“The next best thing to being clever is being able to quote someone who is.”
– Mary Pettibone Poole
“We are rough men and used to rough ways.” – Bob Younger to a newspaper reporter following the 1876 Northfield, Minnesota raid.
“The adulation’s heaped on him by a grateful nation for his supposed genius turned his head, which, added to his natural disposition, caused him to bloat his little carcass with debauchery and dissipation which carried him off prematurely.” — General George Crook delivered this unusual obituary in memory of General Philip Sheridan, who many Army officers of the West disliked
“Wild Bill was a strange character, add to this figure a costume blending the immaculate neatness of the dandy with the extravagant taste and style of a frontiersman, you have Wild Bill, the most famous scout on the Plains.” – General George Custer, writing about Wild Bill Hickok.
“A jail is just like a nutshell with a worm in it; the worm will always get out.” — John Dillinger several weeks before he bluffed his way out of the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana.
“There is no law, no restraint in this seething cauldron of vice and depravity.” – The New York Tribune describing Abilene, Kansas.
“Never run a bluff with a six-gun.” – Bat Masterson
“I’m not afraid. I never liked long-lasting acts.” — Lillie Langtry
“You may hear of a killing if everything works right… but it may be some time yet.” — Texas Ranger Ira Aten to Capt. L. P. Sieker in 1888.
“He is universally despised by all the officers of his regiment excepting his relatives and one or two sycophants.” – a member of General George Armstrong Custer’s command.
“They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. It ain’t true. I only killed one man for snoring.” — John Wesley Hardin.
“Dodge City is a wicked little town. Indeed, its character is so clearly and egregiously bad that one might conclude, were the evidence in these later times positive of its possibility, that it was marked for special Providential punishment.” — A letter that appeared in the Washington D.C. Evening Star, January 1, 1878.
“But you won’t be here to see any of ’em; not by a damn sight, because it’s the order of this court that you be took to the nearest tree and hanged by the neck til you’re dead, dead, dead, you olive-colored son of a billy goat.” — Judge Roy Bean
Comedian Will Rogers was once asked if his ancestors came over on the Mayflower. “No,” he replied. “But my relatives were here to meet them.”
“I have at all times tried to use my influence toward protecting the property holders and substantial men of the country from thieves, outlaws, and murderers, among whom I do not care to be classed.” — Clay Allison, in response to a Missouri newspaper which reported him with fifteen killings under his belt.
“Carpenter, you have spilled the whiskey!” – Mike Fink, after he killed a friend named Carpenter while attempting to shoot a tin cup of whiskey off the man’s head.
“The Seventh can handle anything it meets.” – General George A. Custer while declining reinforcements for the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
“They saw me, those reckless seekers of beauty, and in a night, I was famous.” — Lillie Langtry
“I’m not afraid to die like a man fighting, but I would not like to be killed like a dog unarmed.” – Billy the Kid in a letter to Governor Lew Wallace, March 1879.
In 1883, Sitting Bull was a guest of honor at the opening ceremonies for the Northern Pacific Railroad. When it was his turn to speak, he said in the Lakota language, “I hate all white people. You are thieves and liars. You have taken away our land and made us outcasts.” A quick-thinking interpreter told the crowd the chief was happy to be there and looked forward to peace and prosperity with the white people. Sitting Bull received a standing ovation.
“Language is the archives of history.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series, 1844
“Above all things, the Plainsmen had to have in instinct for direction. I never had a compass in my life, but I was never lost.” — Charles Goodnight
A Tombstone lawyer was pleading his case to a jury in Judge Wells Spicer’s court when a burro beneath the window started braying loudly. Lawyer Marcus A. Smith arose and said, “If it please the court, I object to the two attorneys speaking at the same time.”
“If a man knows anything, he ought to die with it in him.” Some of Sam Bass’ last words.
“There is only one road away from trouble, and this is along the straight and narrow road.” – Otto Wood, in his book, The Life of Otto Wood, written in prison in 1926.
