).

Weevil
January 14, 2011, 08:31 PM
I tend to question the accuracy of those "records".


Something tells me those old west sheriffs and their deputies, or whoever was keeping those "records", weren't quite as meticulous about paperwork as they are nowadays.


I wonder how many of them could even read and write, literacy was a lot less common back then.

Oyeboten
January 14, 2011, 09:19 PM
Ther US had a much higher Literacy rate in the mid or mid-latter 1800s, than it does today.


Literacy was about 100 percent, in the late 1700s.


The decline in literacy, began with massive imigration for filling low wage factory jobs, then, continued, with federally mandated federally dominated public schooling, as we have now.


Literacy now is probably the lowest it has ever been since the founding of the United States.


And credulity, probably, at it's highest.

General Geoff
January 14, 2011, 09:26 PM
Literacy was about 100 percent, in the late 1700s.

[citation needed]

I would wager that literacy was at 50% or less during the Revolutionary War. Just because the Founding fathers and most people who have been deemed by scholars to be important to the founding of our nation were highly literate, does not mean Joe Average was.


edit; after a few minutes of searching, the literacy rate in the New England colonies was quite high (above 90%), at least among adult men. Women and slaves, much less so. But this does not really address the literacy rates in the midwest during the mid to late 19th century.



The technical literacy rate of the United States today is 99%. The functional literacy rate is somewhat lower, however.

d2wing
January 14, 2011, 10:24 PM
Many European settlers did not have guns in there home country and, as been said, could not afford them. But it varied a great deal in times and areas from accounts I have read and heard from relatives. During the Indian uprising here most farmers had a muzzle loading rifle or shotgun in the house but were isolated and unaware. Hundreds were killed by in raids badly outnumbered and outgunned by the Sioux on farms and small settlements. In another case several settlers gathered in a church and shared a single shotgun after an outlaw raid. Most larger towns were well armed and organized enough to ward off attacks.

Neverwinter
January 14, 2011, 11:01 PM
Population density has a greater effect on violence than guns do. That's one of the main reasons I've avoided living in metropolises.

SlamFire1
January 14, 2011, 11:40 PM
In Abilene , Ellsworth, Wichita , Dodge City , and Caldwell , for the years from 1870 to 1885, there were only 45 total homicides. This equates to a rate of approximately 1 murder per 100,000 residents per year.

Abilene is in Taylor County. By 1890 the city had a population of 3,194; twenty years later the number of residents was 9,204.
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hda01

Pretty hard to get one murder per 100,000. Just are not that many people.

Larry E
January 14, 2011, 11:55 PM
In pictures I've seen of the west, especially Montana and Wyoming in the 1880's to early 1900's the cowboys all packed handguns, and some rifles for defense against bears, wolves, and rattlers. Most farmers likely had at least a shotgun and maybe a small caliber rifle for hawks, foxes, coyotes, skunks and other predators on their chickens, and other small livestock.

Folks in towns and cities likely had guns, but didn't feel a need to carry them all the time because there really wasn't that much violence. Remember the bank robbery in Northfield, MN, where the townspeople armed themselves and had at with the robbers. No FDIC back then, it was THERE money that was being stolen, and they were willing to defend it.

Before organized law enforcement there were also Committees of Vigilance that decided who they thought needed redemption and saw to it with a rope and convenient tree or other make do scaffold.

Apuuli
January 15, 2011, 12:04 AM
Abilene is in Taylor County. By 1890 the city had a population of 3,194; twenty years later the number of residents was 9,204.
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hda01

Pretty hard to get one murder per 100,000. Just are not that many people.

Hence the listing of 5 cities. The 1 murder per 100,000 is for all the cities totalled together.

Sunray
January 15, 2011, 12:55 AM
"...made the headlines in New York City..." 19th Century NYC(and every other Eastern city) was far more dangerous than anywhere in the "Wild West". Nothing to do with the availability of firearms either. Too many people living in too little space and rampant poverty.
"...the cowboys all packed handguns..." Nope. Most didn't make enough money to own a handgun. They got issued one by the rancher, if the job they were doing required one. Most 19th Century photographs were staged using props.
"...THERE money..." Where?

Pawdog
January 15, 2011, 10:05 AM
Abilene is in Taylor County. By 1890 the city had a population of 3,194; twenty years later the number of residents was 9,204.
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hda01

Pretty hard to get one murder per 100,000. Just are not that many people.
I believe the reference is to Abilene, Kansas, not Texas.

Onmilo
January 15, 2011, 10:17 AM
A lot of people considered to be "Bad Men" quietly swung from ropes back then too.

The myth of the old west isn't so much the lack of recorded murders, the myth is that a lot of people got killed very quietly and not a whole lot was said about it.

The cowtowns you mention aren't noted for brash violence and some famous Marshalls and Sheriffs come from those areas.
Men who had reputations that would turn all but the most cold hearted to wiggle jelly at the thought of going into those towns for the purpose of mayhem.

