What comes to mind when you think of the Wild West? Most likely you will think of images of
cowboys and Native Americans, lawlessness, gunfights, outlaws, cattle driving, and train
robberies. These are some of the stereotypical themes associated with life in the American
West during the 19th century and, for the most part, rightly so.
The most thought of images of the Wild West most accurately corresponds to life in the West
during the second half of the 19th-century. It was primarily between the Civil War and the
turn of the century that cowboy life, as we think of it, flourished. So between the 1860s
and 1890s was really the height of the Wild West.
While life was incredibly difficult for most who ventured to the Wild West, a new mythology
was born with it. Take a look a look at how things really were in the "Wild West" of the
Just like frequent bar-goers today, the drinking got out of hand at times. Here we can see several men firing their guns at one man’s feet as he tries to avoid the bullets as fast as he can. This happened so often that it actually became a game known as the “bullet dance.”
Not to worry, there were also gambling halls available for those who preferred a more leisurely form of entertainment. These less intense places usually consisted of three things: whiskey, women, and wagers.
Someone no one ever wanted to sit next to at the betting table was Jack Vermillion. He was quickly dubbed “Texas Jack” once he shot a man over an argument at cards… in the eye. This gives his more commonly used nickname “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion” a clearer explanation.
Another popular pastime of the Old West was having your fortune told by female Romani psychics. These “gypsies”, as they called them, were believed to have the ability to read people’s futures through crystal balls, Tarot cards, and the palms of hands…
Not all women told tales – meet Rose Dunn, a clever gunslinger known for her good looks and romantic involvement with western outlaws. Her unexpected loyalty gained the respect of many men, mostly gang members, making her the most protected woman in town.
For those few who were not into drinking, prostitutes, games, or any kind of sorcery, there was the highly influential Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. All thanks to its creator, a bison hunter named Bill, this traveling circus-like act depicted the Old Western lifestyle for people, without them having to actually live it.
One of the main stars was Native American, Whirling Horse. Though he was a “show Indian” he did come from a native tribe, and often portrayed the truth in his role as a victim of western expansion. This surprisingly helped with tensions during the American-Indian Wars.
In order to ease such tension, many cowboys would find themselves at the saloon. Usually joined by the outlaws, these groups of men would enjoy a nice, cold brew amongst each other before they got back to their, very different, business.
Now, let’s not forget about those serving the drinks. Take a look at these proud bartenders posing for a photo in the very first saloon ever established in 1822, Wyoming.
Nowadays, you have to be 21 to get served alcohol, but this well-known outlaw decided he would much rather kill eight men before turning that age! Born as Henry McCarty, “Billy the Kid” was one of the most ruthless gunfighters of the Old West.
With so much violence, there’s bound to be a doctor in the building, right? Wrong. Though “Doc Holliday” was a doctor, his degree was more aligned in the field of dentistry. Once he realized caring for teeth wasn’t on people’s list of priorities, this Doc turned into one of the Wild West’s most notable deputy marshals.
While the cowboys had the marshals to watch over things, the Apache tribe had their ancestors. These Native Americans believed they lived alongside the supernatural. Below are their “spirit dancers” who were thought to have the ability to summon these souls from the mountains.
What the land also had in store for those living in the Wild West was gold. Yes, the famous California Gold Rush began in 1848, bringing 300,000 people into the state. Unfortunately, this resulted in disease and starvation for most of the Native Californians.
With such a fluctuating economy, many Western people of the 19th century relied on original gangster ways – particularly robbery. William Brazelton, also known as “Bill Brazen”, was notorious for stealing while wearing a mask. Who knew this signature move would be replicated by almost every burglar today?
Bill wasn’t the only trying to support his family – take Annie Oakley for example. This young lady became known for her sharpshooting skills at the age of 15, though she first picked up a gun as an eight-year-old while hunting to feed her mom and siblings after her father died.
Struggling just as much were the other main group Indians of the Old West, the Navajo tribe. Though considered one of the more wealthy aboriginal groups of the United States, Navajos still struggled to support their families.
One of the people’s heroes was the courageous Jesse James. Though he was an avid gang leader and train robber, he rarely got in trouble with the law since he acted as America’s Robin Hood – only stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
Following in our last outlaw’s footsteps was this rather young, multi-racial gang formed by Rufus Buck. Together these boys robbed both stores and ranches in the Arkansas-Oklahoma area for eight straight years before getting caught.
Those who ventured far across the land like our last group of men, were able to capture some pretty breathtaking views, as well as some much needed silence. This scenic photo is of the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. Today, the area is actually reserved as a National Monument!
Lastly, a woman named Pearl Hart proved that 19th century ladies also had a knack for sticky fingers. Though stagecoach robbery was Hart’s speciality, one day she was caught stealing from one in Arizona. Locking up Hart with all males, including the guards, was a mistake – she quickly managed to escape shortly after being imprisoned.