“Every one of my hangings was a scientific job.” – George Maledon, known as “The Prince of Hangmen.”
“I have vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals. — Butch Cassidy
“The stranger’s slow approach might have been a mere leisurely manner of gait or the cramped short steps of a rider unused to walking; yet, as well, it could have been the guarded advance of one who took no chances with men.” — Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage, 1912
“There were only two things the old-time cowpunchers were afraid of: a decent woman and being set afoot.” E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott
“Perhaps I may yet die with my boots on.” — Wild Bill Hickok, who did die with his boots on.
“Starting out ahead of the team and my men folks, when I thought I had gone beyond hearing distance, I would throw myself down on the unfriendly desert and give way like a child to sobs and tears, wishing myself back home with my friends.” – A young woman on the trail West in 1860.
“I see a good many enemies around, and mighty few friends.” – Bill Longley’s last words before he was hanged in 1878.
“There are many men in the world who are big chiefs and command many people, but you, I think, are the greatest of them all. I want you to be a father to me and treat me as your son… I am now in your hands.” — Geronimo as he surrendered to General George Crook in 1883.
“Of all the eerie, dreary experiences, to be lost at night on the prairie … then to hear the chorus of coyotes, like hyenas, laughing at one’s predicament.” – An emigrant recalling her fear when she and her fellow travelers temporarily lost their bearings while crossing the Great Plains.
“Most of those he did kill deserved what they got.” — A Lincoln County, New Mexico resident talking of Billy the Kid.
“I want results when I fight.” – Frank James
“I have always been willing to take the blame for the things I have done.” — Lillie Langtry
“I thought John was the nicest kindest gentleman that I had ever met, why even my parents thought he was polite and well mannered.” — Beryl Ethel Hovious said of John Dillinger during an 1889 interview.
“My mother always said that I would die with my shoes on.” – “Big Steve” Long’s last words after having asked to have his shoes removed before he was hanged.
“All I hope for is to get home, alive, as soon as possible, so that I can forget it.” — A disenchanted Forty-niner from the California Gold Rush
“Listen, you’re job is to back me up because you’d starve without me. And you, your job is to shut up.” — Butch Cassidy
“I wish I could find words to express the trueness, the bravery, the hardihood, the sense of honor, the loyalty to their trust and to each other of the old trail hands.” — Charles Goodnight
“I have acted fearless and independent, and I never will regret my course. I would rather be politically buried than to be hypocritically immortalized.” — Davy Crockett
“I found him a loyal friend and good company. He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean blonde fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.” – Wyatt Earp speaking of Doc Holliday.
“You’re the sickest looking lot of sheriffs I ever seen.” – Tom Horn’s comments as he mounted the gallows.
“Have you any idea of what a man must endure who leads such a life? No, you cannot. No one can unless he lives it for himself.” — Frank James
“Every man for his principles. Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” – Boone Helm just before he was hanged in Virginia City, Montana, in 1863. After yelling out this statement, he then kicked the box from under his feet.
“We never did hang the wrong one but once or twice, and them fellers needed to be hung anyhow jes’ on general principles.” – A nameless judge in the Old West.
“I think it was the distinguishing trait of Wyatt Earp, the leader of the Earp brothers, that more than any man I have ever known, he was devoid of physical fear. He feared the opinion of no one but himself, and his self-respect was his creed.” — W. B. “Bat” Masterson, Tombstone Prospector, August 16, 1910
“Well, if there ain’t going to be any rules, let’s get the fight started.” — Butch Cassidy
“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood!” – The violent anti-slavery activist before he was hanged by the local militia for his attack on Harper’s Ferry two years before the Civil War began.
“Give me 80 men, and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux Nation.” – Captain William Fetterman before agreeing to escort a wood-transport train. However, before he and his men reached the train, they were attacked by Indians in northern Wyoming on December 21, 1866. Known as Fetterman’s Massacre, Red Cloud’s Oglala Sioux Warriors ambushed and killed Captain Fetterman and 81 men.