You don't cite any mining towns like Bodie, Goldwater, or even San Francisco where a man took his own life in his hands just going into these places for supplies.

The Old West was a mean, violent, dirty place to make a living.

Caliper_RWVA
January 15, 2011, 11:00 AM
Many European settlers did not have guns in there home country and, as been said, could not afford them.

What? Couldn't afford them? But... a gun only cost a few bucks! ;)

Firearms manufactured per capita then vs now may be a good way to judge how many people had guns.

deadin
January 15, 2011, 11:25 AM
Literacy was about 100 percent, in the late 1700s.

I will also dispute this. My wife is a genealogist and has been doing transcriptions of marriage records/bonds from the 1790's and you would be amazed just how many folks had to sign their name with an "X". ("make their mark")

Curator
January 15, 2011, 11:27 AM
Blueyes,

A Colt 1873 revolver cost $13.50 to $15.00 in 1880. The average pay for cow hands was about $5.00 per month. Imagine 3 month's pay for a handgun. That's expensive; the equivalent of $6000 for today's worker. Interestingly some of those guns that survived this era in good shape are actually worth that now.

Taillebois
January 15, 2011, 02:32 PM
Curator;

The cost of firearms and ammunition did tend to limit the use of firearms, even in serious situations. In the immediate post civil war period two argonauts were walking from Westport KS to Ten Mile house in Colorado.
They had offended the Cheyenne/Arapaho somewhere near today's state border. In this incident they had a 'needle gun' (likely a Springfield breach loader) and less than 20 cartridges, and one pistol. The passage consists of holding the rifle up and aiming it when the Indians got too close, and during the entire sequence neither side fired anything. Cartridges were often rare and quite expensive (or unattainable in open country) so the fullisades shown in the movies were quite rare.

Also as the relative level of violence, because of the draft riots in New York, the Haymarket incident, the Great RR strike of 1877, the Unions and Mine companies struggles the number of people who died in the east resultant from the use firearms may have been considerably higher.

If one leaves out the open wars between the government and the tribal peoples the west was not as violent as the movies and etc implied. In general these isolated settlements did have firearms in some numbers. But whether it was a isolated homestead or small town, people needed contacts.
So more often it was 'hallo the house' or communal activities (bars, dances, revivals) etc than clanking up with a weapon and staring each other down with steely eyes. These people needed news from back in the states, socializing etc because of their isolation and so did not generally jeopardize these sources by stupid conduct with a firearm. People used to ride walk from Leadville to Fairplay just to visit for example, and if the firearm was carried it was more for pot meat, signalling, bear issues than any real need to be shooting at anybody. And it may have been quite common to leave the old wagon gun or heavy revolver at home in preference to a light rifle or pistol, in trips like these, just to avoid having to carry the thing.

And as noted unless someone was literally out on the range, firearms were often left at home or not openly carried especially in towns which had customs or laws to not be acting up.

BBQLS1
January 15, 2011, 04:13 PM
A Colt 1873 revolver cost $13.50 to $15.00 in 1880. The average pay for cow hands was about $5.00 per month. Imagine 3 month's pay for a handgun. That's expensive; the equivalent of $6000 for today's worker. Interestingly some of those guns that survived this era in good shape are actually worth that now.

I bet there was a better deal for used. Cap and ball probably stayed particularly popular. Even Wild Bill Hickok wore them till he died in 1876.

Cosmoline
January 15, 2011, 04:34 PM
Colt revolvers were the high end. There were still a lot of cap and ball revolvers in use and circulation, not to mention all of the muzzleloading pistols and even flintlocks that were still in use.

It's almost certain that drovers were not the well armed, well respected gunslingers we imagine them to be in the movies. They were on the very lowest rung of society, and were paid accordingly.

But because cowboys could not afford a Colt doesn't mean nobody could. Colt sold plenty, and Winchester sold many many more. The millions of buffalo didn't just drop dead from strong language. Hunters used everything from high end cartridge rifles to chopped off muzzleloaders loaded by spitting a ball into the barrel.

Arkansas Paul
January 15, 2011, 05:36 PM
Cowhands didn't make much money, but they made more than $5 a month. Just about all I've read for the past 20 years is the history from the end of the War of Northern Aggression until the turn of the century. From everything I gather, they made about $30 a month with meals and lodging included. That still makes a $15 revolver an expensive endevour though.

Onmilo
January 15, 2011, 05:42 PM
Wages for a Western Infantry Private were $16.00 a Month.
A trail cow hand could earn $500 for a four month ride.

Town people earned about $80 a month on average but a lot of the pay was in barter.

You could buy cartridge conversion revolvers for about $8-$10, Bulldogs for $10-$20 and a Single Action Army for about $35, yes there was price gouging going on out West.

Checkman
January 15, 2011, 06:30 PM
Silverado was not a realistic western in anyway whatsoever. I believe it was actually a tribute to the 1950Hollywood westerns. Except in one part.

