“Gunfighters of the Wild West”

Gunslingers of the Wild West

Gunslingers of the Wild West

1850-1890

In the Old West, there was little in the way of government law or police. Men would carry guns on them to protect themselves. Some were outlaws, and some were the lawmen who tried to stop them. Good aim and speed with a gun and a willingness to pull the trigger would make them famous. Today we call them gun fighters or gunslingers, but back then they were called gunmen or shootists. Let’s look at some of the famous individuals who gained a reputation for their exploits as gunslingers.

Wild Bill Hickok

Frontiersman, army scout, actor, and lawman
Started on the wrong side of the law
Killed two men in gunfights

Wild Bill Hickok was a law enforcement officer who helped bring order to the frontier West. His career as a gunslinger started on the wrong side of the law, killing men and being put on trial twice. Hickok was elected sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas in 1869. His reputation as a gunslinger continued when he killed two men in gunfights within his first month. In 1871, Wild Bill became marshal of Abilene, Kansas. During his shootout with saloon owner Phil Coe, he killed Coe before he could fire a shot at him. However, he accidentally fired two shots at his deputy Mike Williams, who he mistook for an outlaw, and killed him. He would regret this accident for the rest of his life. In 1876, in Deadwood, South Dakota, Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed instantly by Jack McCall.

Billy the Kid

Life in and out of jail
Participated in the Lincoln County War
Accused of killing a number of men

Billy the Kid spent most of his short life in and out of jail. He was a gunslinger in a feud between two factions in which both sides stole from and killed each other. Billy the Kid would participate in the Lincoln County War in New Mexico on the side of English entrepreneur John Tunstall and a vigilante gang called the Regulators. After the end of the conflict and his escape, Billy the Kid, whose real name was William Henry McCarty, was accused of killing a number of men and became a fugitive. In 1878, the Governor of New Mexico offered safety for Billy if he surrendered. However, the district attorney turned on Billy once they had him in custody. Billy escaped from jail, but three months later, was shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett while sneaking into a house at night.

Jesse and Frank James

Sympathetic to the Southern cause
Robbed banks and formed the James Gang
Killed by a disloyal associate

Jesse James was a bandit who was sympathetic to the Southern cause. He and his brother Frank fought against Union soldiers in the American Civil War and robbed banks after the war. They formed the James Gang and moved on to robbing trains, gaining a high price on their heads and becoming nationally famous. After robbing a bank in 1876, Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger were all captured and given life sentences. The James boys escaped, but Jesse was killed when the disloyal Bob Ford, who now wanted the reward money for Jesse James’s bounty, shot him in the back of the head in his hotel room.

Wyatt Earp

Famous lawman in several Wild West towns
Fought against cattle smugglers and horse thieves
Involved in the gunfight at the okay Corral

Wyatt Earp made his name as a famous lawman in several Wild West towns and earned the reputation as one of the toughest gunslingers of the Old West. His most famous showdown would be in Tombstone, Arizona, where he and his brothers, along with their friend Doc Holliday, took on cattle smugglers and horse thieves. The shootout, known as the gunfight at the okay Corral, resulted in the deaths of the McLaury and Clanton brothers. Wyatt Earp and his brothers were seen as a threat to their illegal activities.

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