“I would rather play poker with 5 or 6 experts than eat.” — Poker Alice
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” — Wyatt Earp
“There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed, for example, that we all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime, and the poor get it in the winter.” — Bat Masterson
“Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on to it!” — Davy Crockett
“I regard myself as a woman who has seen much of life.” – Belle Starr describing her life shortly before she was murdered in 1889.
“Let’s kick their ass and get the Hell out of here.” — General George A. Custer.
“This is the finest fence in the world. It’s light as air, stronger than whiskey, and cheaper than dirt!” — John W. “Bet-a-Million” Gates, Texas barbed-wire salesman.
When a Texas cowboy was arrested for stealing a horse, he pleaded not guilty at his trial. When his lawyer managed to get him off and the judge set him free, he started to leave the courtroom. Suddenly he turned around and looked at the judge with puzzlement before asking: “Judge, does this mean I can keep the hoss?”
“People thought me bad before, but if ever I should get free, I’ll let them know what bad means.”– Billy the Kid
“Is that what you call giving cover?” — Butch Cassidy
“Shoot first and never miss.” – Bat Masterson
“At my age I suppose I should be knitting.” — Poker Alice
“Killing men is my specialty. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.” — Tom Horn
“A pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water, cut down the trees, killed the Indian who owned the land and called it progress.” — Charles M. Russell
“This thing of being a hero, about the main thing to it is to know when to die. Prolonged life has ruined more men than it ever made.” — Will Rogers.
“If mob law is going to rule, better dismiss, judge, sheriff, etc., and let’s all take chances alike. I expect to be lynched in going to Lincoln [New Mexico.] Advise persons never to engage in killing.” — Billy the Kid
“The more Indians we can kill… the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.” — General William Tecumseh Sherman
“Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky … In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider … and the flutter of the hooves comes faintly to the ear — another instant … a man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm.” — An observer recalled the fleeting moment when he witnessed the passing of a Pony Express Rider.
“I got the world by the tail with a downhill pull.” – Sam Bass
“A pair of six-shooters beats a pair of sixes.” — Belle Starr
“I’ve never hanged a man. It is the law that has done it.” — Judge Isaac Parker
“You’all can go to hell. I am going to Texas.” — Davy Crockett after serving three terms as a Tennessee congressman.
“He had a quiet way of taking the most desperate characters into custody which invariably gave one the impression that the city was able to enforce her mandates and preserve her dignity. It wasn’t considered policy to draw a gun on Wyatt unless you got the drop and meant to burn powder without any preliminary talk.” — Dodge City, Kansas Times, July 7, 1877.
“I take no sass but sarsaparilla.” — John Wesley Hardin, explaining his deadly disposition,
“Dodge boomed with a roar that split the nation’s ears and still echoes in her memory.” — Stuart N. Lake, author
“I was happy in the midst of dangers and inconveniences.” – Daniel Boone
“The mosquitoes continue to infest us in such manner that we can scarcely exist. My dog even howls with the torture he experiences.” —Meriwether Lewis
“Whenever you get into a row, be sure and not shoot too quick. Take time. I’ve known many a feller slip up for shootin in a hurry.” — Wild Bill Hickok
“I like to dance, but not in the air.” – Billy the Kid
“… Wild Bill had his faults, grievous ones, perhaps … He would get drunk, gamble, and indulge in the general licentiousness characteristic of the border in the early days, yet even when full of the vile libel of the name of whiskey which was dealt over the bars at exorbitant prices, he was gentle as a child, unless aroused to anger by intended insults. … He was loyal in his friendship, generous to a fault, and invariably espoused the cause of the weaker against the stronger one in a quarrel.” — Captain Jack Crawford, scouted with Wild Bill before they followed the gold rush to Deadwood.
