Frontier Facts & Trivia


Judge Roy Bean's Jersey Lilly Saloon

Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lilly Saloon in Langtry, Texas

Judge Roy Bean once killed a Mexican official in a dispute over a girl in California. A friend of the  Mexican official hanged Bean; but, before he died, he was cut down by the contested damsel. Ever after, Bean was unable to turn his head due to the injury.

The first gold strike in the Old West was made by Jose Ortiz in 1832 south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in what would quickly become the boomtown of Delores.

Established in 1827, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is the oldest military post in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River.

The oldest human skeleton ever found in the Western Hemisphere was discovered in 1953 near Midland, Texas. It is believed that the skeleton, the remains of a 30-year-old woman, is about 11,000 years old.

The term “red light district” came from the Red Light Bordello in Dodge City, Kansas. The front door of the building was made of red glass and produced a red glow to the outside world when lit at night. The name carried over to refer to the town’s brothel district.

Clay Allison was described in a physician’s report as maniacal” with a personality where “emotional or physical excitement produces paroxysmal of a mixed character.”

Estimates of how many people lived in North America before the arrival of the European explorers vary from 8.4 million to 112 million. This population was divided into about 240 tribal groupings speaking an estimated 300 different languages.

Buffalo, which were strewn across the Great Plains after the mass buffalo hunts of 1870-1883, were bought by Eastern firms for the production of fertilizer and bone china. “Bone pickers” earned eight dollars a ton for the bones.

Around 1541, the present state of Texas was called Tejas, a Spanish version of the Caddo word meaning “allies.”

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was indicted for horse theft in Van Buren, Arkansas on May 8, 1871. He escaped trial by jumping bail and fleeing to Kansas.

Rumor has it that the tradition of spreading sawdust on the floors of bars and saloons started in Deadwood, South Dakota due to the amount of gold dust that would fall on the floor. The sawdust was used to hide the fallen gold dust and was swept up at the end of the night.

After serving more than twenty years in prison, Cole Younger got a job selling tombstones, worked for a while in a Wild West show with Frank James, and died quietly in 1916 in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where he was known as an elderly churchgoer.

Wyatt Earp was neither the town marshal nor the sheriff in Tombstone, Arizona at the time of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. His brother Virgil was the town marshal, who had temporarily deputized Wyatt, Morgan and Doc Holliday prior to the gunfight.

The Oregon Trail, from Independence, Missouri to Fort Vancouver, Washington measured 2,020 miles. An estimated 350,000 emigrants took the Oregon Trail but one out of 17 would not survive the trip. The most common cause of death was cholera.

Harry Longabaugh, aka: The Sundance Kid

Harry Longabaugh, aka: The Sundance Kid

Harry Longabaugh became known as “the Sundance Kid” because he served a jail term for horse stealing in Sundance, Wyoming.

Mike Fink was a keel boatman along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and an expert marksman. However, he loved his drink and was a known brawler. One of his favorite games was to shoot a mug of brew from the top of some fellow’s head. However, on one night in 1823, he had drunk so much that it didn’t matter how good were his shooting skills. This time he missed and killed the guy who was wearing the mug on his head. In no time, the dead man’s friends retaliated by killing Fink. For whatever reason, his legend was being told for decades along with the likes of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill.

Texas was the most active gunfighting state, with some 160 shoot-outs from the 1850s through the 1890s.

The Colt Peacemaker, the weapon that became known as “the gun that won the West” was a .45-caliber manufactured by Colt’s Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut in 1873. At the time it sold for $17.00.

Theodore Roosevelt was sent to live in North Dakota for health reasons. He fell in love with the West and wrote a book titled “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail” before becoming a US president. The book was illustrated by famous Western artist Frederick Remington.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens, struck by silver fever, tried his hand at prospecting in the town of Unionville, Nevada in 1862. Having more luck in trading mining claims than actually producing silver, he wound up leaving the area. A short time later Clemens, changes his name to Mark Twain and becomes one of the greatest writers of American Literature.

On December 21, 1876, Clay Allison shot and killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Faber at the Olympic Dance Hall in Las Animas, Colorado. If it weren’t for Allison purposely stomping on the feet of other dancers, the law probably would never have been called.

