Fast Horse Outta Town: Trollheart Explores the Legend of the American West

Cowboys. The word conjures up so many images, from playing cowboys and indians as kids, to western movies, cowboy play suits, and cowboy-themed events such as (shudder) line dancing. Most of us from a certain age have been brought up on the idea of desperados riding into town and causing trouble, the sheriff rounding up a posse and then giving chase, of gunfighters facing each other in the street - “Draw, you worthless son of a bitch!” - and trains being robbed. Most of what we have to go on comes of course from Hollywood, who made it their business to make what became known as the Wild West as romantic and adventurous, and as exciting and attractive as possible. John Wayne saves the swooning girl from the nasty Indians, when in fact John and his people should never have been there, but Americans don’t need Hollywood reminding them that their entire history is built on bloodshed, on rape and murder, on lies and betrayals, the forced resettlement of an entire race of people, ethnic cleansing on a vast scale before the phrase was even coined.

And one thing Hollywood doesn’t give the punters is that which they don’t want. So a false, rosy picture of the Old West was created at MGM, Warner Bros and other studios, and men who knew nothing about the history of the time they were paid to portray grinned, spat, shot and glowered their way through countless western movies, always eager to assure the American public that they were God’s chosen, they were in the right, and the enemy had to be defeated. So what if the Indians - now called Native Americans in these times of political correctness, a bit late if you ask me - had lived on these lands for generations? So what if by mining and building and hunting the white man was destroying the very livelihood of a people, angering their gods and condemning them to live on reservations for the rest of their lives, and those of their descendants? America was all about progress, and he who got in its way could expect no mercy.

But this isn’t just a dig at the way we white folks treated the Indians, though that will form much of the framework of certain parts of this history. I mention it only because, while I will be recounting and paying tribute to the courage and daring of the men and women who opened up the West, those who explored and discovered, those who settled, those who built towns and railroads and those who kept law and order, I want it understood that all of this development of a country came at a price, a high price, and it should be borne in mind that, like, I suppose, any real conquest or colonisation, the American West (as opposed, let’s say, to the Indian West, or if you prefer, the White Man’s West as opposed to that of the Red Man) is built on the bones of men and women who feared the arrival of the White Man, and with good reason; they knew dark things were presaged the first time moving clouds of dust resolved into caravans of covered wagons, bringing the new settlers into the West, the men and women who would take their lands, destroy their holy places, and reduce them to a footnote in the country’s history.

Like most boys at the time, I was always interested in and fascinated by cowboys and the Wild West, and like most boys at the time, I swallowed the lies Hollywood and TV shows fed us, believing the “brave” cowboys were defending the towns against the “savage” Indians, and that really, as ever has been the case, white was right. It was only later, as I began to grow up and question things, that the true state of affairs began to make itself known to me, and then as now, a deep dark shame has always stayed with me over what my race did in the name of expansion, politics and power, and of course, greed. It’s a familiar and oft-repeated tale in the history of exploration - which often goes hand in hand with conquest - and a good reason why strangers always spell trouble for the natives.

But before anyone misunderstands me, I don’t hold the Indians blameless. They were savage, they were cruel, some of them were warlike, though not by any means all. Mostly, of course, when and if they they warred it was among each other, tribe against tribe, but when their lands were threatened by the new invaders from the east, most - though not all - banded together to fight the common enemy. This was not good news for homesteaders, cattle barons or railroad workers, and in time of course led to the infamous Indian Wars, where there were certainly enough atocities on both sides to go around. But if anyone was the aggressor, it was us (unless you’re an Indian/Native American reading, and if so, apologies) - left alone, surely, the Red Man would have caused no trouble to the colonists of the east: he probably couldn’t have. Even then, the technology, to say nothing of the sheer weight of numbers in the many cities along the eastern seaboard of America would have made it impossible for an Indian invasion. Nor, really, do I believe they would have wanted to have attempted such a campaign. Why would they? Their lands, the lands of their ancestors, their shrines and holy places, the very mountains and rivers they revered, all the resources they needed, the game they hunted for food and clothing were all abundant in the West. What would have been the point of riding east, to take on a far superior and well entrenched foe?

But when your land is under attack, most men and women fight back. Unfortunately, when your enemy vastly outnumbers you, has superior weapons and the technology and resources of a continent, you’re bound to lose. America may once have been the land of the free and the home of the brave(s), but no longer. How the West was won was through all but total annihilation of the other side. Hitler would have been proud.

So this is what it’s going to be like, is it? Moan, moan, moan, America murdered the Indians, grabbed their land, built on deceit, home of the brave etc etc? Nah. I try not to preach in my journals (can’t really find room for the pulpit, you see) and all I wanted to do in this introduction was outline the fact that I will be, so far as possible, looking at this from both sides, not just that of my own race. Among the books I’m using to research this is one called The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: the New Negro’s Western Experience by Cary D. Wintz and Bruce A. Glasrud and Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown, as well as selections from the series Legends of the Old West including biographies of such Indian figures as Sitting Bull (Ronald A. Reis) and Geronimo and Crazy Horse (Jon Sterngass). I hope, with some luck, to also delve deeper into the Indian story and unearth some lesser-known figures I can tell you about.

But mainly I’m going to be exploring the Old West, not as Hollywood would have us believe it was, but as it actually happened. I’ll be reading - and writing about - the lives of people both ordinary and extraordinary, those who “built the West” and were feted for it in history, and those who were perhaps ignored. I’ll be looking into relationships between not only the Indians and the settlers/army, but also the various Indian tribes, the Chinese, Irish and other workers who slaved (and many of whom gave their lives) to build the transcontinental railroads that would link up America, helping east meet west and finally and once and for all creating the United States of America in its fullest sense. I’ll of course be sketching profiles of the gunfighters, train and bank robbers, cattle barons and the men who kept, or tried to keep law in a lawless land.

I’ll be delving into the major battles - but only barely skirting the Civil War, as that’s too huge a subject to tackle here - feuds, trade wars, rivalries and ventures such as gold mining and of course railroad building, examining the changing landscape as new routes were discovered and settlements became towns, then cities, and how major firms such as Colt and Jack Daniels made their name in this period. What was it really like to be a cowboy? Or a rodeo rider? Or a woman in these perilous times? What role, what importance was education given? How about religion? How bad was racism, and how blurred were the lines between “good” and “evil”, on both sides of the divide? We’ve all heard of the US Cavalry massacring “innocent” Indians: what about the vile deeds perpetrated against the ordinary folk who came to settle the land? Did Indians really scalp people? Did showdowns take place out in the dusty streets after some bust-up about a card game? How much of what we know is fact, and how much made-up Hollywood fiction?

Saddle up, pardner, and make sure that horse you got is fresh, you hear? We got us a long trail ahead, and the prairie don’t have no mercy for those who don’t lay their plans mighty careful.


Chapter I: Go West, Young Man: Taming the Wild Frontier

Timeline: 1788 - 1803 (very approximately)

Frontier: another word you’ll hear associated with the West. Crossing the frontier. Pushing back the frontier. Exploring the frontier. Or, as in my example above, taming the frontier, wild or otherwise. Hell, they even called some of the trappers and hunters who made this place their own frontiersmen. Possibly women too. But what does it really mean? Frontier, I mean. Well, inevitably whenever I hear it I hear the voice of Captain James T. Kirk intoning that famous phrase on Star Trek: “Space, the final frontier.” And so, mostly, it is. Space, that is. The final frontier. But for the people who moved out of the relative comfort and wealth of cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, to seek a new life beyond what was then thought of as the civilised part of America, the frontier was something to be faced, something to be crossed, something to be dealt with.

A barrier. Not quite. But for me, this is what frontier has always meant. A demarcation line, beyond which lies, often, the unknown, or at least the very different. It’s like the coach driver says to Jonathan Harker at the beginning of Dracula: this far will I go, and no further. Although there is no physical frontier evident to Harker, he has arrived at one, and once he steps over it, passes it, and walks up to the dread count’s castle, he is essentially in a new land, a new world (actually a much older one), a world of the unknown, the frightening, often the impossible. A wild frontier indeed.

What the hell is that doing here? Oh. Right.

Some call the ocean floor a new frontier, and so it is. Space, too, as mentioned above, is indeed a further frontier, though not to correct Kirk or Roddenberry, but it may not be the final one. Talk of digitisation of the human brain, the literal exploration of the mind, may end up being our final frontier. Or we may find that there is more beyond that, who knows? However, for the people of America, the West was certainly the frontier they had to deal with. A formidable, if not actually entirely physical barrier, a path that led to a new life, possibly - probably - a dangerous one, maybe even a short one. But just maybe a profitable one, and one that would change their future and their fortunes forever. After all, a frontier is only a frontier until it’s crossed, isn’t it?

Imagine, then, the heady mix of excitement, anticipation, doubt and fear that must have beat in the hearts of these early pioneers as they loaded up all their valuables, their families, their entire lives onto a small wagon and headed West in search of gold, land, or just new opportunities. They would have known that the journey would be fraught with perils: far from the protective hand of their government, far from their friends, far from any kind of law enforcement, there was nobody to defend them from marauding Indians, or equally marauding bandits, both of whom roamed the prairie, searching for unwary travellers, unwelcome newcomers and plunder, be it material or personal. Many a hopeful journey would end up in shattered, overturned carts, blood, bones and brains spattered on the ground, stolen or butchered horses, and a life’s meagre possessions scattered across the arid desert floor.

So what was it that made these city folk leave the comfort and familiarity of their homes and strike out on a journey of several thousand miles, armed with little else than rifles and knives, with no real map or knowledge of their destination, across hostile territory, in the dim and vague hope of finding a new life?

Two things, really. The first was land. With so much unexplored and (to white men) available land up for grabs, a presidential decree promised an area of it completely free to anyone who would settle on it, cultivate it and basically colonise it. In a way, this perhaps mirrors the plantation of Ireland, especially Ulster, by Elizabeth I and James I, though that was more in an effort to disenfranchise and defang the Irish resistance to their rule. While the same could be said, in a way, of the Indians, pushing them off their native lands does not seem to have been initially the main idea behind this project; indeed, many tribes made treaties with the US Government which allowed them to remain on their lands, and held their holy places as forbidden to the settlers, provided the Indians reciprocated and did not attack the farms and holdings set up by the families who had moved there. Later, of course, as the Indian Wars took hold, all bets would be off and there would be incalculable suffering on both sides, resulting in the souring back home of the idea and romance of the new frontier, and eventually the subjugation and forced resettlement of the Indian tribes, an event which came to be commemorated by them as “the Trail of Tears”.

