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Gunfighters of the Old West

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Gunfight in the street.The terms "gunfighter" or "gunslinger," as they are most often called today, are actually more modern words utilized in films and literature of the 20th Century. During the days of the "real" Wild West, men who had gained a reputation as being dangerous with a gun, were more commonly called gunmen, pistoleers, shootists, or bad men. That being said, Bat Masterson, a noted gunfighter himself, who later became a writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, sometimes referred to them as "gunfighters," but, more often as "man killers."


Though our Complete List of Old West Gunfighters provides the names of hundreds of gunmen, many might not term them to be true "gunfighters" in the popular sense of the word today. No, they didn't squarely face off with each other from a distance in a dusty street, like movies and television would like us to believe. In actuality, the "real” gunfights of the Old West were rarely that "civilized.” Many of men listed on our Gunfighters Pages, many fought in the many range wars and feuds of the Old West, which were far more common that the "stand-off" gunfight. Most of these were fought over land or water rights, some were political, and others were simply "old Hatfield-McCoy" style differences between families or in lifestyles.


Of those that fit more easily into the perception of the "gunfighter," rarely did they kill as many men in gunfights as most were given credit for. In many instances their reputations developed from one particular instance, and as the rumors grew, so did their prowess with a gun. In other cases, their reputations were enhanced by self-promotion. Such was the case with Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok.


Other lesser known shootists, that saw just as much, if not more action than their well-known counterparts were men such as Ben Thompson, Tom Horn, Kid Curry, Timothy Courtright, King Fisher, Scott Cooley, Clay Allison, and Dallas Stoudenmire, just to name a few.


It was often difficult to sort out the gunfighters, whose occupations ranged from lawmen, to cowboys, ranchers, gamblers, farmers, teamsters, bounty hunters, and outlaws. In many cases, these violent men could move quickly from fighting on the side of the law to utilizing their talents in a life of crime.


Though about a third of the gunman died of "natural causes," many died violently in gunfights, lynchings, or legal executions. The average age of death was about 35. However, of those gunman who used their skills on the side of the law, they would persistently live longer lives than those that lived a life of crime.


During these violent days, most of the shootings occurred in Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, and Colorado.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May, 2017.


Also See:


List of Lawmen

List of Old West Outlaws

Old West Gunfights

Time Line of the American West

A Quick History of Smith & Wesson Firearms





Index and Summaries of Old West Gunfighters

Gunfights of the Old West




Clay Allison - Colfax County Bad Boy

Elfego Baca & The "Frisco War”

Bud Ballew - Gunfighter & Lawman of Oklahoma

Phil Coe - Gunfighter and Gambler

Davy Crockett - Gunfighter & Outlaw

Pony Deal - Outlaw & Gunfighter of the Southwest

Wyatt Earp - Frontier Lawman of the American West

John Wesley Hardin & The Shootist Archetype

Wild Bill Hickok & The Dead Man's Hand

Doc Holliday - Deadly Doctor of the West

Kitty Leroy - Lady Gambler & Gunfighter

"Buckskin Frank" Leslie - Another Tombstone Rowdy

Jim Levy - The Jewish Gunfighter

Wild Bill Longley - A Dangerous Man in Dangerous Times

Frank MacNab - Killed in the Lincoln County War

Bat Masterson - King of the Gun Players

Gunplay Maxwell - Utah Gunfighter & Outlaw

Sherman McMasters - Outlaw or Lawman?

Buckshot Roberts Last Stand

Josiah Gordon "Doc" Scurlock- Cowboy Gunfighter

Luke Short - A Dandy Gunfighter

Ben Thompson and Other Noted Gunmen

Tom Horn - Wyoming Killer for Hire

Shootout at the Pembina Post Office

Triggerfingeritis - The Old West Gunman

John Wilson "Texas Jack" Vermillion


"Never run a bluff with a six-gun."

- Bat Masterson


Gunfight re-enactment




Did You Know??

Texas was the most active gunfighting state,

with some 160 shoot-outs from the 1850's through the 1890's.






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