The Infamous Dalton Gang only operated for one year and five months, beginning with a train robbery in Wharton, Oklahoma on May 9, 1891, and ending at the shootout at Coffeyville, Kansas on October 5, 1892.

Though the term “stick ’em up” is widely used in Western films, it wasn’t actually coined until the 1930s.

In 1855, Los Angeles, California was a rough cowtown, which averaged a murder a day. In one instance, the city’s mayor resigned his position so that he could head a lynch mob, which stormed the jail to remove and then hang an inmate. When the inmate objected to being hanged by Mexicans, the Americans in the crowd took the rope and did it.

Topeka, Kansas was the scene of many a gun battle, but the most bizarre incident occurred in the Kansas House of Representatives where Boston Corbett, the reported killer of John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, ran amuck. Corbett threatened to kill several state congressmen for stalling legislation; he finally surrendered his weapon without shooting anyone and was sent to an insane asylum.

In Tombstone, Arizona’s brief heydays, from 1878 to 1886, some $80 million in silver was mined.

Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, Missouri

Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, Missouri

Jesse James was shot in the back by Bob Ford on April 3, 1882, in St. Joseph, Missouri. Professed to be a friend of James, Ford was reviled for shooting James from behind and was forever known as a “coward.” Ten years later, he himself was shot to death in Creede, Colorado.

The main characters of the Dalton Gang – brothers, Grat, Bob, and Emmett all wore badges before moving to the other side of the law.

“Boys, I’ve found a goldmine.” – James W. Marshall whose discovery of gold started the California Gold Rush. The location was a sawmill where Marshall withdrew a gold nugget from the American River.

The famous Goodnight-Loving Trail was established in 1866 between Fort Belknap, Texas and Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Oliver Loving was later killed by Indians on the trail bearing his name. Goodnight, on the other hand, died a wealthy man in his nineties in 1929.

Deadwood, South Dakota from the south, 1876.

Deadwood, South Dakota from the south, 1876.

On September 26, 1879, the town of Deadwood, Dakota Territory burned to the ground. Sawmill owner John Hunter supplied enough lumber to rebuild nearly all of Main and Sherman Streets.

Most professional gunfighters died in states or territories where most shootings occurred: Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, and Colorado.

On November 24, 1835, the Republic of Texas established a force of frontiersmen called the “Texas Rangers”. The rangers were paid $1.25 per day for their services. The members of The Texas Rangers were said to be able to “ride like a Mexican, shoot like a Kentuckian, and fight like the devil.”

Gunslinger Jack Slade’s most vicious killing happened in Cold Springs, Colorado in 1869 when Slade tied a man to a post, then used him as target practice. After firing several shots into the man’s arms and legs, he then stuck the barrel of his gun into the almost dead cowboy’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Slade then cut off the dead man’s ears and kept one for his watch fob.

During the course of his 21-year tenure at Fort Smith, Judge Isaac Parker sentenced 160 men and women to death for convictions of Rape or Murder; of this total, only 79 men actually were executed on the gallows. The Judge only handed down the death sentences, he did not attend the executions or participate in them in any official capacity.

On September 8, 1883, Sitting Bull, the main chief of the Lakota tribes, delivered a speech at the celebration of the driving of the last spike in the Northern Pacific railroad joining with the transcontinental system. He delivered the speech in his Sioux language, departing from a speech originally prepared by an army translator. Denouncing the U.S. government, settlers, and army, the listeners thought he was welcoming and praising them. While giving the speech, Sitting Bull paused for applause periodically, bowed, smiled, and continued insulting his audience as the translator delivered the original address.

Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas by Kathy Alexander.

Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas by Kathy Alexander.

The Long Branch Saloon really did exist in Dodge City, Kansas. One of the owners, William Harris, was a former resident of Long Branch, New Jersey and named the saloon after his hometown in the 1880’s. The Long Branch Saloon still exists in Dodge City and can be seen at Dodge City’s Boothill Museum.