The other inducement? Oh yeah. Gold. Once gold was discovered in the hills ad mountains of the West, it precipitated a frenzy, a mad “dash for the cash” which we know as the Gold Rush, when anyone who had the resources, bravery and determination to do so headed west to try to make their fortune panning for gold, the dream being to set up a gold mine and become richer than astronauts. Unsurprisingly, the larger percentage of these ventures failed, and so you had people who had spent everything to come here, gambled it all on one unlikely throw of the dice, and inevitably lost. Like the Irish and others who had listened to tales of streets paved with gold, these people had literally believed these tales (or that they could make their own golden streets) and left bankrupt and with no future, unable to get home (perhaps unwilling to admit failure) they settled in the town in which they had come to make their fortune and tried to make a life for themselves and their families.

So towns grew up around settlements, some towns became mining towns, some ended up coining the phrase boom town, and later, when the gold had run out, ghost town, and some desperate people turned to crime to supplement their meagre income. Some excelled at this, and became successful and famous bank robbers, train robbers or guns for hire, while others failed miserably even at this and ended their days doing the hangman’s dance, dangling from a noose. Frontier justice was swift and brutal.

You could argue, I guess, that a lust for adventure stemming from boredom in the cities, failing fortunes back east which forced a man to reinvent himself in the west, or even sometimes a medical need for a literal change of scene also pushed people westward, but money and the opportunity to own land, own their own farm, must have been uppermost in most people’s minds when they decided to make that life-changing move.

Some, of course, had already headed out that way, for entirely different reasons.

Frontiersmen and Farmers: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Since the successful ending of the American War of Independence, or Revolutionary War, tough hardened men had begun to move west, dissatisfied with the “easy living” in the cities of the east, and determined to strike out and explore this new frontier. With no support structure of any kind behind them, they had to be tough and resourceful, making most of their accoutrements themselves (no hardware shops in the wilderness!) and building their own shanty huts in which they would live while they hunted bear, buffalo and any other wild game they could eat or sell. A man had to be proficient with both gun and knife, as these could be the difference between survival and death, and there was no room for squeamishness. There was no blacksmith to tend to your horse if it lost a shoe, or treat it (or you) for illness. There was no way to preserve food, so everything had to be fresh; there could be no waste. You caught what you needed to make it through a winter, and no more.

Some frontiersmen built relationships with the local native tribes, realising that they were on their own and would need to get along with their neighbours if possible - you can’t fight a war on your own - and besides, the Indians could show them the territory, teach them where to go and where not to go, and by teaming up with the Indians, a trapper or hunter could avoid both stumbling on less friendly natives as well as keeping the risk of trespassing on holy ground minimal. Nothing angered an Indian more than if you went tramping heedlessly through the places in which he worshipped his gods, or which were sacred to his tribe. As a result of this burgeoning friendship and co-operation, there were many frontiersmen who, when the US Army began to sweep the tribes from the plains, rebelled against this wholesale destruction of the Indians and some even joined their allies, fighting against their own government, in effect “going native”.

Others went the opposite direction, seeing the native Indians as enemies, obstacles to their path to power, glory and riches, and believing the land belonged to whoever could win it, wrest it from the control of the other. Like most of us, these men were driven by one of the oldest motivators in humanity: greed. The abundant natural resources, the huge swathes of land, the massive opportunities available spoke to their desire to better themselves, and become more than they were. Many would become better than they were, rising in status and power as the wilderness that was the frontier shrunk and began to join up with the more civilised parts of the newly-born nation, as boundaries fell and barriers to both trade, commerce and expansion collapsed, and those who were in on the ground floor, so to speak, could, again, so to speak, write their own cheque.

On the other side of the coin were the settlers, the families. Those who would become known as homesteaders and pioneers, men who ventured out into the West in the hopes of bettering their lives, putting bad luck behind them and re-establishing their families and rewriting their story, women who stuck by their men and were determined to tough it out right alongside them, and their children, who would, if all went well, grow up to become the next generation of citizens of the newly-opened West; who would, in time, perhaps become leaders, status figures, perhaps even legends in this brave new world. Drawn by the promise of gold or just a new life, they bid the cities goodbye and loaded up all their… yeah, I’ve done this already, haven’t I? Well anyway, assuming they survived the dangerous journey, they would eventually found towns and cities, some of which would grow into the biggest and most famous in the USA, such as Phoenix, Houston, Seattle and of course San Francisco.

One of the main spurs that encouraged people to head west was the proclamation in 1862 by the government that anyone could have 160 acres of land, totally free of charge, anywhere in the West, provided they settled on and cultivated it. That’s a lot of land, and back east would not only cost a pretty penny but be likely out of the reach of any ordinary person, so here was a chance to almost literally put down roots, to claim an area of land that was yours by law, and which nobody could take from you, which you had to pay nobody for, and which, presumably, you could in time expand upon. And all you had to do to get it was leave your old life behind and strike out for these pastures new.

Oh, and survive the many hazards along the route to your promised land.

In the light of all this, and considering that the Republican government was essentially robbing this land from its rightful owners, the native Indian population, it’s almost funny, certainly ironic to read from the terms of the Treaty of Ghent (1814) which was agreed between the British Crown and the newly-formed United States after the War of 1812:

The United States, while intending never to acquire lands from the Indians otherwise than peaceably, and with their free consent, are fully determined, in that manner, progressively, and in proportion as their growing population may require, to reclaim from the state of nature, and to bring into cultivation every portion of the territory contained within their acknowledged boundaries. In thus providing for the support of millions of civilized beings, they will not violate any dictate of justice or of humanity; for they will not only give to the few thousand savages scattered over that territory an ample equivalent for any right they may surrender, but will always leave them the possession of lands more than they can cultivate, and more than adequate to their subsistence, comfort, and enjoyment, by cultivation.

Yeah. But we’ll come back to this much later, when it comes up in the timeline. Incidentally, I should also point out that, like some of my history journals and unlike others, though here I will be following a timeline of course, I will be deviating from it to write articles, profiles, small mini-histories of various events usually before they come up in the timeline. This will, I hope, prevent the journal getting too boring as a simple timeline progressing through the formation of the American West, and also prevent important figures or events all piling up together, as many will have taken place or lived around the same time.


Sold! The Louisiana Purchase

Eager to expand his new country, and more importantly, to gain control of the powerful and strategic Mississippi River, which would aid commerce and trade, flowing as it did to the Atlantic Ocean, President Thomas Jefferson negotiated what became known as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The territory of Louisiana was vast - comprising over 530 million acres (enough to settle, by the terms laid out in the Act of Settlement, up to five million families) or 828,00 square miles, over 2 million square kilometres - and containing what would be the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, most of North and South Dakota, large amounts of Wyoming, Montana and Colorado; also areas of Minnesota, New Orleans and New Mexico, northern Texas and of course Louisiana itself. In addition to this, two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, had portions of their territories enclosed within the territory of Louisiana, and so came as part of the package.

The entire area had been traditionally controlled by France as part of their colony in the New World, but in 1762, at the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the territory was surrendered to Spain. However a treaty with Napoleon in 1800 returned control of the area to France, and he decided to sell the territory to the United States when his ventures in the Caribbean failed, and he was left with what was virtually a useless and expensive white elephant in Louisiana. While France controlled Louisiana it was native Indian tribes who populated it, and with which the US had to negotiate to purchase the land. Over two billion dollars sounds a lot, but considering that the Purchase doubled the size of the fledgling nation, it surely seems a bargain.

Originally only interested in purchasing New Orleans, Jefferson was convinced by other factions within his cabinet - as well as a French nobleman - that the better idea, the safer idea would be to try for all of Louisiana, thereby giving the French, a constant worry and war threat, no reason to remain in the United States. The president was against the idea, believing it overstretched the boundaries of executive power and reduced the rights of states, but he was convinced and on April 30 1803 the United States bought the territory of Louisiana for a paltry fifteen million dollars. This was of course only the price of purchasing the rights to the land from the French, not the land itself, the sale of which would have to be negotiated with the individual tribes living there. The Louisiana Purchase merely allowed the United States the authority to talk to the Indians and make deals with them to buy their land; sort of an introductory fee, I guess, as the previous owners then backed completely out of any further dealings and ceded any claims to the territory.

With the completion of the Louisiana Purchase, despite much opposition from within Jefferson’s government and elsewhere, the United States became exactly that. It progressed, almost in one seamless massive bound, from a loose collection of independent states scattered mostly along the north and eastern coasts of the continent, into a cohesive, powerful, fully ratified country, or, as Founding Father Robert Livingston put it: “From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.” This vast new territory, however, (mostly named the Orleans Territory and the State of Louisiana) was unexplored, and so Jefferson sent three separate expeditions to map it, the most famous of these being Louis and Clark.


Breaking the Chains: A Life of Slavery

With the arrival of French refugee planters and their slaves in Louisiana, and others fleeing the slave revolts in Haiti, southern slaveholders demanded laws to be enshrined in the new territory making slavery legal, so that they could settle there and ensure that nothing similar to what had just taken place in Haiti (then known as Sainto Domingue) could occur. The French and Spanish had brought the concept of slavery to the United States in the early eighteenth century, taking captured African prisoners to the New World as slaves, and while an Act of Congress passed in 1808 banned the importation of slaves, northern slaveholders managed to sell their slaves locally to the slavemasters in the deep South, entrenching slavery in the southern states to the point where it could only be dislodged by all-out civil war, as happened in 1861.