Right after Kevin Klines character is pulled out of the ground by Scott Glenn (almost at the beginning of the movie) he has no clothes and his saddle, horse, hat and guns are gone. For a brief time you see him wearing old raggedy, clothes that don't fit and a cluncky,rickety revolver stuffed into his pants pocket.

Nothing is tailored and everything is improvised. Probably are more accurate portrayl of the old west. But what fun is that?

Oyeboten
January 15, 2011, 06:46 PM
Pardon me, I spoke in haste.

More like 98 percent then.


Visit any middle school now, or high school, look at the papers the children turn in.

While technically, they are regarded as 'literate', practically speacking, they are only just that - 'technically literate', functionally/practically illiterate.


A few years ago I had a friend who was a middle school Teacher...I would help her grade papers sometimes when she was behind.

As a casual evaluation, compared to say, a similar class of children of 1880 - 1960, where one would find 100 percent Literacy, I would be lucky to find one 'Literate' Pupil out of every twenty now, even if technically they can print misformed letters onto paper or sign their name.


Anyway...far as that goes...

Joe Demko
January 15, 2011, 06:54 PM
Visit any middle school now, or high school, look at the papers the children turn in.

You have done this in how many schools in how many districts in how many states?


A few years ago I had a friend who was a middle school Teacher...I would help her grade papers sometimes when she was behind.
There's a claim to expertise that really commands respect.

As a casual evaluation, compared to say, a similar class of children of 1880 - 1960, where one would find 100 percent Literacy, I would be lucky to find one 'Literate' Pupil out of every twenty now, even if technically they can print misformed letters onto paper or sign their name.

How many papers from how many schools in how many districts from how many states and in what time periods have you studied? Can I see the rubric you used for evaluation of those papers? Can I see your data?

I'm pretty sure 98% to 100% of what you have to say on this topic can be safely disregarded as you...imagined...all of it.

trickshot
January 16, 2011, 08:03 PM
We also need to remember that what constitutes a homicide in the late 1800's vs. our time are not necessarily equal.
I'm not an expert on this subject, but I just finished reading the biography of Wyatt Earp, "Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshall". I already returned the book to the library so can't give exact quotes, but that book gives plenty of evidence that in all of those famous frontier towns where he was the marshal or sheriff, people where shot to death all the time (until Wyatt was made the peace officer in that place). Very few of the deaths were officially counted as murder. Most of the shootings were considered self defense. If innocent bystanders happened to get killed by a stray bullet during a shootout it was considered an accident, and in that time and place no one was prosecuted for accidental killings. The book also tells about people being murdered in cold blood by outlaws, but it seems that many times those victims were not reported to the law.

I found his biography to be one of the most fascinating stories I have ever read. His real life exploits were so incredible, he was almost like a super hero. A lot better than any movie.

xfyrfiter
January 17, 2011, 07:15 PM
deleted

lot21
January 17, 2011, 08:08 PM
Bank robberies were very rare in the "old west" too. I've read where from 1859 to 1900 there were less than 10 bank robberies in those 40 or so years.

http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-non-existent-frontier-bank-robbery/

jcwit
January 17, 2011, 08:16 PM
I'll bet there was very few banks also.

Then to, how many attempted bank robberies.

d2wing
January 17, 2011, 08:59 PM
"War of northern aggression."? Hmmm. Off topic.
But attitudes about killing to vary from area to area and person to person. Some folks relied on law enforcement, some were more do it yourselfers.

Taillebois
January 17, 2011, 11:45 PM
Another factor was that many of the people in the settlements, in the postwar period, had been Union or Confederate soldiers. As a result the hotheads who did try for such as bank robberies or extending the violence beyond acceptable levels tended to get dealt with fairly severely...or shot to pieces.

The movie themes of the stranger coming into town to save the place, are usually a bit off the mark. People who'd been through Antietam, Gettysburg, 7 days, Petersburg and such were not all that easily cowed, and many would have resented intrusions on their life, peace and money.

They may have had a higher tolerance for people acting up, because the end of the war left many of these men footloose, but not for outright chaos.

Plus a certain portion of these men would have by todays standards quite serious PTSD, and as such it was wise not to go provoking violence. For example a GAR man who'd been with Sherman on the march to the sea, or a CSA soldier who'd fought in that wreckage, would bear a certain pyschological price for all that and would it would not have been wise to go about setting off their fuses.

Kaeto
January 18, 2011, 09:59 AM
For those who keep calling it "The war of Northern Aggression" I feel I must remind you. The South fired first!

HoosierQ
January 18, 2011, 10:20 AM
Here's the thing (or two).

The myth of the gunslinger(s) coming into town and cowing the populace (the theme of who knows how many movies) is total bunk. Most of those guys were veterans of the Civil War for crying out loud...both sides. These guys faces the guns at Gettysberg, Chicamauga, Shilo, Petersburg...a couple of thugs with guns were not going to cow these kinds of people. Didn't happen. One has only to look at the "Great Northfield Minnesota Raid". The townspeople shot those thugs to pieces...townspeople, honest folks exercising the RKBA and protecting their hard earned money...no FDIC back then.