The Pony Express was in operation for only nineteen months from April 1860 through October 1861. The Pony Express carried almost 35,000 pieces of mail over more than 650,000 miles during those nineteen months and lost only one mail sack. The typical Pony Express rider was nineteen years old and made $100-$150 per month plus room and board.

Black Jack Ketchum getting ready to be hanged

Black Jack Ketchum getting ready to be hanged

Black Jack Ketchum was the only person ever hung in Union County, New Mexico. According to the annals of American Jurisprudence, he was the only criminal decapitated during a judicial hanging. The only other recorded example was in England in 1601.

The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral only lasted about thirty seconds.

Mattie Earp, Wyatt Earp’s second wife, who was with him in Tombstone during the O.K. Corral gunfight committed suicide with an overdose of laudanum on July 3, 1888, in Pinal, Arizona. She was despondent because Earp had left her for another woman.

In 1884, the citizens of Montana Territory were fed up with lawlessness and forming a large-scale vigilante force, they executed 35 horse and cattle thieves that year.

Belle Starr, the “Outlaw Queen,” a horse thief, outlaw, and part-time prostitute was the first woman to be tried for a serious crime by Judge Isaac Parker. She was sentenced to five months in prison for horse theft. In 1889 she was shot in the back and killed by an unknown assailant.

Wild Bill Hickok was killed by an alcoholic drifter named Jack McCall while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota, on August 2, 1876. When he was killed he was holding a poker hand of aces and eights, thereafter known as the Dead Man’s Hand.

Despite Hollywood’s depiction to the contrary, Jesse and Frank James were never cowboys. Both were raised on a farm in Missouri, where many of their crimes occurred.

Bison provided the staple of life for the Plains Indians, but between 1850 and 1895, bison numbers on the North American continent were reduced from around 50 million to less than 1000, due to overhunting by whites.

Henry Wells, of the famous Wells Fargo and Company freight line, never lived any further West than Buffalo, New York.

Jesse James was called “Dingus” by his friends.

Comedian Will Rogers was once asked if his ancestors came over on the Mayflower. “No, he quipped, “But my relatives were here to meet them.”

Among the vast number of items that Meriwether Lewis supplied the Lewis and Clark Expedition with was 193 pounds of dried “portable soup” to be eaten when fresh game was scarce. To this day, nobody knows exactly what went into the “portable soup,” but Lewis greatly believed in its nutritive value. To say the least, it would become the most hated thing by the men on the expedition.

Henry Starr

Henry Starr. Photo from Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection.

The last Old West outlaw of renown to die “on the job” was Henry Starr, who began his career as a bandit in 1893 and led a gang of mounted outlaws for more than 25 years. Starr’s career finally ended on February 18, 1921, when he was shot to death trying to rob a bank in Harrison, Arkansas.

During these old west times, a gunfighter was also known as a “leather slapper,” a “gun fanner,” “gun trapper,” “bad medicine,” “curly wolf,” and a “shootist.”

The telephone was invented in 1876. The first community to have a telephone after the White House was installed in Deadwood, South Dakota.

According to eyewitnesses, Wild Bill Hickok could hit a dime tossed into the air nine out of ten times; he could knock an apple from a tree with one shot and then hit the apple again with another bullet before it hit the ground, all at 25 paces.

Loading cattle into a cattle car

Loading cattle into a cattle car

Cowboys driving cattle to the market could expect to make between $25 and $40 per month. A Trail Boss might make as much as $125 per month.

In addition to Christianity and horses, the Spanish conquistadors brought something else to the American Indians. The number of Native Americans living in New Spain decreased from around 11 million in 1520 to about 6.5 million by the 1550s. thanks to measles, cholera, and other diseases imported from Europe.

Judge Roy Bean faced elections every two years and won every time, except in 1886 and 1896. In 1898, to ensure re-election, he stood outside the polling place with a sawed-off shotgun, taken an informal survey of voter preferences.

Whiskey had a number of names during the days of the Old West including bottled courage, bug juice, coffin varnish, dynamite, firewater, gut warmer, joy juice, neck oil, nose paint, redeye, scamper juice, snake pizen, tarantula juice, tonsil varnish, tornado juice, wild mare’s milk, and more.

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday claimed he almost lost his life a total of nine times. Four attempts were made to hang him and he was shot at five times.