“The grimly humorous phrase about our town was that Tombstone had ‘a man for breakfast every morning.'” — Josephine Sarah Marcus, actress (Josie would later marry Wyatt Earp)
When a group of rowdy outlaws went on a terror in a Texas town, shooting out the lights and windows, killing several citizens, the town quickly requested help from the Texas Rangers to come and quell the “riot.” When Pat Dooling arrived and stepped off the train, the town officials immediately looked around for the other rangers. “I’m the ranger,” said Dooling. “Did they only send ONE ranger?” the town folk asked. To which, Dooling responded: “you’ve only got one riot, haven’t you?” He soon quelled the riot and boarded the next train.
Pat Garrett was asked if he was nervous when, in the dark, he shot and killed Billy the Kid. “No,” he answered quickly. “A fellow with nerves wouldn’t last long in the business I’m in.”
“The South! The poor South! God knows what will become of her.” – John C. Calhoun, an American politician and the strongest proponent of Southern rights, on his deathbed in 1850.
“The past is sufficient to show that bushwhackers have been arrested… charged with bank robbery, and they most all have been mobbed without trials… I have lived as a respectable citizen and obeyed the laws of the United States to the best of my knowledge.” — Jesse James in a letter to a frontier editor
“All this country needs is a little more water and a better class of people to move in,” said a newcomer near Fort Smith, Arkansas. The cowboy he was talking to grinned and responded, “Yeah, they say that’s all Hell needs.”
“I do not regret one moment of my life.” — Lillie Langtry
“All my life, I wanted to be a bank robber. Carry a gun and wear a mask. Now that it’s happened, I guess I’m just about the best bank robber they ever had. And I sure am happy.” — John Dillinger
“I know the law… I am its greatest transgressor.” — Judge Roy Bean
“I’ve labored long and hard for bread
For honor and for riches
But on my corns too long you’ve tread
You fine-haired sons of bitches.”
— Black Bart
“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” – Mark Twain
“Poor John, he has been hunted down and shot like a wild beast and never was a boy more innocent.” – Cole Younger, talking about his late brother, who had been wanted for the murder of a deputy sheriff, whom he killed in a jailbreak.
“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” — Daniel Boone
After a horse thief had been arrested and tried, he was found innocent by a jury. When they filed back into the courtroom, and the foreman stated the verdict, he liked the sound of his voice so much, it took him over an hour of fancy talking to tell the court that the defendant had been found innocent of all charges. When he was finally done pontificating, the judge shook his head and said: “You’ll have to reconsider; the defendant was hung a couple of hours ago.”
“The deceased came to his death at the hands of an unknown party who was a damned good pistol shot.” – Judge Roy Bean
“Bill Hickok was regarded as the deadliest pistol shot alive as well as being a man of great courage. The truth of certain stories of Bill’s achievements may have been open to debate, but he had earned the respect paid to him.” – Wyatt Earp
“You sons of bitches. Give my love to Mother.” – Francis “Two Gun” Crowley, bank robber and murderer, just before he was electrocuted in 1931.
“Surrender had played out for good with me.” – Jesse James
“It was considered the most dangerous route in the Hills, but as my reputation as a rider and quick shot was well known, I was molested very little, for the toll gatherers looked on me as being a good fellow, and they knew that I never missed my mark.” — Calamity Jane
“Tombstone is a city set upon a hill, promising to vie with ancient Rome in a fame different in character but no less important.” — John Clum in his first editorial in the Tombstone Epitaph
After robbing a bank, Henry Starr walked three miles out of town and ate supper at a farmer’s house when the telephone rang. When the farmer answered it, he turned to Starr and said, “The sheriff says the bank was held up, and he wants to know if I’ve seen a suspicious character out this way.” To this, Starr responded: “Tell him the robber is at your house eating supper and for him to come on out and get me.” With that, he finished his meal, paid for it, and left.