It would be pointless, time-intensive and probably not actually that relevant for me to discourse on the entire history of slavery here, even were I to confine that treatise to the United States, but one point should perhaps be made, which often is either lost or ignored, and that is that up until the Civil War, slavery was in fact legal in ALL thirteen states of what was then known as “The Colonies”. These included the likes of Maine, Massachussets, Rhode island and Connecticut, all of whom would fight on the side of the Union against (ostensibly) slavery in the coming war. Presidents of the United States, Supreme Court Justices and other high-ranking political figures all kept slaves. While the practice was certainly more overt and rife in the southern states (what became known as The Deep South) it wasn’t as if there was some invisible demarcation line which, once crossed, meant you were free. Certainly, the northern half of the country moved towards abolition quicker and with more agreement than did the southern states, which depended on slave labour for the cotton industry, but there was no, if you’ll excuse the bad pun, black and white about the issue. Some northerners believed passionately in the idea of slave ownership, even saw it as their right, and presumably some were just too used to it to envisage changing.

It’s hard to understand what it meant to be a slave in those times. Obviously, you didn’t get paid, and were worked like, well, a slave, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Your owner could use any excuse to beat you, imprison you, even sell you on if you “didn’t work out”, and if you were female, forget it: rape, beatings and misery would be your lot. And there would be nothing you could do about it. If you were owned in a slave state - one of the states where slavery was legal, which as I mentioned before the Civil War was all of them - your owner was not breaking any laws by punishing or even killing you. Yeah. You were property, and if you didn’t perform then the owner had the right to destroy you. If you talked back, you could be whipped or even hanged, or if the slavemaster just happened to be having a bad day (or, more likely, was sadistically inclined) you could be beaten to within an inch of your life, and nobody would or could raise a finger to help you. Anyone who tried either ran the risk of getting the same treatment if they were a slave too, or if not, could be fined or imprisoned for having interfered with the lawful work of a slaver. Anyone who helped slaves escape would also be subject to prosecution, and if you became known as, shall we say, one who was more symapthetic to those of a dark-skinned persuasion in a slave state, your life wouldn’t be worth tuppence.

Little wonder, really then, that the South fought so hard to prevent the abolition of slavery. Economically, they stood to lose the most, and they also saw it as tradition, their way of life being taken from them. Worse, should slaves gain right as free men, they might even be able to legally fight back against the men who had been their owners. Fear of retribution for decades of repression and cruelty surely stood large in the minds of the southerners, as did fear of loss of earnings. If they had to pay men and women to do the work that they had heretofore performed free of charge, they could go broke very easily. Businesses in the South (and in the North, too, to some lesser degree) had made their money on the backs of forced unpaid labour; they were not about to let go of the whip just yet.

As for the North, I feel that while there were undoubtedly many who saw slavery as an abomination, more, especially those in government, regarded its abolition as more an expedient than a moral crusade. With countries from Britain to France and Spain outlawing the practice, the embryonic nation surely did not want to be seen as the “savage cousin”, the unprincipled and uncivilised new country that clung to old, outmoded and in most lands by now illegal ways, that refused to give up its hold on the past and stride boldly and with confidence into the shining new future. America wanted to be part of that future, and it’s hard to maintain relations with other, forward-looking states if they have already abolished slavery and you have not. Hard to make your voice heard over the sound of dragging chains and the cries of human misery.

To say nothing of all the extra votes that would be up for grabs when the blacks and other slaves were made free men. Who was it likely these newly emancipated men would cast their future with? The man who had freed them, or his opponent? There were certainly ulterior motives a-plenty behind the freeing of the slaves, and it would be naive in the extreme to believe that Lincoln passed the Emancipation Act simply out of the goodness of his heart. You can be sure, had he not the weight of popular opinion on his side, had other nations not abolished slavery by then, he would not have gone ahead simply because it was the right thing to do. Presidents and leaders seldom swim against the tide, because if they do they often end up drowning, at least in the polls. For something of this monumental nature to happen it has to be the will of the people, or at least, a majority of them.


The Men and Women Who Won the West
Important, infamous or pivotal figures in the development and history of the American West

It’s a sad fact of life and a matter of history that, as much as anything else, what “won” the West was guns. Ironically naming their best-loved revolver the Peacemaker, Colt still had a point: as much as a gun could be used to kill it could also be a deterrent. In general, you’d probably be less likely to pick a fight with a guy who was packin’ heat than you would with an unarmed one, especially if you had your own little friend nestling snugly in your holster. Of course, some people would fight with anyone, and the case can without question be made that carrying a gun actually made you a target.

However, it’s a known fact, mostly ignored by movie bosses, that most towns in the American West required the surrender of weapons on entry to the town, with their return promised when you were ready to leave. Makes sense: deprive newcomers of their guns and there was probably less likelihood of them starting trouble, or at least killing anyone. So the stories of trigger-happy cowboys shooting each other down in the streets over a woman or a lost bet or perceived cheating in a card game are largely - though probably not entirely - fictional. Not to mention that in towns at least, there was some law, and you couldn’t just go around shooting people without the authority to do so, whatever your reasons, and expect not to be arrested. The only man allowed to shoot was he who wore the badge, or his legal deputies.

While revolvers such as the Colt 45 are more exciting to talk about, easier to carry and easier to whip out if needed, the mainstay of the American frontier was in fact not a revolver, but a rifle. Used by homesteaders to hold off Indians or other attackers, both on the way to their new plot of land and once established there, by marksmen and sharpshooters and by the army, perhaps the most popular rifle in the west was the Winchester, often called “the gun that won the West.”

Oliver Winchester (1810 - 1880)

Oliver Winchester was a New York clothing magnate who purchased shares in the Smith and Wesson Company, and began to have one of the rifles they had been working on - and failing to sell, as it was quite unreliable - transformed into the Winchester with the help of the brilliant engineer Benjamin Tyler Henry. Henry looked at the design of the cartridges used in the rifle, designed new, .44 calibre brass ones, and the Henry Rifle was born. From what I read (and being no expert on firearms I could be wrong) it seems both the Winchester and its earlier predecessor the Henry Rifle were the first “repeating rifles”, which meant they could be fired a number of times before having to be reloaded, unlike other rifles. This would no doubt have contributed massively to their popularity and success.

Winchesters also found a market outside of the United States, with France ordering six thousand and the Turkish Ottoman Empire using their delivery of fifty thousand to help them fight the Russo-Turkish War (1877) and take their more poorly-armed opponents by surprise. Winchesters were of course popular with hunters, especially the 1876 model, its famous adherents including President Theodore Roosevelt, Geronimo and Billy the Kid. Perhaps oddly, it was not unusual for a woman, especially one living alone or defending a farm while she awaited the return of her husband, to use a rifle, whereas few if any women would carry or use a revolver. This despite the disparity in weight and recoil, the bulkiness of the rifle and its comparative slow reaction compared to a pistol. Thus, Winchesters were also popular with female customers.

The end of the Winchester dynasty, as it were, is odd. Oliver died in 1880 and the company passed to his son William, who only lasted three more months, taken by tuberculosis, whereupon the fortune willed to him went to his wife, Sarah. She then moved out of Connecticut to San Jose, where she had a huge mansion built. Winchester guns are still manufactured and sold today, mostly under licence to other companies.

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Little Big Town

I thought it might be interesting to look into the history of some of the towns - some of which may have grown into cities - that sprang up during the push westward in the 1800s, and to see how they were founded, how they developed over time and what they’re like now. There are of course plenty of famous (or infamous) ones such as Dodge City in Kansas or Tombstone in Arizona, to say nothing of Cody, Wyoming and Deadwood, South Dakota, but I wanted to start this series off by going for something less obvious, and so this is where we begin.

Virginia City, Nevada

Located in the Nevada Desert, this ain’t no Las Vegas, with one of the smallest populations I’ve heard of - a mere 855 residents in 2010 - though at its height it boasted around 25,000 people. One of the original boom towns, Virginia City was founded on the basis of the discovery of silver, in what was called the Comstock Lode, after the man who made the discovery, although other accounts claim he merely bullied the discoverers into appending his name. The general agreement seems to be that the town was named for James Finnimore, nicknamed “Old Virginny Finney”, said to be one of the most accomplished gold miners in the area. In 1859 a huge silver deposit, the first in the USA, was discovered just under the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, and the town quickly sprung up in its wake.

At the time, silver was attributed the same value as gold, and all product from the Comstock Lode mines was purchased by the US Government to mint coins. The income from the mines helped the war effort when the Civil War broke out, and also helped the town and the surrounding area grow, making Nevada a popular destination for fortune-hunters, and also allowing it to reach the population level required to attain statehood. In just one year the population more than tripled, and businesses flocked there to set up. The boom in Virginia was good news for nearby San Francisco too: having profited from the famous Gold Rush of 1849 this small town had grown into a major city, and now the wealth of the Comstock mines helped finance development and growth in what would become one of the most important cities on the west coast.

Immigrants, too, poured into Virginia, mostly miners from England and Ireland, and the population at its height was around 25,000, but the Great Fire of 1875 did over twelve million dollars’ damage and left two thousand homeowners without a roof over their heads, precipitating the departure of many, followed by more when the seams began to run out and the mines dried up. Today, Virginia survives on its history, with museums, arts centres and places of interest all harking back to the boom town days when it was the silver capital of America. It has been immortalised in book, film and on TV, with the popular western show Bonanza set very close by.

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That’s Audie Murphy in the middle with the rifle. The most highly decorated soldier in U.S. history. The Indians would have found it harder if he was there :grinning:

Is this true? I don’t have time to look it up at this moment but I seem to remember slave laws in other countries not being too progressive.

Winchester mansion is now a tourist attraction or it was when I went there. It’s really weird with staircases going to nowhere and small tiny rooms.

As far as slavery goes, I’ll have to check but generally speaking I don’t tend to write those sort of facts unless I’ve researched them. If I haven’t, I’ll usually qualify it by saying I’d have to check but… and I didn’t here. But I wrote this a few years ago originally so I can’t confirm. I’ll get back to you.

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Okay I’ve checked and while it’s hard to establish exactly when certain countries banned slavery - some banned it at home but not at their colonies, and Napoloen re-introduced it in 1802 in his colonies but then abolished it in 1815 - but it does seem a general point of no return around 1820 shows virtually every country, or at least every power, having abolished slavery entirely, other than the USA.

I can look further into it if you want and do a small article on it. Let me know if you want me to do that before I move on.