The much celebrated formal "gunfight" seen in countless westerns, large and small screen alike...you know the fair fight (what a load of bull) happened, as far as I know (and I think I am right) exactly once way back in the 1870s. Will Bill Hickock and another guy faced off in the street and Hickock shot him at 75 yards in a draw down. That only worked because the other fella probably didn't think a man 75 yards away could hit him...well Hickock could and did. So ended the era of the traditional formal gunfight.

Way, way more Indians were killed by white people than vice versa. Of course not at the Battle of Little Big Horn or 250 years earlier at Scenectady or Deerfield...but over all, way out of balance. Just saying.

The old west was every bit as tough as it was made out to be but I suspect one's liklihood of secumbing to violence was not terribly out of proportion to what it is today (depend on locale and time) while one's liklihood of seccumbing to natural or elemental causes was enormously greater than today.

Yep, the old west was tough.

david58
January 18, 2011, 10:21 AM
Literacy in the 1700's and 1800's can be researched but only estimates obtained. It was very frequent to have folks that could not read that were living on the frontier, or even the lower classes in town - remember that public schools were rare, and that "public" schools were charity schools for those that wanted to go but couldn't afford to pay the local schoolteacher.

As to literacy today - I HAVE been in school classrooms, and kids can fly under the radar and end up functionally illiterate. I work in a manufacturing facility, and MANY of our adult employees (with HS diplomas) have a terrible time reading simple documents and understanding what they say. I work with degreed engineers (not a simple degree to pull off) that simply cannot write an understandable sentence,

As to gun violence, I think part of what we are dealing with is Statisitcs (liars, damn liars, and Statisticians). Today, we have the CDC considering 22 year olds as child victims of gun violence, then, there were few compiled stats and there was no uniform reporting. I do scratch my head as to how we conclude that gun violence in the old west was a myth,,,

Arkansas Paul
January 18, 2011, 11:03 AM
"War of northern aggression."? Hmmm. Off topic.

How was it off topic?
I didn't submit a post on that topic. I was merely pointing out what period of time in history I enjoy studying the most. What I call it is my business. It damn sure wasn't a civil war.

Manco
January 18, 2011, 11:15 AM
I always thought guns were actually pretty rare in the old west. Most people were subsistence farmers or ranchers.

Based on period photos, most people rarely if ever open-carried on their hip like in movies and on TV (at least in town), but guns in general weren't exactly rare, or so I'd imagine. I think it'd be weird for relatively self-sufficient people to live on the frontier without the most effective means of defense from hostile people and animals, especially with law enforcement being extremely limited to nonexistent. If the typical household back then didn't at least have one firearm, then culturally people must have been more anti-gun then than now, which I doubt.

Ammo was prolly too expensive to practice much.

There seem to be extremely few references to the price of metallic cartridges in the Old West, but from what I've gathered over the years, it was about a dollar a box or so for .45 Colt. That's more or less in line with what factory ammo in that caliber costs today, which is more than the cost of common calibers but not completely outrageous. Of course, those who shot more than most back then probably reloaded, as many do today. And as pointed out earlier, cap & ball revolvers were still pretty popular in the Old West, and were probably a lot less expensive to shoot.

And, no, I have no citations to back up my opinions.

I remember reading a lot of things, but I don't have any specific citations, either. ;)

I do scratch my head as to how we conclude that gun violence in the old west was a myth,,,

Gun violence in the Old West certainly wasn't a myth, but I think that many notions people have today about the overall level of gun violence back then are exaggerated. In particular, I highly doubt that the lives of most people constantly revolved around guns and gunfights back then, as some people today might imagine (based on entertainment media). As pointed out earlier, most shootings were considered self-defense shootings, and the same is probably true today. Bandits shooting people and each other in the wilderness has been replaced by gang shootings in inner cities. Perhaps shootings were under-reported in the Old West, hence the lower rates of murder by firearms, but at worst I doubt that the real rates were higher than those of today. In my lay opinion, the idea that gun violence was horrendous in the Old West by today's standards is a myth.

d2wing
January 18, 2011, 01:00 PM
I meant a response on my part would be off topic. You are free to call it what you want.
I do not wish to renew hostility about a sad war, long over.

Arkansas Paul
January 18, 2011, 04:26 PM
I gotcha. Sorry misinterpreting you.

d2wing
January 18, 2011, 04:54 PM
No problem, I would like to return to the Nimrod area soon. Nice park.

summerhelp
January 18, 2011, 05:42 PM
One thing people forget is the west didn’t just start after the Civil War. The West or the frontier started on the Atlantic coast and moved with settlement over the Appalachian Mountains, the Ohio River Valley, and then the Plains. The West is not a place. The difficulties of wild animals, Indians, outlaws are not specific to just after the Civil War. King Phillip, Metcom, attacked half the villages in the New England area and pushed the West miles back east. Throw in Pontiacs War, the Creek and Seminole wars; the West was never a safe place to be. Several times the Indians fought the army to a stand still and Custer was not the only person to loose his whole command. To not know how to use a gun would have been a death sentence on the frontier no matter where you consider the West to start.