For acts of bravery during service with the U.S. Army in the Indian Wars, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872. But in 1917, the year of his death, it was withdrawn because of his status as a civilian scout.

Sometimes cowboys referred to beans as “Deceitful Beans” because they talked behind your back.

The most publicized woman of the Old West, Calamity Jane, was little more than a camp follower of gunmen, a one-time bordello tart and, in later years, a hopeless alcoholic.

“Keep your ear to the ground” referred to the practice of plainsmen listening to the ground to hear hoofbeats. It became the westerner’s warning to stay alert.

Re-creation of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

The re-creation of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral did NOT occur at the O.K. Corral. When the Earps and the Clantons shot it out in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881, their famous battle took place in a vacant lot between Fly’s Photograph Gallery and the Harwood house on Tombstone’s Fremont Street. However, the O.K. Corral was located nearby and somehow its name became attached to the famous shootout.

The famous Lewis and Clark expedition covered 7,789 miles. Thomas Jefferson estimated that the trek would cost $2,500, but, in fact it cost $38,722.25.

The first indoor toilet installed in the White House was when John Quincy Adams became president in 1825. Causing some debate and many jokes, it gave rise to the slang term of “Quincy” for an indoor toilet.

Only one man was ever killed in a gunfight with Wyatt Earp while he was in Dodge City, Kansas. On July 26, 1878, a drunken cowboy named George Hoyt traded shots with Earp and lost.

Annie Oakley, 1899

Annie Oakley, 1899

Annie Oakley, who’s real name was Phoebe Anne Mozee, never lived farther west than Ohio.

It was estimated that 90% of women living in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876 were prostitutes.

Kit Carson was described by a relative as “being unafraid of hell or high water”, as reliable as “the sun comin’ up” and with morals as “clean as a hound’s tooth.”

The first gold rush in the United States was not the California Gold Rush of 1849. Rather, it took place across northern Georgia in 1828. It was here that mining terms such as bonanza, gold digger, placer, gold region, and gold belt were coined.

Charles Goodnight, on his first cattle drive to Colorado invented the chuckwagon by revamping an Army surplus wagon. Devising the cowboy version of meals on wheels, the wagon was complete with compartments for bacon, beans, coffee, spices, flour, and liquor.

After surviving decades of notorious outlaws, retired U.S. Deputy Marshal and Cromwell, Oklahoma marshal, Bill Tilghman was shot and killed by a corrupt Prohibition Officer in 1924. He was 70 years old.

From 1789 to 1850, the United States acquired over 450 million acres of Indian land for 490 million dollars, averaging about $1.08 per acre.

George Custer disobeyed orders by charging into one of the largest gatherings of Indians in American history. He and his entire command were killed in less than half an hour.

Judge Isaac Parker

Judge Isaac Parker

Sixty-Five U.S. Deputy Marshals were killed in the line of duty between 1875 and 1891 while enforcing the law for “hanging Judge” Isaac C. Parker of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Bannack, Montana Sheriff Henry Plummer secretly led a band of outlaws who robbed or killed more than a hundred victims. His hidden life was eventually discovered and in 1864, he and his gang were hanged by  Montana Vigilantes.

In 1876, the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota averaged a murder a day.

During the Wild West days in Billings, Montana, the cowboys and scarlet ladies of every saloon performed impossible dances atop bars, tables, and in some instances upon atop the pianos.

Wyatt Earp once operated a saloon in Nome, Alaska. In the late 1890s U.S. Marshal Albert Lowe slapped an intoxicated Earp and took his gun away after Wyatt threatened to demonstrate how guns were handled “down Arizona way.”

About 1/3 of all gunmen died of “natural causes,” living a normal life span of 70 years or so. Of those who did die violently (shot or executed), the average age of death was 35. The gunfighters-turned-lawmen lived longer lives than their persistently criminal counterparts.

1776 miles of track were laid during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad from Sacramento, California to Omaha, Nebraska.  On April 10, 1869, 10 miles of track was laid in one day. This outstanding achievement has not been surpassed to this day in this country.