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As far as I know, the cowboys part didn’t last long (History research for school aeons ago :smiley_cat:) I was disappointed when visiting the State of Texas not to see horse riders downtown on the main roads.

I got to visit a cattle ranch and there they were. Unfortunately, cowboys boots were never found during holiday, for purchase, bummer!

I dislike the gun laws in the USA, so our trip was extremely uncomfortable as almost everyone wears a gun on a belt. Eekes!

I love horse riding but my preferred carry on, is my trusty bow and arrows lol!

Overall, there’s few cowboy or as they call it, Western Spaghetti films that I like but it’s rare. The one TV series which stands out was called “North and South” based on the book named the same. The story of the Great divide and the civil war of 1862? I think… Then the infamous “Dixie Line” which lots of people in the South will tell you they’ve never crossed.

I’m currently into watching the films about the racism in the USA during the years which saw the end of slavery (courtesy of Abraham Lincoln) and the years that followed into the 60s and 70s with the Civil Rights Movement for the African Americans. The Butler, Hidden Figures and The Help.

Well I’ll certainly be going into the whole cowboy/cattle drive thing laer, but cowboys did form the mainstay of the later part of the history of the West. Much of what we see in movies is complete nonsense, as I already wrote, but in my research I was pretty amazed to see how much of it is actually based on truth. There are some crazy stories in the history of America’s frontier, and I’ll be bringing them all to you. Incidentally, in case you didn’t know, cowboys were so named because they, well, rode with cows - the cattle drives across states to sell the livestock could and did last months, and only the toughest made a living at it. Cowboys was also a catch-all name for desperado gangs, and usually seen as something akin to gangsters.

For good western movies, I do like the spoofs, such as Evil Roy Slade and Support Your Local Gunfighter/Sheriff, and of course Blazing Saddles, as well as series like Alias Smith and Jones, Best of the West and then you have series like Little House on the Prairie.

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Red River is a good one for that

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Chapter I: A Railroad to the Moon

I: Blowing off steam: Crazy Judah

The necessity that now exists for constructing lines of railroad and telegraphic communication between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of this continent is no longer a question for argument; it is conceded by every one. In order to maintain our present position on the Pacific, we must have some more speedy and direct means of intercourse than is at present afforded by the route through the possessions of a foreign power. (Report by the Select Committee on the Pacific Railroad and Telegraph, the US House of Representatives, August 1865)

Imagine what it was like back then. No roads at all. None. if you wanted to get anywhere you went by horse, through often hostile territory, taking your life in your hands, traversing prairies and wild fields and mountains, making a trip to the next town dangerous and a trip to the next state almost out of the question. If you couldn’t or didn’t want to ride a horse you had few alternatives: go in a wagon or on a stagecoach, but neither of these were any safer than going it alone, and in some ways less comfortable too. Stagecoaches were not known for their luxury, and the dirt tracks they bumped and jolted over on the often days-long journeys were as likely to turn a wheel or lame a horse and cause the vehicle either to crash or make an unscheduled stop. With the sort of folk out on the roads those days looking for easy prey, this was never a good idea.

There was a reason why no stagecoach driver would travel unarmed (this quite possibly giving rise to the term, “riding shotgun”), but even his best efforts would not matter much if the stagecoach was jumped by a bunch of bandits or desperadoes, or worse, a party of Indian warriors. Few of the passengers could be expected to defend the stagecoach, and a large proportion of those were women, who, really, back in those times did not carry guns, nor were they expected to. Even if they did, few knew how to use them and particularly under pressure. An attack on a stagecoach could very easily mean that nobody was ever going to reach their destination, especially as these often carried valuable items such as gold or silver, perhaps going from a bank in one town to another, or being delivered for a payroll.

Then there were the longer journeys, the ones that couldn’t realistically be made even by stage, where sea travel was the only option. Ships were at the time still pretty much using sail - steam would not really get a grip on the world of shipping for another twenty or thirty years - and apart from the many perils with which such a voyage was fraught (Cape Horn at the tip of South America, a necessary transit point for shipping going from west to east, was notorious for its vicious weather, and many ships had been lost trying to navigate around it), these excursions usually took about six to eight months, depending on weather and other factors, so a man could theoretically spend a year going from, say, New York to California and back.

And in 1849, everyone suddenly wanted to go to California.

This was, of course, due to what became known as the California Gold Rush, when, in 1848, gold was discovered in Sacramento, then a sleepy little town, and triggered the exodus of adventurers and prospectors in search of their fortune. Few if any made it, but the journey still had to be made, and that meant either a very long and torturous overland passage to Panama, to catch a ship going north, or, as mentioned, braving the horrors of the Cape.

There was, therefore, very much a need to find a safer way for folks to travel. While hardy pioneers, as related in previous posts, would pile all their worldly into covered wagons and set out for the new frontier, your average city-dweller preferred to travel in relative safety and if possible comfort. As early as 1838, even before the historic discovery of gold in the west, a railroad surveyor called John Plumbe had approached Congress with the idea of laying rail tracks from the east all the way to the Pacific. He was laughed out of the place, an unnamed member sneering that his proposal would be akin to “building a railroad to the moon.”

Asa Whitney (1797 - 1872)

Others tried to convince a skeptical congress of the benefits of, even the absolute necessity for, a railroad linking all of America. Asa Whitney was a merchant tradesman who made his fortune in China, where he emigrated after losing two wives and his general goods business. Returning a wealthy man, and marrying his third wife, he began considering how a transcontinental railroad would help shorten the long and tedious journey by sea to China, by allowing people to take a train across the east to the west coast and there board a ship for China, thus cutting the journey by sea considerably. He made detailed surveys and maps, proposed projects and wrote to congress in 1849, but possibly due to his emphasis on the railroad benefiting those who wished to sail to China, the government turned a deaf ear and was not interested.

Though he gave up in 1851, Whitney would live to see his idea come to pass, as the Central Pacific Railroad was built and was operating before he died. Whether he felt frustration at having been passed over by history, as one of the original progenitors of the idea, or not, is not recorded, but I guess he must have been happy for all those folks going to China at least.

Congress had changed their tune not ten years later, when one member (again, so far as I can see, unnamed) declaimed the wonderful vision of what the Indians would know and fear as “the iron horse”, a marvel of modern - and, importantly, of course, American - engineering and ingenuity.

The Iron Horse with the wings of wind, his nostrils distended with flame, vomiting fire and smoke, trembling with power … flies from one end of the continent to the other in less time than our ancestry required to visit a neighboring city.


The Central Pacific Big Four: Men with a Dream

The Transcontinental Railroad was the amalgamation of three separate railroads: the Union Pacific, the Western Pacific and the Central Pacific. One of the first men to envision the idea of a transcontinental railroad was of course an engineer, and well versed in building railroads. He would become one of the leading figures in the attempt to cross America with slats of iron and sleepers of wood, but he would sadly not live to see the fruition of his life’s dream.

Theodore Judah (1825 - 1863)

To paraphrase Lyle Langley in The Simpsons episode “Marge vs the Monorail”, Judah would have been well qualified to have said “I’ve built railroads in New York, Sacramento and Marysville, and by gum it put them on the map!” He learned the trade from an early age, remembering the words of his father, a minister, that a life without a goal was a life wasted. He was certain he wanted to be an engineer, and also had taken a great interest in trains, but he wanted to ensure he left some sort of legacy behind, something that would mark his life as having meant something, and make his father proud. He surely succeeded, when, at age twenty-seven, he became a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the next year went on to head the construction of the Sacramento Valley Railroad as its Chief Engineer.

Its president, Charles Lincoln Wilson, recruited him and he left New York to travel to California, where he presented his initial survey and report. Problems dogged the start of the project though, including the election of a new president and the position of vice president going to one William Tecumseh Sherman, and it was not until a year later, 1855, that work began on the railroad. Funding ran out though, and the proposed line to Marysville terminated instead at Folsom. Nevertheless, the Sacramento Valley Railroad became the first incorporated railroad in America, and would later be part of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 1859 he was nominated by the California Pacific Railroad Convention to lobby Washington for the proposed Pacific Railroad, but rumblings in the south as America prepared to descend into one of its darkest chapters in recent history distracted Congress, and he got no traction. Sorry. In fact, he was so almost evangelical about his pet project, describing it, somewhat in the same vein as that sarcastic member of congress, but with absolute conviction and not a hint of humour, as a gateway to Heaven, he became something of a laughing-stock in California, where people began to refer to him as “Crazy Judah”, but he would have the last laugh, and show them who was crazy.

II: Climb Every Mountain: The Rocky Barrier to the Railroad

While the idea of a transcontinental railroad had been in its infancy at the time of the Klondike Rush, the discovery of gold in Nevada reignited interest in a faster way to get to the lodes, and Judah was rehired by the Sacramento Valley to extend the railroad he had helped build, so that it now stretched from Folsom, its previous terminus, through the Sierra Mountains north of Lake Tahoe and on to the Nevada goldmines. It was while working on this that the engineer considered the major problem facing him concerning building what would become the Central Pacific Railroad, a route through those forbidding mountains.

Judah’s experience in grading (the levelling of road before track could be laid), bridge-building and his almost supernatural knowledge of terrain - he could tell almost at a glance which ground was suitable for carrying rails and which was not - led him to go against popular belief that the best route for the railroad was across the flat Iowa plains to the Missouri River at Council Bluffs, then following the Platte River through the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Lake. Rails would then carry on westward from here towards the Sierras. This was to roughly parallel the Oregon and California Trails, which had been used for centuries.

But Judah found a shorter path through the Donner Pass and down the Truckee River to the Nevada mines. His plan was not without problems - the path he proposed entailed the rails (and the trains that would use them) climbing steep gradients and having to have massive (and expensive) tunnels bored into the bones of the mountains. Expensive, and dangerous work. In addition to this, construction would have to deal with massive snowfalls that would plunge down from the tops of the Sierras and threatened to bury them. Tapping private investors for the venture, Judah formed the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1860, which did not impress Sacramento Valley Railroad, who fired him.