“The United States court opened at Fort Smith last week, with many cases on the docket. This court has the most extensive jurisdiction of any in the United States. More prisoners are tried and convicted here of serious offenses than at any other court in this country, and more people are hanged here than at any other place in the Union. Here also resided the most noted executioner in American, George Maledon, who has hanged more people than any other man now in the business and never did a “bad job.” Maledon seems to take pride in his profession. Launching a man into eternity appears to have no more effect on his nervous system than castor oil on a graven image.” — The Fort Smith Elevator, October 23, 1891
“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.” — John Wesley Powell
“No cowboy ever quit while his life was hardest and his duties were most exacting.” — J. Frank Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country, 1929
“I never killed unless I was compelled to.” – Belle Starr
“I have no more stomach for it.” – Tom Horn when he resigned as a lawman.
“I was a young boy in the schoolhouse when the cry came, Injuns! I jumped to my rifle and threw down my spelling book, and thar it lies.” — Kit Carson
“I rob banks for a living, what do you do?” — John Dillinger
The more ignorant you are, the quicker you fight. – Will Rogers
“After being so bad I could hear the angels singing.” — Lillie Langtry
“I still have a clear vision of that dignified figure walking down Allen Street.” — John P. Clum, Tombstone Epitaph editor, speaking of Wyatt Earp.
“Now look, that damned cowboy is President!” — Senator Mark Hanna referring To Theodore Roosevelt after McKinley’s assassination in September 1901.
This dern grits is burned, but that’s the way I like it. — Bone Mizell, thinking quickly to avoid violating the rule that cowboys didn’t complain about the food.
“Dr. Holliday and Mr. Austin, a saloon keeper, relieved the monotony of the noise of firecrackers by taking a couple of shots at each other yesterday afternoon. The cheerful note of the six-shooter is head once more among us.” – Dallas Weekly Herald
“Anyone who limits her vision to memories of yesterday is already dead.” — Lillie Langtry
“Shooting at a man who is returning the compliment means going into action with the greatest speed of which a man’s muscles are capable, but mentally unflustered by an urge to hurry or the need for complicated nervous and muscular actions which trick shooting involves.” — Wyatt Earp
“Aw, you ain’t worth killing.” — Billy the Kid to John Chisum after Billy threatened to kill Chisum if he didn’t pay him for fighting in the Lincoln County War.
“[Doc] Holliday had few real friends anywhere in the West. He was selfish and had perverse nature-traits not calculated to make a man popular in the early days on the frontier.” — Bat Masterson
“Gentlemen, I find the law very explicit on murdering your fellow man, but there’s nothing here about killing a Chinaman. Case dismissed.” — Judge Roy Bean
“You get so tight with your players that they can’t let you down.” — Doc Holliday
“Never expect a handout and never wait for anybody to hand you anything.” — Jesse James
“Money and whiskey flowed like water downhill, and youth and beauty and womanhood and manhood were wrecked and damned in that valley of perdition.” Said an Abilene, Kansas citizen about the town and its red-light district.
“Each little chapter has its place.” — Lillie Langtry
“The West, where a man can look farther and see less of anything but land and sky.” — Will James
“I am not a coward, but I am so strong. It is hard to die.” — Meriwether Lewis’ last words in 1809.
“Nothing does more for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” — Will Rogers
“He would drink right smart and scrap right smart. He was an old Confederate war colonel with one arm shot off at the shoulder and the other hand almost gone. But he would fight his shadow; wan’t afraid of anything.” – Texas Ranger Jeff Milton describing his captain, Bryan Marsh.
“I thought I was benefiting the Indians as well as the government, by taking them all over the United States, and giving them a correct idea of the customs, life, etc., of the pale faces, so that when they returned to their people, they could make known all they had seen.” — Buffalo Bill Cody
“My buddies wanted to be firemen, farmers or policemen, something like that. Not me, I just wanted to steal people’s money!” — John Dillinger
“I never saw so much useless killing.” — Bob Kennon, discussing El Paso, Texas in the early 1900s
“Beautiful, bibulous Babylon of the trail.” – An anonymous cowboy describing Dodge City.