The Battle of Little Big Horn also known as Custer’s Last Stand took place on June 25, 1876. Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s forces—including more than 200 of his men were wiped out in less than 20 minutes.

America’s first train robbery is believed to have occurred on October 6, 1855, in Jackson County, Indiana. The two bandits, John and Simeon Reno, took $13,000 from the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad.

Lewis and Clark never knew it, but the Spanish sent out four expeditions between August 1804 and August 1806 to try and stop them. However, the Spaniards were turned back by Indians. However, their last mission, they came within 140 miles of them in Nebraska.

The Green Door Club was once one of the most famous brothels in Deadwood, South Dakota. Today it is a casino and restaurant. Photo by Kathy Alexander.

The Green Door Club was once one of the most famous brothels in Deadwood, South Dakota. Today it is a casino and restaurant. Photo by Kathy Alexander.

Prostitution was tolerated in Deadwood, South Dakota until the last brothel closed down in October of 1980.

There were about 45,000 working cowboys during the heydays of the cattle drives. Of those, some 5,000 were African American.

Three bandits who robbed the Adams Express car in a passenger train near Bannack, Montana were rounded up by vigilantes and promptly hanged, a fate that became all too familiar in the lawless West when citizens, angered over vacillating courts, meted out their own brand of swift justice and self-satisfying justice.

From 1778 until 1871, the U.S. Government ratified 370 treaties with the Native American Tribes. After 1871, acts of Congress, executive orders and executive agreements replaced the rarely enforced treaties.

One of the earliest cattle barons of the great Southwest was the unlikely Jesuit explorer and mapmaker, Father Eusebio Franciso Kino. He came to southern Arizona in 1687 to found missions, but while he was there he introduced European livestock and ways to plant grain to feed them.

In Colfax County, New Mexico, Chunk Colbert invited Clay Allison to dinner with the plan of killing him. Colbert chatted amiably through the meal and then drew on his guest, his gun barely clearing the tabletop before quick-draw Allison shot him dead. Later, Allison would say of the event, “I didn’t want to send him to hell on an empty stomach.”

When Thomas Jefferson became president in March, 1801, two-thirds of the American population lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

At Yellowstone National Park, molten lava lies just 10-30 miles beneath the surface of much of the park, resulting in more geysers and hot springs than anywhere else in the world.

Black Bart, Outlaw

Black Bart, Outlaw

California bandit Black Bart robbed alone and wore socks over his boots so he could not be tracked. His real name was Charles E. Boles and was known as a gentleman outlaw who enjoyed writing bits of poetry which he left in empty strongboxes to confuse pursuing possemen.

By the 1600’s beaver was extinct in Great Britain and extremely scarce in other parts of Europe, giving rise to a great demand for American beaver skins and thus the many trappers that would roam the vast west.

One practice that is credited to the Old West is that of taking the scalp of an enemy. However, that actually started in the French and Indian War when General Edward Braddock offered £5 sterling to his soldiers and their Indian allies for each French soldier’s scalp. The Indians actually picked up this nasty habit from the British.

Cattle drives rarely went more than ten or twelve miles a day, as the cattle had to be given time to rest and graze. A drive from Texas to Montana could take up to five months.

Isom Dart, one of the few black gunslingers of the Old West was killed near Brown’s Hole by the feared stock detective and bounty hunter Tom Horn.

When the town prostitute and do-gooder, Virginia Marlotte, died in Pioche, Nevada, she was given the biggest funeral in the town’s history. Her epitaph read:

Here lies the body of Virginia Marlotte.
She was born a virgin and died a harlot.
For eighteen years she preserved her virginity.
That’s a damned good record for this vicinity.

With the great Chinese migration to the West Coast following the Civil War rose intense racist hatred which burst forth in riots against these hapless Orientals. In one such case in Denver, Colorado thugs attacked many of them in Chinatown, beating them ferociously and cutting off their pigtails. In Missoula, Montana cowboys were known to chase the Chinese through the streets and when they caught them, they would tie them up, cut their pigtails, strip them naked and often, shoot off their toes and fingers.