The Big Four: Making Tracks for Progress

Finding funds was not easy, and most of the wealthy San Francisco bankers laughed at him, as had Congress some years previous, but he managed to interest four other men, and these became the Central Pacific Big Four: they were Leland Stanford, future governor of California, wealthy hardware merchant Collis P. Huntington and his partner Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, who had made his fortune in the gold rush, but not panhandling or mining: he had set up a shop to supply the miners and had quickly become rich off their labours. Coincidentally, it seems he lived as a child in the same district as Judah in Troy, New York, although there is no evidence the two men ever met.

The Big Four, in addition to the funding they brought to Judah’s fledgling enterprise, had political clout, having only recently formed the California Republican Party, who had had an early and landslide success with the election of their candidate, some guy called Lincoln, to the presidency. At last, “Crazy Judah” was in a position to make people listen; he had the ear (and fat wallets) of four very influential Republicans, who also had a more or less direct line to that of the President, and could smooth the way for any legislation pertaining to the building, and funding, of their new railroad venture.

With the secession of the southern states and the outbreak of the Civil War, the need for a reliable mode of transportation for troops, weapons and supplies became more urgent and the project was quickly greenlit, though in a time of war such things as material, fuel, even labour were scarce, as every resource the Union had was being poured into trying to win the war. Critics were loud in their dismissal of the idea, citing such problems as the winter snows high in the Donner Pass, the difficulty of transporting machinery around Cape Horn to Sacramento, the unlikelihood of the track being able to support the carriages and predictions they would sink into the ground, and an overall doubt that such an enterprise could manage any sort of profit at all for its investors.

Initially, it seemed some at least of these fears were well grounded, when Judah returned from his survey of the Donner Pass and glumly announced that he had seriously underestimated the cost of building the thing. The distance was longer than expected - 140 miles instead of 114 - and would require boring tunnels through three miles of solid granite, and he now estimated that his original budget would go over by fifty percent. This is not news any investor wants to hear, especially before the first hammer is even lifted, and in the face of so much opposition and lack of belief in the project.

Then, of course, there were, inevitably, the rivals. In the wake of the war, other companies had sprung up, eager to take advantage of the generous government grants, and controlled mostly by big San Francisco interests like Pacific Steamship Line and Well Fargo, all hostile to the Central Pacific Railroad and eager to crush it before it had a chance to get going. However when one of the Big Four, or The Associates, as they preferred to call themselves, was elected governor of San Francisco, he was able to appoint Judah to the House and Senate Railroad Committees, giving him the power to lobby in favour of his railroad project. Much bribery of course went on, and Judah even managed to sway one of their competitors, the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad, striking a deal which removed their opposition to the CPRR’s bid.

Charles Crocker (1822 - 1888)

Born, as noted already, in Troy, New York, Crocker’s family moved to Indiana when he was fourteen, and he quickly became independent, proving a diligent worker and an intelligent man, the sort of entrepreneur America would turn out in droves around this time. He took advantage of the gold rush of 1849 to set up his own business, again as already mentioned, selling tools and hardware items to the miners who came to California in search of gold. While most of them went home poor, (or more likely, stayed where they were, unable to afford passage home) Crocker made huge profits and was able to answer the call when Theodore Judah asked for investors in his new Central Pacific Railroad. He set up Charles Crocker & Co., a subsidiary of the company dedicated to getting the railroad built, and he spent over two million dollars on snow ploughs to clear the tracks of snow, but the ice derailed both figuratively his efforts and literally his ploughs. Learning from his mistakes, like all good entrepreneurs, he had snow sheds constructed to protect the rails through the Sierra Nevadas from snow in the harsh winters. These stretched for sixty-five kilometres.

Leland Stanford (1824 - 1893)

Another native of New York, Stanford was called to the bar in 1848, whereupon he moved to Wisconsin. Here he was nominated as the city’s district attorney, and in 1852 gold fever took him and he headed to California, where, rather like Charles Crocker, he resisted the pull of actual gold mining and instead opened a hardware store, making his fortune that way. He returned to New York in 1855 but was bored by the sedate pace of life there, a world away from the hurly-burly frontier life in California, and he moved back there, to Sacramento, the next year. Having invested in Judah’s Central Pacific Railroad, he was elected its president in 1861.

With the others of the Big Four, Stanford acquired control of the Southern Pacific and became its president too. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 1859 but was triumphant in 1861, becoming the state’s first Republican governor. The first Central Pacific train was named in his honour.

Collis P. Huntington (1821 - 1900)

The only one of the Big Four, or five if you include Judah, not to have been born in New York, Huntington was a native of Connecticut, and was also the only one of them all to see the twentieth century. Like the others, he too made his money in the gold rush, but through commerce in a venture he set up with Mark Hopkins, who would join him as the last of the Big Four. He would in fact in time oust Leland Stanford from the presidency, and was well known for providing generous bribes and kickbacks to politicians and businessmen, earning himself the title of “the most hated man in railroad”. He would, however, also be credited with many projects to educate black children and adults after the end of the Civil War.

Mark Hopkins (1813 - 1878)

Hopkins arrived in California in 1849, just as the gold rush reached its height, and established a store in Placerville, but had little luck with that and relocated to Sacramento. It was, however, after meeting Collis P. Huntington that he had real success, the two men becoming fast friends and partners, a relationship they took to the formation of Theodore Judah’s Central Pacific Railroad, of which Hopkins became treasurer. His opinion was highly prized by Huntington, and he was trusted as a true and decent man. He was the eldest of the Big Four, and perhaps appropriately died while aboard a company train in 1878.

Before war broke out, southern congressmen had lobbied to have the railroad cross the Mississippi at Memphis, and then turn west through the southwestern territories, running through Texas and New Mexico, hoping that the new towns which were expected to spring up along the route would all be southern towns, and thus in favour, as was all of the south, of slavery. At the outset of the war though, all southern representatives had abandoned the capitol, and therefore there was nobody to oppose the route favoured by what were now the Union states, which was Judah’s proposed route, and which now got the green light. Naturally, construction was delayed due to the war, but a decision had been made, which in Washington is saying a lot.

The Pacific Railroad Acts

Congress passed a series of acts in 1862, unencumbered by opposition from the south, promoting the construction of the transcontinental railroad, otherwise known as the Pacific Railroad, and authorising funds through the issuing of government bonds and land grants to railroad companies. The whole thing proceeded under the auspices of the War Department, and the original rather long-winded act was titled An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri river to the Pacific ocean, and to secure to the government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes. Right. The two companies to benefit from these bonds and grants, and thereby establish a monopoly on rail travel in the USA, were the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads. We’ll be looking into the Union Pacific later; right now we’re concerned with the other one.

The companies were granted contiguous right of way for their railroads throughout the United States, including all public land within thirty metres on either side of the track. They were given government authority to construct their railroads between the eastern side of the Missouri River, at Council Bluffs, Iowa and the navigable waters of the Sacramento River, thirty-year bonds which would guarantee a loan payment to them for each section of track as it was completed, in return for a lien on the section, to be returned when the loans fell due and were paid.

From 1850 to 1871 the railroads were granted the sum total of land bigger in area than the great state of Texas, approximately 175 million acres, and were allowed, under the terms of the Railroad Acts, to sell some of that land to incoming settlers, who paid a handsome price for land close to the railways, desiring the convenience of nearby transport for cattle and/or goods. It was clear that though the railroad would eventually be a huge moneyspinner, it might take months or even years before the investors began to see appreciable profit, and so they took every opportunity to make cash for themselves, including double-dealing, controlling the contracts tendered for the various subsidiary projects, and keeping wages down despite the dangerous, often fatal nature of the labour.

They also built largely superfluous sections of railroad, building where their partner in the venture, Union Pacific, were also laying track, knowing that their sections would not be used as this was to be one integrated network, but determined to be paid, as they were, per mile of track, whether it was used or not. The passing of the Homestead Acts, as detailed in a previous article, encouraged settlers to head west, and ensured the newly-formed railroad would not be short of customers, thereby swelling their profits even more.

Having been scandalised by the money-grabbing and deceitful tactics of his investors (at one point, their mapmakers showed the Sierra Mountains to be twenty-three miles east of where they were, just so they could get the bonus for building on mountainous terrain, when in fact the land there was flat and even) and realising that they shared his dream but only for what they could get out of it, enriching themselves as much as possible, Theodore Judah decided to buy out the Big Four, and assume control of the project. He made the trip back to New York to raise the necessary capital, but tragedy struck when he contracted yellow fever and died at the age of thirty-eight. The irony is that he had to go, as Asa Whitney had complained of twenty years ago, via Panama to get back to New York, and it is believed it was while crossing the Isthmus of Panama that he fell victim to the disease which claimed his life shortly after he arrived back in the city of his birth. Had Congress listened to the likes of Whitney and Henry Carver earlier, the transcontinental railroad might already have been in service by that time, and he would not have needed to have gone near Panama.

He was, of course, never forgotten, having a street in San Francisco named after him, and memorial plaques installed in Folsom and Sacramento. Schools bore his name, and naturally, one of the first of the CPRR’s locomotives was named in his honour. Most impressive of all, his name was given to a high mountain adjacent to Donner’s Pass, which he had originally surveyed and which became part of the route for the Central Pacific railroad. Mount Judah stands over 8,000 feet high, towering over Placer County, as indeed Judah himself loomed large over the dream of a transcontinental railroad that would link up all of America.


For the Badge: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Law Enforcement in the Old West

(Note: For this section I am indebted to Candy Mouton and her Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840 - 1900, which is full of information, profiles and anecdotes.)

I: They Were the Law: The Men Who Kept the Peace

I know by now that if you’ve stuck with me this far you’re already sick of being told how wrong, wrong, wrong Hollywood got it, but if that’s the way you’re feelin’ pardner, I done got some more bad news a-for yer. Basically, you would have to realise that like just about every era, Hollywood writers, producers and directors let you see what they wanted you to see. The truth might have been shoe-horned in there somewhere, but chances were it would be mighty hard to find if you were to go take a looksee. In the parlance of the times, you could done send a whole goddamn posse after that there critter and still ride home empty. It’s not surprising though: when the reality of the Old West was people ekeing out a living, or trying to survive another day in a harsh and hostile country, who the hell wanted to go to the movies and see that? If there were rarely gunfights, horse rustlers, desperadoes riding into, out of or through town, banks and trains being robbed a rare occurrence, where’s the fun in that?

