Quotes and Words of the Old West

The West, where a man can look farther and see less of anything but land and sky. –Will James

“If I owned Hell and Texas I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.” – General William Tecumseh Sherman

“I am not 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

Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok

“Sure glad to see you, but hand me those guns.” — Wild Bill Hickok, greeting cowboys new to Abilene, Kansas in 1871.

“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; wa’n’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 1900’s

“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.

“Don’t shoot me. I don’t want to fight”. — Billy Clanton, just before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Dodge City is one town where the average bad man of the West not only finds his equal but finds himself badly handicapped.” — Andy Adams, The Log of a Cowboy, 1903

“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.

“Cowards never lasted long enough to become real cowboys.” — Charles Goodnight

“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

Butch Cassidy, 1893

Butch Cassidy, 1893

“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 phrase “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” was coined on Myers Avenue, the center of the Red Light District in Cripple CreekColorado.

“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

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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 1800’s, 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

Nat Love

Nat Love

“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

”Aw, go to Hell you long-legged son-of-a-bitch!” – Tom O’Folliard to Sheriff Pat Garrett shortly after Garrett mortally wounded him, December 19, 1880.

“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.

Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November 2018.

Also See:

The Code of the West

Evolution of American English

Facts & Trivia of the Old West

Old West Wisdom

Western Slang & Phrases

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