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Showing posts with label Wild West. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wild West. Show all posts

September 7, 2018

Did the wild west really exist? Was the wild west like in the movies?

Not even a little. Oh, there were exceptions. Billy the kid became famous through the Lincoln County war for example. It was one of the largest of what are called the range wars. Cattle farming had become a huge business. But they competition was fierce, and personal, as these people largely knew one another. So the least scrupulous began hiring men to rustle, steal, cattle from their competition. This led to the cattle farmers hiring men to defend their stock, which led to shootouts and bad blood, which led to more men for defense.

By the end it was devolving into small private armies having small, but notable, battles with each other. But stuff like that is an exception. Most of the grand stories of gunslingers, were in actuality stories of pretty normal criminals, who were caught in pretty normal ways. A gunslinger was rare, and more like a serial killer. They would shoot men in the back, young guys who they were far more experienced than, etc. There is one, maybe two, actual examples of a high noon turn and shoot gunfight, ever.

And bandits, though the kid gang is portrayed as normal, they were not. Cattle rustlers would form a gang, rustle cattle, soon others would realize what was happening, get a couple names of the local yokels who were involve, get a read on roughly where they were hiding in the countryside, get together a possie, go out, find them, kill a couple and arrest the rest, and bring the rest back to town for a show trial and hanging. Hangings were a fairly common form of violence in the old west, but at the time that was true in the cities as well.

More so, really. You see, at the turn of the twentieth century, when the frontier was almost all tamed, an early pop culture of cowboys and gunslingers developed. They were an early form of action movie, relatively cheap to make, that would remain wildly popular for sixty years more. Cheap books, adventure stories, called penny dreadful's because they originally cost a penny, and were quicly and poorly written, emerged. They were very popular. Detectives, pirates, and wars were always popular.

But the western was likely the biggest. Buffalo Bill, as well, helped popularize the myth of the gunslinger. He was a fine trick shot master, who was involved in some fighting of a variety of sorts, I forget now but I think he was also a Civil war veteran, and by the 180's he had created a type of moving show from town to town, involving plays about cowboys, combined with horse and shooting tricks. It was very popular. But the average person in the "old west" is best thought of as a frontiersman. Men and woman trying to scrape a living and get some long term opportunity not available in the city, by starting from scratch as farmers or those who gave services to farmers, in a wilderness.

It was a pretty neat time. Hard, I doubt we would actually enjoy it. But the tenacity of the men and woman who were there, in incredible. A little thing from the popularization of the gunslinger mythos I forgot. Sassperilla. It is a drink you will hear about a lot in old westerns. It was supposed to be cactus juice. I am not even sure if the word is real. But it was an invention of hollywood censorship, especially the forties and fifties tv western. Couldn't have the many kids watching hear whisky. So sasperilla. It may have been a real thing, I am not sure. But it certainly was not sold in taverns, or popular. Its cactus juice. Most people would like water more.

Sarsaparilla was a common ingredient in folk medicine for centuries in central and South America. It was probably made into a beverage for consumption around 1840 and is largely thought to have become commercially available as a soft drink in the late 19th century around 1880. It was definitely a real drink and very popular in the Wild West.

Not even approximately. The big cities of the east had far higher crime and violence rates. Your average Wild West town was about as exciting as watching mud dry.

The popular image that everybody walked around with a six-gun on their hip is simply false. Few people owned pistols, they really weren't that useful, and in most towns, carrying weapons in town limits was illegal.

The iconic Wild West quickdraw duel is entirely a myth. It never happened, not even once. In the entire history of the west, there are 2-3 incidents that kinda-sorta resemble one, but there were other factors that knock them out of the running. The concept was invented by the dime novels of the day, later cemented into the public consciousness by the movies.

Even real cowboys, ie cattle ranch hands, didn't normally carry pistols. Some employers, such as the legendary rancher Charlie Goodnight, forbade his employees from even owning one, he saw them as nothing but trouble waiting to happen. Cowboys out on the range would be issued rifles.

And oddly enough, bank robbery pretty much NEVER happened. In the entire history of the west, there are credible reports of maybe 4-5 bank robberies. Bandits preferred to stick up stagecoaches and trains far from town.

The myth of the Wild West was created first by the dime novels. Then faux Wild West shows like Buffalo Bill's advanced the myth.

And then there was "the toughest town in the wild west," Palisade, Nevada...

In the late 1870s, the people of Palisade decided they wanted to give the eastern dandies passing through on the railroad a little thrill. So they started staging gunfights when the trains stopped in town. It started out with just a single quickdraw pistol duel, but eventually it turned into a veritable wild west Disneyland, with staged bank robberies, Indian raids fought off by US Cavalry, all the WW cliches. And everybody in the area was in on it, the townsfolk, the Army, the Indians, the railroads,...

About 30-40 years later when people started making movies, that cemented the myth of the WW forever.

No, while there where a hand full of duels, there where no master gun slingers, in real life the old duel at high noon just ends with both men getting killed. Fighting was mostly limited to fistfights and brawls, beyond then we have murderers by gun, blade and hand not duels but murderers people shooting each other in the back.

Even a range war would involve mostly one party shooting at the other in the back by surprise. The bank,train and stagecoach robbery where rare, stick up the bank and every one know who to look for, when it was and the horse you rode in on. But bushwhacking, cattle rustleing, barn burning, and murdering farmers that was crime happening in remote places where it could go unreported for days, even weeks.

Most towns had strict gun control laws- no guns in town.

There were no "high noon duels". Sometimes people were murdered outside of town, typically over cattle rustling- so easy and profitable, so they weren't nice when caught red-handed. People "caught" might shoot a witness if there's no one else around. Eventually erupted into larger range wars.

Many cowboys were black, also Mexican vaqueros

Only a handful of bank heists ever

The term 'Wild West' was initially referring to the fact that the area was 'wild', i.e. sparsely populated and uncultivated, not that it was particularly lawless or dangerous.

As others already wrote, basically everything you see in western is a fabrication of the entertainment industry that used popular adventure tropes and used them in the Wild West millieu. There were no 'duels at high noon' (both parties would be immediately arrested by a resident sheriff and quite possibly hanged for a murder attempt). It is hotly debated, whether the crime by itself was more dangerous than relative lack of power structures, allowing unscrupulous businessmen to gain wealth and influence in blatantly illegal way (especially at the expense of the newcomers with little connections), with the Lincoln County War being a prime example of the problem.

Of course, crime was not unusual but it was usually committed far away from cities. If anything, gangs were rustling cattle or robbing travelling merchants (one of the most infamous robberies happened in Skeleton Canyon in 1881, where caravan carrying Mexican silver has been ambushed, resulting in roughly 12 dead) but this event, much like the shootout at the OK Corral is so popular precisely because it was so rare. In other words, crime was not unheard of, but the crime rate in frontier cities was rather low in comparison with densely-populated cities of that era.