So western movies didn’t quite make it up, but let’s say they exaggerated a little, stretching the truth almost to breaking point in the name of entertainment, and in so doing set in motion a train of events that has forever made us see a very specific view of the American West. It’s not necessarily all wrong, but most of it is. One thing that they got pretty much everything wrong on - for obvious and deliberate reasons, of course - were the profiles of the men who set out to do what few men dared in such a lawless and wild time, which was to keep the peace, lay down the law and protect their town. Let’s see if we can extract the reality from the fantasy, shall we? Ah come on! Saddle up, son: it’ll be fun.


Here’s a question for you: what do beavers have to do with American law? No, not those kind! The animals, the ones who build dams, you know, the guys with the flat paddle-like tails and big teeth, beloved of cartoonists for chewing down mighty trees in a few bites. Yeah, like yer man above. Well apparently the first ever law used in the Old West was called “The Law of the Beaver”, and was a set of rules and regulations set up by the fur traders, to protect their commerce. These laws were English-made, but a relatively quick search does not yield any information, so I can’t tell you what they were exactly. It’s not all that important, as by the time the West began to open up, as we’ve already touched on in the piece on frontiersmen, this kind of trade was already sliding into something of a decline, so the only reason the Law of the Beaver is mentioned here is to show that it was the first proper legal framework in the west. And because it’s funny. Yes, it is.

It was pretty soon superseded by borderlands law, and here we run into those jolly people who live mostly near a lake of salt and think the secret to a happy marriage is to have more than one wife. Yup, it’s the religion that gave us - or inflicted upon us, depending on your point of view regarding the pop music of the 1970s - the Osmonds. It seems the Mormons were literally a law unto themselves. Within the limits of Utah, they did what they liked and bowed to no county, state or federal agency. Utah was at the time a theocracy, and the Word of God took very much precedence over the word of Man.

There was of course vigilante justice. There has been vigilante justice all the way back to the Bible, and recently a type of vigilantism - no justice appended, you might note - was attempted on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington. But in places where there was no real law at the time, men did indeed take that law into their own hands, leading to such things as posse and necktie parties, as justice was meted out at the barrel of a gun or the end of a rope, without going through all that tedious nonsense of trial or establishing guilt. We’ll be taking a look at this a bit further on.

There was military law too. If you lived near a fort or barracks, and committed a crime you would most likely come under the jurisdiction of the army, You might be held in a military jail awaiting transport to the proper authorities, or if you were a soldier your case may have been decided by a military court, and they would be the ones to mete out the sentence. If there was a sheriff or marshal in the town in which, or near which the fort was built, soldiers from the garrison might be seconded to help him in rounding up criminals, holding trials or keeping the peace. If a soldier broke the law, even in a town where there existed law already in the shape of a marshal, deputy, sheriff or other law officer, his case would be handled by the army. If the sheriff or other law enforcement officer arrested a trooper he would most likely be handed over to the officer in charge of the fort. Where a sheriff or other peace officer existed though, military law would not apply to civilians, except perhaps in military matters (like maybe if they stole from the garrison or were found to be spies or something).

Cowboys riding on cattle drives were like sailors at sea, completely under the absolute authority of the foreman or cattle boss, at least while on the range. Just like the power a captain enjoyed aboard his ship, this was secondary to that of a sheriff or marshal if the cowboys rode into a town and there committed any crime. Miners had their own harsh system of judgement too, and this did not bode well for anyone not of a pale skin pigment. Spanish-Americans (although they had a greater claim to nativity than did the white settlers), Chilean, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, all were considered as foreigners, and almost none of the laws set down by the miners assisted them or gave them any protection. Men unable to speak (due to the language barrier) to defend themselves were given no interpreters, no chance and no quarter. Most of the miners’ laws related to claims and claim-jumping, and some of their provisions were adopted by the US Government.

Anyone with the most basic knowledge of a western movie will know there were different types of law enforcement in the Old West. We’re all familiar with the sheriff, who, along with his deputy/ies would keep the peace in a town, usually having been an ordinary guy elected by the people. Many western movies have as part of their theme a man - usually a stranger - riding into a town which has been having difficulties with bad guys and has lost its sheriff(s), either through their deaths at the hands of aforesaid bad guys or their dramatically throwing the tin star in the dust, effectively resigning their post before they end up being dead at the hands of the aforesaid bad guys. It seems to me unlikely this could generally happen. I’m not saying it didn’t happen - life, and the law, was after all quite fluid in the Old West, and men and indeed towns had to be adaptable - but the usual idea was for the sheriff to be elected.

You’ve probably seen and maybe even participated in the election of a mayor, and it looks like the election of the sheriff would have been the same. Candidates put themselves forward, folks voted, and a sheriff was elected. So it seems unlikely the town or county would just hand the badge to anyone who they thought fit the bill. For one thing, people seldom agree, and the idea of a whole bunch of townsfolk nodding and saying “He’s the man” seems, well, far-fetched at best. There may very well, of course, have been times when desperate measures were required, but as a general rule I would say not. The sheriff was elected, and if he for some reason ditched or was otherwise unable to do his job, well, that was what a deputy was for. So there would have been a reasonably reliable chain of command already in force, making it highly unlikely the town would ever find itself in the position of needing a sheriff post-haste and having no candidates, or subordinates at least.

The top law enforcement officer though, against whom nobody would dare speak a word or try to assert his regional authority, was the US Marshal. Now so far as I know, this guy was different from the marshal who often seemed to be interchangeable with the town sheriff, but I’ll check. This fella was appointed by no less a personage than the President himself (with the approval of Congress), and had wide-ranging powers and jurisdiction almost everywhere. The position was so coveted that at one point in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1882 there were over fifty applicants for the one job. The Judiciary Act, 1789, sets out the role of the US Marshal:

And be it further enacted, That a marshal shall be appointed in and for each district for a term of four years, but shall be removable from office at pleasure, whose duty it shall be to attend the district and circuit courts when sitting therein, and also the Supreme Court in the district in which that court shall sit. And to execute throughout the district, all lawful precepts directed to him, and issued under the authority of the United States, and he shall have the power to command all necessary assistance in the execution of his duty, and to appoint as shall be occasion, one or more deputies.

Which would then indicate there was to be a US Marshal for each state, or territory as they were known then. I’m not sure if the authority of a marshal in say Wyoming was good in Colorado, but I would imagine the marshal there would be ready to help him out if, let’s say, he was chasing a fugitive from his territory who had crossed into that of his colleague. Although appointed by the President, marshals were typically patronised and kept in office by district judges, and weren’t even paid a proper salary until 1896, which shows how much the position was respected, even if only paid by fee, as it was in 1882, in our example above. Marshals were allowed to swear in posses to make up a hunting party for a fugitive (we’ll find out later how a posse was made legal, and how many unofficial ones there were, also whether a sheriff had the same authority when it came to them, as Hollywood would have us believe) and to make people deputies on the spot if needed, or even to second them from other law enforcement agencies.

As opposed to the sheriff, who was a local city or town or county official, marshals were employees of the federal government, and many had cut their teeth in the Civil War and were well able to handle themselves, however like most jobs that sound glamorous and exciting, the life of a marshal could be almost summed up in one word, that one most hated by all cops: paperwork. Marshals had many duties, including prisoner transfer, hire of staff for courts, disbursement of funds, serving subpoenas, summonses and warrants, and even renting the courtrooms and the jails.

But of course there were times when they could drag themselves away from the desk and the mountain of papers, and several well-known figures in the West were marshals, including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Generally speaking, their deeds have not been embellished - that much - by the movies, and we will be looking at their careers individually later on in this section. Perhaps less glamorously though, marshals were also required - until the repeal of the law in 1864 - to assist in the return of slaves fled from southern states and were also used to break up strikes, usually by violence and intimidation. They could, and did, ride long distances when word came to them of a fugitive over whom they would have jurisdiction (an escaped bank robber who had plundered one of the banks in their territory, maybe, or someone who had shot someone in their state and evaded justice) turning up in another and being reported to them as being there.


Haven’t heard of them before and looked them up.Apparently they were a big fire hazard in the summer.

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Wanted: Dead or Alive

It’s interesting to note that there was a very good reason why this condition was often appended to notices seeking the apprehension of fugitives from justice. Like I said, up almost to the turn of the century marshals worked for a fee, and in general this turned out to be about two dollars per head per captive, which they would be paid upon returning with the prisoner(s). But unless the wanted notice had stipulated “dead or alive”, should they bring in any of the criminals dead, they would not be paid. This probably showed how desperate states were to catch, or have killed, certain desperate characters: a marshal who knew he was not getting anything for a dead man would be mighty careful to ensure he arrived back at the jail in one piece and breathing, even if he may have had a chance to shoot him. If it was a “dead or alive” situation, on the other hand, well, prisoners are a lot less trouble when they’re dead, I expect, so this might be why it was never “alive or dead”, so that the first thing in a posse’s mind was, kill the bastard: hell, you’ll still get paid the two dollars, so why bother bringing him in alive? A sort of early form of subliminal messaging, perhaps, or a tacit approval of terminate with extreme prejudice?

As a representative of the US Government, a marshal could also try criminals if there was no judge present. As we’ll see a little further on, judges did not live in towns, but travelled around (perhaps the origin of the circuit court? Perhaps not; we’ll find out) and served a wide area, so the chances of there being a judge in town at the right time was, let’s say slim. In that case, the marshal could deputise witnesses, hire a place as a courtroom (maybe a schoolhouse, saloon, house, I don’t know: I’m learning this as I’m writing it and some of this is guesswork, to be confirmed or corrected later) and act as the judge in the case, dispensing justice to his prisoners. Whether that included hanging I don’t know, but I would think not. If the offence was that severe, maybe the prisoner(s) would have to be taken to wherever the judge was sitting. The case I read about involved a marshal fining thieves, so I expect he had some latitude but not unlimited powers. He was, after all, an officer of the law and not above it.