The Mayflower Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, not because it was their destination, but, rather, because they were running out of “victuals and beer.” Had these vital supplies not been so low, they would have continued on to their original destination of bottom Virginia

In 1881 Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, the first detailed examination of the federal government’s treatment of Native Americans in the West. Her findings shocked the nation with proof that empty promises, broken treaties and brutality helped pave the way for white pioneers.

Dalton Brothers Dead

Dalton Brothers Dead

In the Old West, it was popular to take pictures of dead bandits after they were shot or hanged. The photographs would then be sold, for sometimes as much as one dollar, a heft price in those days for such a souvenir.

Twenty-three-year-old David ‘Davy’ Crockett, who was related to the famous Crockett of the Alamo, was gunned down by Sheriff Rinehart and two others in the streets of Cimarron, New Mexico on September 30, 1876.

Harry Tracy, the last of the Wild Bunch riders escaped from prison in 1902 and was trapped on a ranch by posse men. Shooting it out to the last bullet, he saved one for himself rather than return to prison. His body was later displayed for all to see still clutching his six-gun.

In 1873 754,329 buffalo hides were shipped from Dodge City, Kansas.

Bodie, California Ghost Town by Kathy Alexander.

Bodie, California Ghost Town by Kathy Alexander.

One of the worst hell-holes of the Old West was Bodie, California which boasted numerous gunfights or death threats at all hours of the day. Some of these included a fight that ensued when a pool player took someone else’s turn, a mountain man who insisted, at gunpoint, that he receive a drink in payment for a human ear he had recently sliced from and opponent, and a street fight that erupted when a man stepped on a cowboy’s toe. Bodie women were not much better. One such occasion, a school teacher horsewhipped a local doctor for gossiping about her. On another, the notorious female cardsharp, Madame Moustache, fought off two thieves after a night of winning, killing one and wounding the other.

George Maledon, the official hangman for Judge Isaac Parker of Fort Smith, Arkansas, executed more than eighty outlaws and had no regrets. Upon his retirement, Maledon toured small-town America, detailing to open-mouthed citizens how he had gladly “sent damned sinners to hell.”

Female bandit, Pearl Hart, was the last person to rob a stagecoach in the Old West in 1899.

In Deer Lodge, Montana a cowboy evangelist angered over a snoring parishioner once fired a bullet over the head of the dozing man.

Jesse James, the most celebrated bandit in western history reveled in his notoriety and one time he even wrote his own press release about the robbery, which he handed to the engineer of the train before riding away with his men.

In Fort Benton, Montana a cowboy once insisted on riding his horse to his room in the Grand Union Hotel. When the manager objected, they exchanged gunfire. The horseman was killed before reaching the top of the stairs and fourteen .44 slugs were later dug out of his body.

Mountain Meadows Site

In this beautiful valley, occurred one of the most horrific and controversial massacres in U.S. history, drawing by H. Steinegger, Pacific Art Co, 1877.

In September 1857, 140 immigrants of a pioneer wagon train were massacred by renegade Morman bishop John D. Lee and his followers. Known as the Mountain Meadow Massacre in Utah, Lee promised the travelers that if they surrendered to him, giving up their gold and property, they would be spared. However, after doing so, they were killed anyway. It took twenty years before Lee was identified as the instigator of the massacre. He was shot by a firing squad at Salt Lake City, Utah on March 23, 1877.

Outlaws, who were afraid of little else, were curiously superstitious about one thing – dying with their boots on. The dying request of countless outlaws was to remove their boots before they died. If this request was denied, many pleaded with authorities not to forward the news to their mothers that they had died with their boots on.

In Colorado City, Colorado Paris-born Eleanor Dumont, a celebrated card smith also known as Minnie the Gambler, tolerated no quick deals. At one time she took a horsewhip to a dealer whom she caught slipping a cold deck to her sweetheart and fellow gambler, Charlie Utter.

Though Judge Isaac Parker sentenced 156 men and four women to death on the Fort Smith, Arkansas gallows, no women actually died by the hangman’s noose. All four of the women convicted of murder and sentenced to die were eventually spared through presidential commutations or Supreme Court reversals. Of the men, 79 were actually hanged.