Vern Humphrey
January 18, 2011, 05:46 PM
It was all unreported. People got shot with arrows and dumped in the outback. Of course there weren't many recorded homicides.
But it was reported in several towns -- and knowing the population of those towns, the homicide rate can be calculated.

d2wing
January 18, 2011, 06:08 PM
Good point Summer, duelling was more popular before the Colt .45 was invented and life was more violent in the Black powder days. Most people would be better armed on the frontier where ever that was at the time. By the late 1800's many areas were being homesteaded by new immigrants that were not used to being armed. Different from the earlier frontiersmen that were more self-reliant.

Kenneth
January 19, 2011, 12:26 PM
Abilene , Ellsworth, Wichita , Dodge City , and Caldwell
As far as I know all of these places were all cattle drive destinations. Since cattle drives were seasonal events then it was probably more like a spring break scenario than anything else. About one month every year you had cowboys just in from the range, who upon getting paid, after their first baths and shaves in weeks, proceeded to engage in drinking , whoring, and gambling. Most of the violence came in form of fist fights over women and money (things have changed sooo much since then). The vast majority of injurys was to the pride of those who came up short in the aforementioned fist fights.
The real dangerous and violent places were the mining towns where you could get back-stabbed in a heartbeat over your claim if you were known to have come up with a little precious metal.

the iron horse
January 19, 2011, 07:27 PM
This is an interesting topic and discussion.

Here's another link on the subject:
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-113725.html

The Real Wyatt
January 20, 2011, 11:26 PM
Blueyes,

A Colt 1873 revolver cost $13.50 to $15.00 in 1880. The average pay for cow hands was about $5.00 per month. Imagine 3 month's pay for a handgun. That's expensive; the equivalent of $6000 for today's worker. Interestingly some of those guns that survived this era in good shape are actually worth that now.
Research indicates that the average pay for a cowhand in the 1880's was about a dollar a day.

Vern Humphrey
January 21, 2011, 10:19 AM
Cowhands didn't make much money, but they made more than $5 a month. Just about all I've read for the past 20 years is the history from the end of the War of Northern Aggression until the turn of the century. From everything I gather, they made about $30 a month with meals and lodging included. That still makes a $15 revolver an expensive endevour though.
Consider also, there was no income tax and no sales tax.

Tommygunn
January 21, 2011, 11:38 AM
Consider also, there was no income tax and no sales tax.


:what: How did government(s) survive back then? ? ?:eek::eek::eek::confused::p

Manco
January 21, 2011, 02:00 PM
:what: How did government(s) survive back then? ? ?:eek::eek::eek::confused::p

They weren't nearly as gigantic as they are today, and they taxed imports (tariffs) rather than income and everyday goods. Frankly, I wonder how a country like the United States, as conceived, could survive with such an omnipotent, meddlesome, wasteful bureaucracy of a federal government these days...I guess it doesn't.

Leanwolf
January 21, 2011, 11:02 PM
THE REAL WYATT - "Research indicates that the average pay for a cowhand in the 1880's was about a dollar a day."

You are correct. As was said back then, "Thirty a month and found."

Plus, cowboys provided their own saddles, although the rancher provided the horses... provided a "hand" could ride those outlaw broncs.

I've done a lot of research on those times and places, and from what I've gathered, notwithstanding the gold and silver camps, the all time roughest, most dangerous, virtually lawless place and time was the Indian Territory. It later became "Oklahoma," but at that time was adminstered under the Western District Federal Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The Indian Territory, or "The Nations," as it came to be called, also gained the sobriquet, "Land of the Six Shooter." It was well earned.

There have been many non-fiction books written about that era, but one of the most fascinating I've read is "Law West Of Fort Smith," by Glenn Shirley, Univ. of Nebraska Press, (c)1957. Deals with the U.S. Deputy Marshals who served under a man named Isaac Charles Parker, Federal Judge at Fort Smith. Parker became known as "The Hanging Judge."

An outstanding fiction novel, "True Grit," by Charles Portis, Simon & Schuster Publs., (c)1968, is one of the best novels about that era I've read. It expresses realistically the attitude of U.S.Deputy Marshals regarding the hardcase outlaws they went out to arrest . (In my opinion, Portis' novel is superior to either of the movies made from his book.)

Rough times, rough days, and rough men.

L.W.

Vern Humphrey
January 22, 2011, 10:01 AM
Amen to that.

