Gunfighters of the Old West


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 true “gunfighters” in the widespread 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 the men listed on our Gunfighters pages fought in the many range wars and feuds of the Old West, which were far more common than the “stand-off” gunfight. Most of these were fought over land or water rights, some were political, and others were “old Hatfield-McCoy” style differences between families or 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 CurryTimothy Courtright, King Fisher, Scott Cooley, Clay Allison, and Dallas Stoudenmire, 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, those gunmen who used their skills on the side of the law would persistently live longer lives than those who lived a life of crime.

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

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021

“Never run a bluff with a six-gun.”
Bat Masterson


Index and Summaries of Old West Gunfighters

Gunfights of the Old West


Clay Allison – Colfax County Bad Boy

Hugh Anderson – Texas Cowboy Gunfighter

Charles Askins – Gunfighter Legend

Elfego Baca & The “Frisco War”

Bud Ballew – Gunfighter & Lawman of Oklahoma

Emmanuel “Mannen” Clements, Sr. – A Bad Texas Hombre

Phil Coe – Gunfighter and Gambler

Chunk Colbert – New Mexico Bad Boy

Davy Crockett – Gunfighter & Outlaw

Pony Deal – Outlaw & Gunfighter of the Southwest

John Denson – A Bad Seed

Bill Earhart – Feuding in the Southwest

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman of the American West

John Wesley Hardin & The Shootist Archetype

Wild Bill Hickok & The Dead Man’s Hand

Pink Higgens – Texas Gunfighter

Doc Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the West

Tom Horn – Wyoming Killer for Hire

Bill Jordan – Gunfighter Legend

Kitty Leroy – Lady Gambler & Gunfighter

“Buckskin Frank” Leslie – Another Tombstone Rowdy

Jim Levy – The Jewish Gunfighter

Lincoln County, New Mexico Regulators

Wild Bill Longley – A Dangerous Man in Dangerous Times

“Cock-Eyed” Frank Loving – Dueling Gunfighter

“Rowdy Joe” Lowe – Saloon Gunfighter

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?

Ferd Patterson – Living and Dying by the Gun

Levi Richardson – Gunfighting in Dodge City

Johnny Ringo – Tombstone Rowdy

Buckshot Roberts Last Stand

Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock- Cowboy Gunfighter

Luke Short – A Dandy Gunfighter

Charlie Storms – A Failed Gunfighter

Ben Thompson and Other Noted Gunmen

Texas Billy Thompson – Constant Trouble

Shootout at the Pembina Post Office

Triggerfingeritis – The Old West Gunman

John Wilson “Texas Jack” Vermillion

See our Lawmen & Gunfighters Photo Gallery HERE