A cowboy once made the mistake of arguing with a trapper over whether wildcats had long tails or not. The trapper settled the argument by displaying his skills with a Colt .45 revolver. The coroner’s decision was that any Hombre who was crazy enough to call a long-haired, whiskey-drinking trapper a liar had died of ignorance.

On August 21, 1863, William Clark Quantrill and his band of ruthless raiders attacked Lawrence, Kansas in the ongoing Kansas/Missouri Border War the began six years before the start of the Civil War. Burning Lawrence to the ground and killing more than 180 men and boys, the men fled at the sound of approaching Union troops. Frank and Jesse James learned their methods of gunmanship and murder under the command of William Quantrill.

A Statement for the Coroner and Sheriff signed by 14 witnesses implied the cause of Johnny Ringo’s death was suicide. Contemporary newspaper accounts reflected a belief in the suicide finding, although there was some talk amongst the citizenry of possible murder. Historians debate the issues surrounding his death to this day.

Crazy Horse had several battle rituals including painting his body with lightning bolts and white spots to denote hailstones. He would either tie the body of a hawk against the side of his head or wear a war bonnet with buffalo horns and a dozen eagle feathers. Sometimes he wore a red blanket like a cape.

Vintage Abilene, Kansas

Vintage Abilene, Kansas

In the days of Wild Bill Hickok, Abilene, Kansas saw shootings almost daily, such as the wild gunfight in a local bar when one gunman refused the drink of another. Another gunfight occurred when one drunken cowboy rode his horse atop a pool table.

On the cattle drives, when the chuck wagon cook was finished with his work for the day and before hitting the sack, he would always place the tongue of the chuck wagon facing north. When the trail master started in the morning he would look at the tongue and then know what direction he would be moving the herd.

When Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their journey of the West, he believed that prehistoric animals still lived in the unexplored regions.

At the outset of the Mexican-American War, the U.S. regular army strength was 7,365 against a Mexican army of 32,000.

Barbed wire, a fencing material made of twisted wire with spaced coiled barbs, turned the open plains of the West into enclosed pastures and forever changed the society and economy of the region. It was the invention of Illinois farmer Joseph Farwell Glidden who received his patent on November 24, 1874. Ranchers could now isolate their cattle and control breeding.

Cattle Drive by Barbara Lightner

Cattle Drive by Barbara Lightner

From the end of the Civil War until 1890, some 10 million head of cattle were driven north from Texas.

When John Wesley Hardin was awakened by snoring in an adjacent hotel room, he fired his six-gun through the wall in the direction of the snores, thus curing the man of snoring, and everything else, for that matter.

From 1789 to 1850, the U.S. Government acquired over 450 million acres of Indian land for 190 million dollars. This averages out to about 42 cents per acre.

The term “gang” wasn’t utilized by Americans to mean a group of criminals until sometime around 1870. The word was first used in America to mean a herd of animals in the 1650s, then by 1823, it was applied to a pack of dishonest politicians.

Between 1841 and 1866, almost 750,000 people had made the wagon train journey from Missouri to Oregon.

Tom Mix and Cowboy Hat

Tom Mix and Cowboy Hat

The cowboy hat we have come to know today was first designed in the 1860s by a New Jersey man named John Batterson Stetson. Stetson, in Central City, Colorado for health reasons, saw a market for a broad-brimmed hat for ranch wear. He opened a shop in Philadelphia and began designing hats under the Stetson name in 1865. By 1906 Stetson employed approximately 3,500 workers, turning out two million hats a year.

Oklahoma is a Muskogean word that Choctaw Allen Wright coined to mean “Red People.” It was first applied to the eastern portion of Indian Territory in 1890.

Lewis and Clark never knew it, but the Spanish sent out four expeditions between August 1804 and August 1806 to try and stop them. However, they failed in their mission as they were consistently turned back by the Indians. However, on one occasion they came close – near Red Cloud, Nebraska they were within 140 miles.

On August 19, 1884, John H. ‘Doc’ Holliday shot bartender Billy Allen in the arm over $5 at Leadville, Colorado.

The first biography of Billy the Kid appeared only three weeks after his death.