“30 miles to water, 20 miles to wood, 10 miles to hell and I gone there for good.” — Carved on a deserted shack near Chadron, Nebraska.
“For three decades, and perhaps longer, the drift [in America] has been … a downward spiral into blame, finger-pointing, pessimism, self-pity, and litigiousness. It’s been a slide into a culture of whining and rationalizing … It hasn’t been classic American can-do-ism. And it ain’t been cowboy, either.” — Jesse Mullins, American Cowboy, September/October 2000.
“The cowboy don’t need no iron hoss but covers his country on one that eats grass and wears hair.” — Charles M. Russell
“Hang ’em first, try ’em later.” — Judge Roy Bean
“Out West, you lived a long time. Even horse thieves had to hang five minutes longer than anywhere else.” — Anonymous
“Don’t ever hit your mother with a shovel. It will leave a dull impression on her mind.” — Butch Cassidy
“It was a land of vast silent spaces, of lonely rivers, and of plains where the wild game stared at the passing horseman. It was a land of scattered ranches, of … long-horned cattle, and of reckless riders who unmoved, looked in the eyes of life or death.” — Theodore Roosevelt in An Autobiography, 1913
“I am aware that my name has been connected with all the bank robberies in the country, but positively I had nothing to do with any one of them. I look upon my life since the war as a blank, and will never say anything to make it appear otherwise.” – Cole Younger
“Pistols are almost as numerous as men. It is no longer thought to be an affair of any importance to take the life of a fellow being.” — Nathan A. Baker, Cheyenne Leader, October 1868
“The Old West is not a certain place in a certain time; it’s a state of mind. It’s whatever you want it to be.” Tom Mix
“The cowboy goes to the school of nature.” — Will James
“Let me go – The world is bobbing around me.” — Some of Sam Bass’ last words.
“It was a hard land, and it bred hard men to hard ways.” — Louis L’Amour
“Tombstone has two dance halls, a dozen gambling places, and more than 20 saloons. Still, there is hope, for I know of two Bibles in town.” — Judge Wells Spicer in 1881
“Every American child should learn at school the history of the conquest of the West. The names Kit Carson, of General Custer and of Colonel Cody should be as household words … Nor should Sitting Bull, the Short Wolf, Crazy Horse … be forgotten. They too were Americans, and showed the same heroic qualities as did their conquerors.” — R. B. Cunninghame Graham in a letter to Theodore Roosevelt in 1917.
“On the range, the supply of good cooks was always low and the demand keen.” — Ramon F. Adams
“Where do you want to go?” asked the conductor.
“To Hell,” said the cowboy.
“Well, give me $2.50 and get off at Dodge.”
— Conversation overheard in Newton, Kansas, during the late 1800s, quoted in Trail Driving Days, 1952.
“Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger,
Out where the smile dwells a little longer,
That’s where the West begins.
— Arthur Chapman, Out Where the West Begins, 1917
“There’s many a slip’ twix the cup and the lip.”– Billy the Kid
Other states are carved or born;
Texas grew from hide and horn.
— Berta Hart Nance
“Mounted on my favorite horse, my … lariat near my hand, and my trusty guns in my belt … I felt I could defy the world.” — Nat Love in The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, 1907
“One of the first things schoolchildren in Texas learn is how to compose a simple declarative sentence with the word ‘shit’ in it.” — Anonymous
“My life was threatened daily, and I was forced to go heavily armed.” — Jesse James
“I’m not afraid. I never liked long last acts.” — Lillie Langtry
“It’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money.” — “Canada Bill” Jones, prolific cardsharp of the 1800s
“Thank God for that. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.” — Butch Cassidy
“As we go to press, Hell is in session at Ellsworth.” — Kansas State News, 1873.
“Billy [the Kid] never talked much of the past. He was always looking into the future.” — Frank Coe.