Frontier Facts & Trivia

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 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 in November 24, 1874. Ranchers could now isolate their cattle and control breeding.

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 1650’s, 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 Muskoegean 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 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 on 1881. Afterwards, 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 1950’s, 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.

John Heath lynched in Arizona

John Heath lynched in Arizona

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, cowchips 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 effect 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.

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