The Indian Territory was lawless because, although there were tribes with courts and police, they had no jurisdiction over White men. The worst killers and sadists gravitated to the Indian Territory. The "Hanging Judge," Isaac Parker, was appointed to clean up the Indian Territory. One interesting fact is that he hanged about 60 men, but had about 61 of his deputy marshalls killed in the line of duty.

There used to be a saying, "No law west of the Mississippi. No God west of Fort Smith."

PapaG
January 22, 2011, 10:13 AM
During the tv western's heydays of the late fifties/early sixties the city of Monmouth, IL, celebrated a "fall festival". They asked Hugh O'Brien to come and be the grand marshall. He wanted $10K, no small chunk of change. The event organizers asked my dad to come up with another idea. He decided to have a "Marshall's contest" and convinced Colt to loan us a pair of Buntline Specials (second model, in, of all things, 38 special). He also got, on microfiche, years worth of the Tombstone Epitaph. We studied and searched and could find no evidence of shootouts on Main ST. or anywhere else. The Dave Tutt, Bill Hickock thing in Springfield was not mentioned there but we researched it as well as we could.
Our contest was a straightforward bullseye match, held over the summer, and the entrant with the best three total scores won.
We supplied the guns, ammo, targets, and charged a nominal fee. I spent the summer casting bullets and reloading those 38 cases. Made enough to get a better press.
In our research we found lots of mention of shootings but none about "face downs". It seemed a lot of people were armed.
BTW, just before and after the turn of the century, surplus places like Bannerman's sold civil war revolvers for a buck or two.

deadin
January 22, 2011, 10:17 AM
One interesting fact is that he hanged about 60 men

I wonder how many more never made it to court in the process of his having 61 deputy marshalls killed?;)

Old Fuff
January 22, 2011, 12:25 PM
Does you want to really get to the bottom of this gunfighter & gunfights stuff?

Think twice, 'cuz maybe you don't... :uhoh:

Anyway, buy a book: Great Gunfighters of the Kansas Cowtowns; 1867-1886 by Nyle H. Miller and Joseph W. Snell (University of Nebraska Press).

The book is made up of chapters, with each one covering a famous (or not so famous) gunfighter. The text consists of original newspaper accounts of they're exploits, writen at the time the incidents happened. If there is fiction here it's original, not later - and the Hollywood versions are not to be found.

Wonderful insights into to how things really were during those times. :cool:

Vern Humphrey
January 22, 2011, 12:29 PM
Modern research shows not only was the West not that wild, but many famous "gunfighters" (Bat Masterson, for example) left no record of ever killing anyone.

Old Fuff
January 22, 2011, 01:07 PM
(Bat Masterson, for example) left no record of ever killing anyone.

Ah... But give him credit for trying on several occasions... :D

gym
January 22, 2011, 01:35 PM
I should think that with the price of weapons and ammo, there would be very little practicing going on. So these old movies with "Glen Ford" and "Gregory peck", where the claim to have spent 6 hours a day practicing, would make absolutelly no sense. As you would have to be a fairly wealthy man to shoot that much lead. As many guys mentioned, I have read over the years many articles on the reality vs the movies we see. And almost all say there were very few actual shootings. And as mentioned the gunslingers as we know them, almost never really killed anyone. I think Hickock may have been close to the real deal, and Harding. But Earp, Jesse james, and Billy the kid and most of the others we see in the movies did very little in the way of shootouts. Most were either lawmen or just thieves. There wasn't much to stop a few well armed men back then, 1850's-60's so you could ride out of town and if you made it down main street, you pretty much were out of danger. I think that the Posse thing would have taken too long, and the bad guys would have been gone by the time they got organised.The legend is usually far more interesting than the truth.

Vern Humphrey
January 22, 2011, 02:35 PM
But Earp, Jesse james, and Billy the kid and most of the others we see in the movies did very little in the way of shootouts.
Most killing in the Old West was cold-blooded murder, not a face-to-face shootout. In the case of Wyatt Earp, he was in a real face-to-face shootout at the OK Corral (which actually took place in a vacant lot behind the corral.)

After his brother was killed and another brother wounded by back-shooting, he managed to get himself appointed a Marshall and used his official position to hunt down and kill all members of Clanton-McClaury faction.

Zoogster
January 22, 2011, 03:46 PM
The "Wild West" really wasn't full of shootouts.

Many western movies have more people shot and killed in gunfights in a town in a couple days than were killed in the entire United States in a month.





I've done a lot of research on those times and places, and from what I've gathered, notwithstanding the gold and silver camps, the all time roughest, most dangerous, virtually lawless place and time was the Indian Territory. It later became "Oklahoma,"

That is what I have found before as well.
The Indian Territory by virtue of having no authority over white men was a magnet to white outlaws that had done something bad elsewhere in the United States and were trying to escape the law.
This brought a much larger percentage of the limited number of violent criminals in the US to the area than anywhere else.




