There were literally hundreds of colorful characters on the Frontier that weren’t outlaws, lawmen, trailblazers, gunfighters, or other easily categorized figures; but, were still extremely interesting people that deserve to be mentioned.
Here, you’ll find eccentrics, businessmen, poker players, ministers, entertainers, doctors, photographers, historians, writers, and more.
Though these many people may not have become icons of the American West, so often referred to, in everything from history books to “dime novels,” each and everyone of them had some interesting tale to tell.
Other Frontier Characters:
Sam Aaron (1866-1940) – An Arizona pioneer, Aaron would later write his memoirs of pioneer life and the characters he met along the way. The son of a frontiersman, Aaron was the first Jewish boy born in Salt Lake City, Utah and at a young age, moved with his family to various places including Galveston, Texas; New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and finally back west in 1877, landing in Butte, Montana. It was in Butte, that eleven year old Sam earned his first money, selling apples in saloons. The following year, the family moved again to Oregon, before making their way to San Francisco, California, and finally to Charleston, Arizona in the early 1880s, where his father operated a store. Sam clerked by day and gambled by night until he lost $1,000 of his fathers money gambling and to pay off the debt, took a job at the nearby Tombstone Mining and Mill Company. Later, he went to work as a Faro Dealer in Tombstone, where he met the likes of the Earps and Clantons. Late in life, he wrote his memoirs highlighting pioneer life, Apache raids, and some of the interesting characters that he met. He died on September 29, 1940 in Pomona, California.
Thomas Adams – Adams went west as civil engineer with the Isaac I. Stevens’ railroad survey expedition in 1853 and later became expedition leader, Lieutenant John Mullan’s assistant, as well as topographer and artist for the survey. he then became the temporary Indian Agent for the Flatheads in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, and had a role in the Flathead Treaty Council of 1855. He continued to work with the survey expedition until it departed in 1857. Somewhere along the line, he briefly married a Flathead woman and the two had a child. In 1858, he was prospecting with Granville Stuart when the first Montana gold was found in Gold Creek. By 1864, Adams had returned to the east as was farming in Maryland and in 1866 was living in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, his life is lost in history.
Samuel Brannan (1819-1889) – One of the major capitalists of the California Gold Rush, Brannon was a Mormon newspaper publisher, store owner, and politician who became California’s first millionaire. See Article HERE.
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) (1835-1910) – The best known author during the days of the Old West.
James Joshua Dolan (1848-1898) – One of the primary instigators of New Mexico’s Lincoln County War, James Dolan attempted to control the economy of Lincoln County in the 1870s. He led the Murphy-Dolan faction and was suspected of riding with the posse that killed John Tunstall. He was charged with the murder of H.J. Chapman on February 18, 1879, but nothing came of it. See Article HERE.
George Donner (1786?-1847) – One of the leaders of the infamous Donner Party, his group would become trapped in the early winter snows of the Sierra Nevada. Many died and some of the emigrants resorted to cannibalism. George died at his camp in the Alder Creek Valley in Nevada County, California in March 1847. See Article HERE.
Camillus Sydney “Buck” Fly (18??-1901) – Best known for his photography of the Geronimo’s surrender in 1886, Fly was living and working in Tombstone during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He also served as the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona for two years. See Article HERE.
Albert Jennings Fountain – Soldier, lawyer, and politician, the mystery surrounding Albert Jennings Fountain’s disappearance in the deserts of southern New Mexico has puzzled lawmen and historians for more than a century. See Article HERE.
Joseph F. Glidden (1813-1906) – The inventor of the barbed wire widely used in the west.
Frank “Shorty” Harris (1856-1934) – One of the best-known and colorful prospectors of Death Valley, Frank Harris discovered the ore of the Bullfrog District in Nevada and at Harrisburg, California, which was named for him. See Article HERE.
William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) – A painter, photographer, and explorer, Jackson is known as the first person to photograph the wonders of Yellowstone and other places in the American West, as well as documenting the Civil War in a number of sketches. He also became a partner in the Detroit Publishing Company, who utilized thousands of his images in the first color postcards and prints to be published in America. See Article HERE.
Simon Kenton (1755-1836) – A legendary frontiersman and soldier, Kenton saved Daniel Boone’s life, acted as a scout, participated in Indian Wars and the War of 1812.
Jack Langrishe (18??-1895) – A native of New York, Jack (John) S. Langrishe, an actor, impresario, and production manager, operated theatres throughout the West, including Deadwood, South Dakota, Denver, Colorado, and and another in Helena, Montana. See Article HERE.
James Wilson Marshall (1810-1885) – Discovered gold in California in 1848 at John Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, the area around which quickly became Coloma, California. His discovery started the California Gold Rush. See Article HERE.
Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (1818-1875) – Maxwell was a rancher and entrepreneur who, at one point, owned more than 1,700,000 acres, called the Maxwell Land Grant. His headquarters were located at Cimarron, New Mexico, along the Santa Fe Trail. He was one of the largest private landowners in United States history. See Article HERE.
Peter Maxwell (1848-1898) – It was in Peter Maxwell’s home in Fort Sumner, New Mexico that Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid.
Alexander McSween (1843?-1878) – A lawyer in Lincoln County, New Mexico, McSween, along with partner, John Tunstall, opened a rival store in Lincoln, which ignited the Lincoln County War. See Article HERE.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872) – Creator of a single wire telegraph system, co-inventor of the Morse Code, and painter of portraits and historic scenes.
Lawrence Murphy (1831 or 1834-1878) – An Irishman who immigrated to the United States, Murphy was a Civil War Veteran, cattleman, and businessman, whose greed ultimately spawned New Mexico’s Lincoln County War. See Article HERE.
John Perrett, aka: Potato Creek Johnny – One of Deadwood’s most colorful characters, John Perrett, more often referred to as “Potato Creek Johnny,” is credited with finding one of the world’s largest gold nuggets. Though he never made his fortune, he did become a local attraction, in and of himself, up until the day he died at the age of 77 in February, 1943. See Article HERE.