You probably have heard in movies the word marshal and sheriff being used to more or less describe the same official, and the guy referred to had nothing to do with the tough lawmen we just spoke about. Called town marshals, these were in fact a step below the sheriff, who was usually responsible for the entire county, whereas this marshal, as you might have guessed from his title, took care of the town he was in and no more. Mostly he was a sort of functionary: collecting fees and taxes, maintaining the town jail, running health, fire and sanitation checks, keeping records and offering evidence at court hearings.

And then, there were the Rangers.

Most will have heard of the Texas Rangers, but Arizona and New Mexico had them too. These were kind of the top guns of law enforcement, at least in the southeast, where their powers were vast and where justice meted out by them could be swift and often brutal. As Captain Burt Mossman of the Arizona Rangers put it:

If they come along easy, everything will be all right. If they don’t,
well, I guess we can make pretty short work of them. I know most
of them and the life those fellows are leading in the mesquite shrub
to keep out of reach of the law is a dog’s life. They ought to thank
me for giving them a chance to come in and take their medicine.
Some of them will object, of course. They’ll probably try a little
gunplay as a bluff, but I shoot fairly well myself, and the boys who
back me up are handy enough with their guns. Any rustler who
wants to yank on the rope and kick up trouble will find he’s up
against it.

Sounds like something out of a cowboy movie, but no, that’s an actual quote. Shows how tough and determined these men were. Even today, Texas Rangers still operate in that state and are feared as the oil state’s most indefatigable lawmen. Nevertheless, one of their first and most famous captains, John “Rip” Ford, who later went on to the US Senate and served as the mayor of Brownsville, had a slightly different view of his force:

A large proportion … were unmarried. A few of them drank intoxicating liquors. Still, it was a company of sober and brave men. They knew their duty and they did it. While in a town they made no braggadocio demonstration. They did not gallop through the streets, shoot, and yell. They had a specie of moral discipline which developed moral courage. They did right because it was right.

Cold Justice: Law in the Frozen North

Look at the size of Alaska. Just look at it. And now figure in that around the time of the Klondike Gold Rush (1896) the entire territory had one judge, one marshal and ten deputies to enforce law. Further north, in Canada, the Yukon, there were the Mounties, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but as miners and speculators teemed across Alaska in search of gold, keeping law and order in that cold wilderness required firm and often deadly action.

When there weren’t enough law enforcement officers to cover a case, bounty hunters might be used to supplement the force, and also detectives. Although the idea of a detective was quite new in the world during the latter half of the nineteenth century, in America the Pinkerton Detective Agency was set up and became known for their dogged, unflagging pursuit of criminals. They also provided security on trains against robberies, often taking would-be bandits by surprise, as the Pinkertons wore no uniform and could easily blend into the crowd, passing for passengers.

Hang ‘em High: Lynchings and Vigilante Justice

We spoke briefly about vigilantes before, and to be honest, the two words don’t go very well together, as vigilantes, usually at the head of a mob, seldom wanted justice but revenge. To these people, the laws either protected the criminal when they should have dealt out swift justice to him instead, or just didn’t allow the wheels of justice to turn quickly enough. When this happened, tempers boiled over, patience snapped and hotheads led fuming crowds to jailhouses or in pursuit of men who were seen to have evaded justice. The usual end of such a journey for the accused was kicking his heels in the air while he dangled from a rope.

I should clearly make the distinction here between vigilante justice and lynch mobs. The former did allow a semblance of trial, with the prisoner’s crimes read to him and even a defence allowed, whereas with lynch mobs it was a straight, direct path to the hanging tree, with none of that annoying due process getting in the way. Lynchings were not sanctioned by law, but some territories turned a blind eye if feelings were running high enough. However lynch mobs had no real authority, other than their own, and were sometimes subsequently prosecuted for taking the law into their own hands, whereas vigilantes had often tacit, unspoken approval from the town or city authorities.

In vigilante justice, the mob’s rule might be more easily accepted, or acceded to, as these were clearly the prevalent feelings and few sheriffs or marshals would dare to go against the general mood of the town. They also might unofficially see them as a blessing in disguise, so to speak. For one thing, these folks had most likely only carried out the sentence the guy was going to get anyway, and in the process had saved the courts and therefore the government money.

One place vigilante justice began to come really into its own was along the route of the transcontinental railroad. As towns began to spring up along the line, there was no formal authority and so men would band together to keep law and order, using a variant of the old miners’ law to prosecute those who had sinned against the town, mine or railroad.

In terms of lynch mob justice, here’s a story (two really, but linked) that really illustrates the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. A man accused of killing two lawmen, Charley Burris, was being transported to jail from Laramie to Rawlins, was taken from the train when it stopped in Carbon and a confession demanded of him. He refused, so they hung him from a telegraph pole. One year later another killer, “Big Nose” George Parrot took the same trip for the same crime and was stopped - perhaps by the same mob - in the same station. He too was asked to confess, but whether he had heard of Burris’s fate or not, he took the option to make a clean breast of it, and was allowed to continue on to Rawlins, where he was sentenced to be hanged. But when he tried to escape, a mob (again, maybe the same one: maybe they had followed him for the trial to make sure he didn’t retract his confession?) dragged him from the jail and hanged him. So no matter what he did, George Parrot’s destiny lay at the end of a rope. Maybe he would have been better just getting it over with at Carbon.

On that occasion it seems the mob either overpowered the sheriff and his deputies, who were holding Parrot, or else the law officers were powerless to - or reluctant to stop them. However on occasion lynch justice was openly approved by the federal marshals. Candy Mouton tells us of another interesting example when, in Aurora, Nevada in 1864, the hanging of six men accused of killing thirty settlers went ahead under the watchful eye of the US Marshal, Bob Howland, despite the governor being alerted to the illegal lynching by a concerned citizen. The marshal reported back to the governor that it was “All quiet in Aurora. Four men to be hanged in fifteen minutes.”

There were also what was known as range detectives. These men were employed by the railroad, stagecoach companies and cattle barons to protect their interests, with deadly force if need be. You might be surprised to learn that legendary gunfighter William H. Bonney, alias Billy the Kid, was a range detective himself. He worked for the Regulators, who kept the interests of rancher John Henry Tunstall as their top priority. Range detectives were highly paid for the time - sometimes clearing as much as 150 or 200 dollars a month (this in a time when, remember, the bounty on a live outlaw was two dollars and hotel rooms asked a few cents for a night’s board), and had to be good fighters. The deadlier the reputation, the less likely anyone would mess with them, though Billy’s rep did not stop the Lincoln County War from breaking out, but that’s another story, for another time.

Range detectives worked first and only for their employers, If they got into trouble with local or even federal law enforcement while carrying out the orders of their bosses, they relied on those bosses to smooth things out for them with the authorities, whether with bribes, threats or via their connections in high places. Pat Garret was also a range detective, as was Tom Horn.

Justice on Tour: Judges in the Old West

As I correctly surmised earlier, the phrase circuit court comes from the time of the Old West, when judges were basically of no fixed abode, almost like itinerant pedlars dispensing justice and punishment, or perhaps innocence and freedom, as they travelled across their territory. Each judge was responsible for a large area, as already mentioned, and this meant he was constantly on the move, going from town to town and city to city, a real case of bringing Mohammed to the mountain. A judge would arrive in a town or district, hear all the cases that had built up over the length of time since he had been there last (excepting, I assume, any which had been dealt with by the expedient of summary justice, by vigilantes or by lynch mobs, or that the sheriff or marshal could deal with himself) and then travel on to the next town. If a crime was committed the next day, tough: you’d have to wait till he managed to fit you into his schedule again, and that could be months, months you would spend most likely in the county jail awaiting the chance to have your trial.

Not only that, but while as a defendant you had the right to be tried by a jury of your peers, given the short amount of time His Honour would likely be in town before ridin’ on into the sunset of justice, the chances of cobbling together twelve good men and true (or even twelve all right men who might occasionally play fast and loose with the truth) were slim, and what happened then? I really don’t know. Whether the trial then got delayed until a jury could be assembled (and if that meant not before the judge left town you might end up back in a cell to await his later pleasure) or whether it went ahead with what they had, or even without a jury, isn’t related in what I read. However it does appear that up until 1889 all a judge’s decisions were final, as there was no official appeal procedure, but after that the way was clear for convicted felons to appeal their sentence to the US Supreme Court, and thus I guess began the often ludicrous back-and-forth that attends trials even today, particularly in the case of the death penalty.


II: The Face Behind the Badge: Famous Lawmen of the Old West

There are names of course that we all know by now, whether through movies or games or television, or even an accidental or otherwise encounter with history - Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, Tom Horn - but given the massive area these officers of the law operated across, and the timescale involved, it will come as no surprise that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of men who upheld the law in a lawless time of whom we know virtually nothing. We can’t talk about hundreds or thousands in this journal, but let’s look at a few of the perhaps lesser-known ones.

Bud Ballew (1877 - 1922)

I imagine almost every lawman, be he sheriff, town marshal, US Marshal or justice of the peace even, carried in them days. Ballew certainly did, gaining fame as both a gunfighter and a lawman. Born David Monticello in Texas in 1877, he acquired the nickname “Bud” from his father, Bryant Bellew having been called this himself, and his time as a young boy helping out on the family ranch gave him an easy familiarity with animals, especially horses, and with the handling of firearms too. Not one to hang around on the farm though, Bud left at the tender age of thirteen years and headed to what was then known as the Indian Territory, land which had been ostensibly set aside for the resettlement of the Native Americans, and which by 1890 had been reduced to what is now the state of Oklahoma. There he built his own ranch and was in fact joined there three years later by the rest of his family. Eight years after that he met the woman who was to be his wife.

The marriage was blessed with two sons, and by 1910 Bud’s ranch was humming along so nicely that he began to get bored, and looked for other work. He found it in prosecuting and defending the law. When Buck Garrett, sheriff of Carter County and nephew of the famous Pat, offered him a job as his deputy, he accepted, beginning a career in law enforcement which would last over a decade. At the same time, he continued ranching and even had time to do some speculating in Texas Tea, or oil as we call it.