Contrary to popular thought, most cowboys didn’t shoot up the many towns that they arrived in, as most of them didn’t carry guns while they were riding. Carrying a gun was a nuisance to the riders that scared both the cows and the horses.

Clay Allison, after sitting in a dentist’s chair in Cheyenne, Wyoming, forcibly pulled one of the dentist’s teeth when he doctor drilled on the wrong molar. He would have continued pulling the dentists’ teeth, but the screams of the dentist brought in people from the street.

When Jesse James was killed, most people assumed that he had left a wealthy widow, but that was not the case at all. In fact, the only valuables that they owned were a few weapons, a bit of stolen jewelry, and assorted memorabilia. Zee James, Jesse’s wife, was forced to sell most everything in the household in order to pay the creditors.

"Big Nose" George Parrot

“Big Nose” George Parrot

Outlaw “Big Nose” George Parrot, the leader of a gang of rustlers in Wyoming, was lynched in Rawlins, Montana in 1881. Afterward, his body was given to Dr. John E. Osborne, who partially skinned the corpse and made a pair of shoes from his inner thigh, a medicine bag out of his chest, and an ashtray out of the top of his skull. The doctor wore the shoes for his inauguration as governor of Wyoming in 1893. In the 1950s, his remains were found in a whiskey barrel where the doctor’s office used to stand. The thigh-skin shoes and the skull ashtray are on display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins.

During the days of the Oklahoma Land Runs, “Sooner” stories became instant Oklahoma lore. On the day of the first run, for example, one man was found working on land sprouting 4″ high onions. When asked how this could have happened, he praised the rich soil, claiming that he had planted those onions “just fifteen minutes ago.”

When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, the American population was 5,308,483. Two-thirds of the people lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. One out of every five was a slave.

When the transcontinental railroad was completed, a trip from the east to the west coast could be made in eight days.

Despite its reputation for violence, Tombstone, Arizona saw only one lynching during its history. When John Heath was found sentenced to only life in prison for participating in the killing of three men and a pregnant woman in Bisbee, miners stormed the jail and lynched him from a telegraph pole at the corner of First and Toughnut Streets.

On the vast prairie where firewood was often scarce, cow chips were regularly used for fires. Camp cooks relied on them, as when they were dry, they made a hot fire. Of course, the burning chips gave off an unsavory smell, but, thankfully, it did not affect the food. One old range cook who used his hat for a bellows claimed that in one season he “wore out three good hats trying to get the damed things to burn.”

In late 1849 Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson led the pursuit of a band of Jicarilla Apache who had kidnapped Mrs. J. M. White and her child from an emigrant caravan. Carson and a company of Taos soldiers tracked down and defeated the Apache, but they were too late to save Mrs. White, who was found with an arrow through her heart. Carson discovered a dime novel lying near White’s body, featuring  Carson as the hero of a story where he single-handedly fought off eight natives.

One of Judge Roy Bean’s most outrageous rulings occurred when an Irishman was accused of killing a Chinese worker. Friends of the Irishman threatened to destroy the Jersey Lilly if he was found guilty. When he was taken to court, Bean browsed through his law book and after turning numerous pages, he rapped his pistol on the bar and proclaimed, “Gentlemen, I find the law very explicit on murdering your fellow man, but there’s nothing here about killing a Chinaman. Case dismissed.”

Louisa Ann Swain, a seventy-year-old woman, became the first woman in America to vote in a public election at Laramie, Wyoming on September 6, 1870.

Mormon Handcart Pioneers

Mormon Handcart Pioneers

The famed handcart companies of the Mormons took place between 1856 and 1860. During that four-year period, 2,962 Mormons pushed and pulled 655 handcarts a distance of 1,300 miles.

In 1889, homesteaders Ellen “Cattle Kate” Watson, and James Averell, were hanged by Wyoming cattlemen, allegedly for cattle rustling. Historians have since found; however, that they were innocent.

The Overland Mail was a stage-coach line that delivered mail and people from California to Missouri in about 24 days.

The Texas Rangers date back to the Alamo and are today the oldest active law enforcement agency in the United States.

By Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, last updated January 2020.

Also See:

The Code of the West

Old West Insults & Sayings

Old West Wisdom

Western Slang & Phrases