The Civil War being such a widespread war with high casualty rates, many of those men that were inclined to pick up arms and were brave had already died.
Wars with high casualty rates tend to do that, remove the most brave and those attracted to armed conflict from the population.
The biggest heroes often don't come home, because the number of heroic acts they perform eventually catches up with them.
The percentage of males 18-40 killed was large, a much greater percentage in the South.


While much of what is portrayed in movies and media as westerns is supposed to be around the 1880s, that was only around 20 years after the war had ended.
The generation in between had been raised predominantly by parents who had come to despise armed conflict after seeing all the hardship and bloodshed that war had brought to most families in the Civil War.
This was not a society that would have produced a lot of people willing to die or even fight over minor things like portrayed in the media and most Westerns.

That was probably one of the generations in American history most adverse to violence or armed conflict.
Which would help to partially explain why even the smallest shootout was national news.

doubleh
January 22, 2011, 04:11 PM
I was lucky enough to read a book a couple of years ago entitled "Ghosts Of The Guadalupes" that was researched and authored by Jerry Cox and is no longer available. It covers, from the late 19th century up until 1950, the history of the town of Eddy, later to be renamed to Carlsbad, a litte town to the south of Eddy which I've forgotten the name of and was so rough that the law wouldn't go there, and the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico. This area wasn't settled until the late 1800s and hasn't really received any attention from history. Billy The Kid became famous but he was quite a few miles north from this area.

There seemed to be a very good supply of guns and the inclination of the inhabitants to use them was pretty extreme too. Getting crossways with someone over something was a very easy way to get killed and a bunch of people did. It was mostly just someone deciding to shoot someone else and doing it. Most incidents involved land or money. There were a few shootouts involving more than two people but none of the movie, TV, duel in the street type of thing.

All the incidents in the book were well documented with newspaper accounts, actual pictures of a lot of the individuals and friends and family, police and court records and some interviews with surviving relatives and others with knowledge of the incidents.

I knew the area had a reputation of being very violent when it was being settled but I was surprised at the amount of killing and for the length of time it went on. I understand that most of this happened after the time frame of the original post but it is a footnote in western history.

trickshot
January 22, 2011, 08:45 PM
It's almost certain that drovers were not the well armed, well respected gunslingers we imagine them to be in the movies.

In his biography Wyatt Earp said most of the cowboys were well armed and very proficient in the use of the revolver.

I should think that with the price of weapons and ammo, there would be very little practicing going on. So these old movies with "Glen Ford" and "Gregory peck", where the claim to have spent 6 hours a day practicing, would make absolutelly no sense. As you would have to be a fairly wealthy man to shoot that much lead.

In his biography both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson said that it was the normal thing for those people who lived by their guns such as lawmen, outlaws, gamblers, and cowboys, to practice constantly. Wyatt said that Doc Holiday would practice quick draw a couple hours a day, and he said Doc was the fastest gun in the west. Gunpowder and lead were cheap and people reloaded. Of course most of the common folk such as merchants and farmers did not practice that much.

Also Wyatt tells of several times when men agreed to meet in the street and shoot each other, like in the movies.

Snowy Rivers
January 22, 2011, 09:30 PM
Read the real truth about Wyatt Earp and his brothers were barely better than the pukes they confronted at the OK corral.

The vendeta ride as it has been called was no more than wholesale murder on the part of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp

A reconing (as Val Kilmer popped off with in the movie.)

The OK corral was way over hyped.

Yesssssss, Hollywood has way overplayed the old west shootouts.

One thing was for sure, ammo was not readily available out in the frontier, so protracted gun fights were not going to happen much for this reason.

There was however a lot of shootings where a person was shot in the back and other such snipings.

The gunfight out in the street at high noon is pretty much a Hollywood thing.

Snowy

jcwit
January 22, 2011, 09:52 PM
Lots of opins, very little links to support facts. Course none of us were there.

Personnally I doubt gundowder and lead or cartridges were in very short supply, only have to look at what was used during the war between the states and even up to WW1. But this is only my opinion, but hey we do know there was alot of shooting during the Civil War & WW1, thats a known fact. So was ammo commonly available, and inexpensive? Probably.

trickshot
January 22, 2011, 10:05 PM
Snowy

The man who wrote the biography of Wyatt Earp did extensive research to prove and verify what Wyatt said, and it is the truth. The Earp brothers were considered by almost everyone (including many cowboys and outlaws) to be honest and fair lawmen.

jcwit
January 22, 2011, 10:11 PM
How bout some info on this biography, name, authur, date published ect. Not disagreeing with you, but this why I said lots of opins, no facts to back up their claims.

trickshot
January 22, 2011, 10:53 PM
How bout some info on this biography, name, authur, date published ect. Not disagreeing with you, but this why I said lots of opins, no facts to back up their claims.

As I already said in my first post; the name of the book is "Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal". The author is Stuart Lake.

My first post in this thread was #40.

jcwit
January 22, 2011, 11:14 PM
OK now we have something to research, thanks.