Bud Ballew presented the kind of image of a deputy that became almost a caricature of the type in the hands of Hollywood producers. Tall for his time - an inch off six foot - he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, out of which burst his shock of fiery red hair, and he had a deep, booming laugh, wore cowboy boots, carried a pistol on each hip and was frequently seen in or around the environs of the local saloons and gambling dens. Anyone looking into his cherubic, good-humoured face though and taking him for a sap would be placing themselves very much in danger, as behind those twinkling eyes and the ready smile lurked a man who was ready to kill in the name of justice, and who would, by the end of his twelve-year career, have notched up eight kills to his credit. Not quite one a year, but for a lawman that’s a pretty decent return, I think you’ll agree.

Though himself shot in the stomach by outlaw Pete Bynum, he was not fazed and returned fire, killing Bynum and another man with the unlikely name of Alison (don’t know if that was his first or surname) who was sleeping in the next room. I also don’t know if this Alison character was allied with Bynum or if he was just an unlucky piece of collateral damage. Steve Talkington was next on his list, but when this guy tried to resist arrest, Ballew shot him dead. When he then tried to collect his pay from the town marshal, he found himself caught in the middle of a dispute. Highnote (where did they get these names, honestly?) had been fired but refused to go, and furthermore, told Ballew what he could do with his demand for his commission. So Ballew did what he did best, and shot and killed the ex-marshal. He doesn’t appear to have paid any price for the killing, so I suppose it must have been seen as justified, though how refusing to pay a man could be grounds for shooting him I don’t know. Well, it was the Wild West I guess. I suppose it’s possible that Highnote was seen as acting illegally, both in refusing to step down and in failing to hand over the reward, so maybe the deputy was within his rights.

Another outlaw tried to outrun justice by jumping from the train by which he was being taken to trial by Ballew and another deputy, but both men fired at the prisoner as he ran off and Ballew’s bullet found its mark. He later saved his boss’s life when Garrett, engaged in a gunfight with one of two highway robbers, needed his help when he, Garrett, was busy with the first robber while the other tried to circle round and get a shot at him. Ballew, coming up behind him, forced him to turn his attention on the deputy, who shot him dead. Even other lawmen were fair game for Ballew. He had a long-standing feud running with Deputy US Marshal Dow Braziel, who was angry that neither Ballew nor his boss seemed too inclined to enforce the recent Prohibition laws. As he and Ardmore Chief of Police Les Segler responded to shots fired early in the morning of January 31 1919, they found Braziel in a cafe and for whatever reason he started firing at them. Ballew returned fire and shot him dead. End of feud.

Determined to preserve the law though, and show that it applied even to those who enforced it, the Chief of Police had Ballew arrested, though later on his (the Chief’s) testimony it was made clear that Deputy Ballew had only been defending himself, having been fired at first, and he was released without charge. An interesting point here is that the account I read notes that Ballew “emptied his pistol, hitting Braziel six times”. Assuming his gun was the usual six-shooter, that means that every single bullet the deputy fired hit its mark. What a shot!

Even this impressive feat though was as nothing compared to what happened two years later, in November 1920. A wealthy oil baron known as Jake Hamon, slated for a post in President Warren Harding’s cabinet, died of a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound he said occurred when he was cleaning his gun. Despite his dying confession though, suspicion quickly fell on his lover, Clara Smith, whom it was believed had shot him, either because he was abusive to her or because he wanted to break off their affair (one assumes Hamon was married, though it doesn’t say). Accused of the crime (on what evidence, I don’t know: circumstantial at best surely) she was tried and quickly found not guilty.

Well I thought that was going to be far from the end of it, but colour me surprised: that was the end of it. The point seems to have been that during the trial the reporters from various newspapers were almost more interested in the colourful antics of Ballew and Garrett, the latter of whom, though respected was not liked, mostly due to his habit of riding through the town shooting off his gun and yelling. Far from embarrassing the deputy though, the news reports seem to have made him determined to live up to the image, and he got worse. The end was already looming for Bud Ballew however, as he resigned in support of his sheriff when Garrett was investigated for, charged with and relieved of his post for the unlawful release of prisoners and what was called non-enforcement of the law, in 1922.

Time to go out in a blaze of glory then. Ballew, with other ex-Garrett men, was involved a few days later in a fistfight with their replacements, a fistfight that rapidly became a gunfight, and in which Ballew took a bullet in his thigh. But a mere slug in his leg was not going to stop the notorious Bud Ballew from raising hell, and he headed to a rodeo in Wichita Falls, Texas, with his son, where, after being reported by the captain of the Texas Rangers to the Chief of Police, he refused to surrender and come quietly, instead reaching for his gun in a domino parlour (I know, I know!) and was shot down dead, proving I guess that even if you’re a lawman the old adage holds true: don’t fuck with Texas.

A postscript however maintains that the story was embellished if not actually a lie, as the county coroner in Ardmore, to which Ballew’s body was flown back, determined that all five shots that took the deputy down had been from behind, which disputed the official story. Nobody was ever charged, but to his dying day Buck Garrett maintained that his deputy had been murdered.

Raymond Hatfield Gardner (1845 - 1940)

Who ever heard of a lawman in the American West living to be almost a hundred? You would assume most if not all of them had short, violent lives, but this guy seems to have survived okay. Mind you, the odds were against him from the start. Kidnapped at only two years of age by Comanches, he would surely not have been expected to have survived, but for whatever reason the Comanches held on to him and then traded him to the Sioux, among whom he grew up. When he reached age fifteen he escaped (you’d have to wonder where he was escaping to and from what; at age two he surely couldn’t have had any memory of his white parents, and so life among the Indians would have been all he remembered) and joined the US Army, riding for them as a courier and, later, for the Pony Express.

He rejoined, or joined properly, the army again when the Civil War broke out and served four terms, his knowledge of Native American ways and tactics proving invaluable later when he served as an Indian scout. He acquired the nickname “Arizona Bill” and fought against the Apache, and later joined another, more famous Bill in his Wild West Show. Later still he moved into law enforcement and served both as a US Deputy Marshal and as an Arizona Ranger. He even had his own radio show in the 1930s. He died after a long illness on January 29 1940 and was interred first in a pauper’s grave (not sure what the pauper thought of it!) and later, when evidence of his extensive military service came to light, his body was moved to the Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery, where he rests today.

John Peter Gabriel (1838 - 1898)

No, no, I kid you not! His name really was Peter Gabriel. Well, John Gabriel, but that’s not half as much fun is it? Anyway, it seems everyone knew him as Peter, or Pete. Another Arizona lawman, Gabriel was actually born in Germany, his family moving to America in 1847, when he was only nine years old, settling in Wisconsin. Luck was not with the family though and his father died only two years later, leaving his wife with six hungry mouths to feed and no way to feed them. I don’t know whether she farmed them all off, or how it happened, or if he was the only one (seems unlikely: just as hard to feed five kids as six) but John was taken in by a lawyer who caught the gold bug and headed to California in 1849. When he was old enough to support himself, John moved to Arizona, where he worked at mining and in law enforcement on and off.

Pinal County Sheriff Peter Brady must have been kicking himself when, having appointed him as deputy in 1877 he was then defeated by Gabriel in the next year’s elections, and his deputy took his job. Gabriel established himself as one of Arizona’s finest and most successful sheriffs, taking no shit from lynch mobs, tracking down stagecoach and horse thieves, killers and cattle rustlers. Friends however became enemies when, having hired his old buddy Joseph Phy as his deputy, he had to fire him for being drunk and disorderly, and later had to arrest him for assault, The year Gabriel left office, 1886, Phy came back onto the scene, ran for the office (actually with Gabriel’s initial support, though it was later withdrawn) and got the job, but the two friends-then-enemies-then-friends had once again become bitter enemies, and it would all end in the rising smoke from the barrel of a gun two years later.

The two met in a saloon in Florence, where an argument erupted between them and quickly spilled out, in true Hollywood style, into the street, where both men drew. Both were wounded, but Gabriel survived whereas Phy died from his wounds. Gabriel had to stand trial but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence that then prevailed in the West. His own end would be much longer in coming, but equally tragic. Having spent the next ten years mining around Arizona and down as far as Mexico, it was in his old stomping grounds that the Grim Reaper came to collect. Having drunk some water laced with arsenic (used in mining) at the Monitor Mine on Mineral Creek he lay alone and in agony for a week in his cabin until finally his mining partner happened by and discovered him. He died the next day and was buried near the mine.

“Big Steve” Long

I subtitled this section “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Law Enforcement”, and here’s one of the bad ones. Steve Long (known as “Big Steve”, don’t ask me why but you can make some educated guesses I’m sure, some clean, some perhaps not so much) was said to have been a “Johnny Reb”, which is to say he fought on the losing side of the Civil War, and after the defeat of the South he took up gunfighting, wandering from territory to territory until he ended up in Wyoming in 1866. There, with his half-brothers Ace and Con Moyer, who had founded the town of Laramie, and on their own authority proclaimed themselves justice of the peace and marshal, he was deputised to help his two siblings. But a gunfighter does not generally make a good lawman (though some might), and whereas our friend Bud Ballew killed eight men in twelve years, Long had notched up that many in two months!

The brothers proved more dictators than any kind of lawmen, ruling with an iron fist and crushing all who opposed them. They forced ranchers to hand over the deeds to their lands and miners to sign over their claims to them in literal backroom deals, where resistance or reluctance was met with a bullet, and the shrugged excuse that the man had gone for his gun. Well, who was going to say otherwise, when the men who ran the town’s justice system said so? Other victims quickly followed, including those who objected to the rigged card games run by the brothers at the saloon, and within a year Long was claiming to have shot and killed thirteen men, suspected of another seven, though this could not be proven. The saloon in question began to acquire the epithet “The Bucket of Blood”, and a local rancher, fed up, like most of the townsfolk, with the tyranny of Long and the Moyers, began to organise a vigilante group to take them on.

You’ve got to love these names. Long ambushed and killed a prospector called Rollie “Hard Luck” Harrison, intending to rob him, but got a bullet for his pains. As his fiancee treated the wound he confessed to her what had happened and, presumably sick of all the violence (given how brutal Long was, it doesn’t stretch the imagination too far to reason that he often took out his temper on her) she reported to N.K. Broswell, the rancher mentioned above. Accordingly, the “Bucket of Blood” was stormed and an angry lynch mob dragged the three evil siblings out into the street, where they were strung up.