Frontier Facts & Trivia

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 the 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.

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

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.

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, Outlaw

Henry Starr, Outlaw

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 eye witnesses, 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.

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 1550’s. 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, fire water, 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.

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