BTW post #40 did not give the authur.

Did a quick google on the books title and authur and man there's some good reading available.

Thanks again trickshot

Arkansas Paul
January 23, 2011, 02:18 PM
The vendeta ride as it has been called was no more than wholesale murder on the part of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp


Often times in the old west, lawmen were scattered so far and wide that the only justice a man could hope for was what he enforced himself. I always figured Earp's killing of the cowboys had a lot to do with revenge. After all, one brother was killed and another was ambushed and crippled for life.
But, as has been said, we weren't there. The fact is that history is written by the victors, and it's unlikely they're gonna want to portray themselves in a bad light.
And yeah, the face off in the street rarely happened. It did though.
Luke Short and Jim Courtright squared off and shot it out. It probably happened in extremely rare cases though.

Gottahaveone
January 23, 2011, 02:36 PM
For those who keep calling it "The war of Northern Aggression" I feel I must remind you. The South fired first!

And even today, If you're uninvited and unwanted and on my property, I'm only going to demand that you leave just so many times before the lead starts flying. I'm just sayin.....

JohnBiltz
January 23, 2011, 02:50 PM
A dollar a day does not sound like much but it was really a dollar a day plus room and board so it was disposable income. A drover on arriving at the end of a cattle drive was probably the richest he ever was in his life since they got paid on arrival. They spent like sailors on leave after a long sail. If they wanted a gun they bought one and they could afford a nice one.

Vern Humphrey
January 23, 2011, 03:26 PM
The man who wrote the biography of Wyatt Earp did extensive research to prove and verify what Wyatt said, and it is the truth. The Earp brothers were considered by almost everyone (including many cowboys and outlaws) to be honest and fair lawmen.
Historians today do not consider Stuart Lake a historian and point out that his "research" is mostly tall tales.

Snowy Rivers
January 23, 2011, 04:05 PM
The Earps may have been fair law men, but there is much written about the exploits of the Earps that may contradict the Honest and fair part.

I will say this, most likely these were oportunists and they played whatever cards that were dealt (no pun intended.

I have read much on the Earps, no I was not there either, but the dealings and such really suggest that they were oportunistic and took advantage of what they could.

We all want to go away with the idea that Wyatt Earp was a great guy.

Who really knows. Theuy did not have forensics back then to prove or disprove who shot what and from where.

In reading many bits and pieces of history, the Earps were not always painted as saints.

Hollywood has made a hero of them though.

Snowy

Snowy Rivers
January 23, 2011, 04:17 PM
Many copies of Original news paper clips available online that give some insight into these things.

And even these may certainly be slanted.
The cowboys or whatever were all a bunch of drifters, thieves and riff raff that were certainly not above killing.

History tells many a story of the exploits of this bunch.

A real early form of mobsters.

Doc Holliday was a dentist turned gambler that did suffer from Tuberculosis and moved to the dry desert to try and find respit from his ailment.

He was an alcoholic and definately not the most savory of characters.

His Girl friend, Big Nose Kate was a real piece of work.

No saints in this bunch for sure.

I think after Wyatt hooked up with Josey and moved to LA in his later years, that he was pretty mild.

He was a news paper reporter if memory serves me. He died in 1929 and there were several silver screen actors at his funeral including Tom Mix (spelling??)

I do know this, that trying to turn the life and times of the Earps into a screenplay is/was a daunting task.

Now, I happen to know a distant relative of Wyatt Earp, his name is Grant Earp.

I believe Grant is related to one of the lesser known brothers, not sure. I asked him once and he did say that he was related for sure and NO BS here.

Great topic, love the old west.

Snowy

PapaG
January 23, 2011, 07:48 PM
Lake based most of his "research" on apochryphal tales, anecdotes, and stories handed down for years. Not exactly true historical data.

I read his book and it was not very similar to the stories in the old "Tombstone Epitaph", copies of which were in the archives at Monmouth, Il, library.

Millwright
January 23, 2011, 08:13 PM
GG Sez: "....I would wager that literacy was at 50% or less during the Revolutionary War....."

Bring your money GG !! Actually its a statistics game, IMO ! In the early 18th century only males were counted and most of them did get some schooling. The young "womenfolks" were kept busy learning a far more difficult task - keeping house on the frontier - where you made all of your staples, cleaning supplies, learned to treat wounds and make clothes out of available materials. IOW, women's work was endless, often exacting and vitally important.....

IMO and readings schools were very high on the wish list of all frontier settlements even prior to the revolultion. OTOH, deficiences in literacy weren't neccessarily indicative of a 'lack of larnin'' either. Ciphering, (as it was then called ) was deemed important, but not nearly so as being able to 'do sums' by many frontier communities. You could always get someone to read for you......

Still, if my current daily experience is any indicator, I suspect literacy, (and facility with math and a lot of other everyday science) was probably more prevalent in eras/areas where it often was the difference between living and dying, than in today's "hand it to me" world...... >MW

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