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Books about the American West

13 Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo
by Lon Tinkle

“The story of the Alamo has been written many times but never so well as by the late Lon Tinkle, professor of French and comparative literature at Southern Methodist University.” — author and book editor of the Dallas Morning News

262 pages, Texas A&M; University Press; Reissue edition, 1996.

The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo–and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation
by James Donovan

On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican army led by dictator Santa Anna reached San Antonio and laid siege to about 175 Texas rebels holed up in the Alamo. The Texans refused to surrender for nearly two weeks until almost 2,000 Mexican troops unleashed a final assault. The defenders fought valiantly-for their lives and for a free and independent Texas-but in the end, they were all slaughtered. Their ultimate sacrifice inspired the rallying cry “Remember the Alamo!” and eventual triumph.

Exhaustively researched, and drawing upon fresh primary sources in U.S. and Mexican archives, THE BLOOD OF HEROES is the definitive account of this epic battle. Populated by larger-than-life characters–including Davy Crockett, James Bowie, William Barret Travis–this is a stirring story of audacity, valor, and redemption.

512 pages, Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition, 2012.

Encyclopedia Of Western Lawmen & Outlaws
by Jay Robert Nash

With over 1000 entries and 400 illustrations, this volume is the most fact-packed history of the West ever assembled. Crime historian extraordinaire Jay Robert Nash has left no stone unturned in his search for the gunmen, train robbers, gangs, desperadoes, range warriors, gamblers, and lawmen that roamed the frontier. Contrary to popular myth, the Wild West was not a glamorous land where chivalry and courage were the custom and a man died with his boots on. It was a land of incredible hardships—brutal weather, hunger and disease, and the constant threat of violent death. Everyone carried a six-shooter, neutrality was impossible, and violence unavoidable; lawmen and outlaws lived side by side, and often there was no telling one from the other. Into this land came pioneers lured by promises of great fortunes, ex-Confederate soldiers embittered by the outcome of the war, greedy cattle barons, and merchant princes. It was truly an explosive mixture.Included in this volume are all the great Western legends—Billy the Kid, Jesse and Frank James, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Judge Roy Bean, ”Wild Bill” Hickock—and a host of lesser-known figures who, though they may have missed notoriety, were equally lethal. And while the West was very much a man’s world, several women managed to shoot, steal, or gamble their way to fame—including Belle Starr, Pearl Hart, and Calamity Jane.A compelling read, Encyclopedia of Western Lawmen & Outlaws will be the standard reference for years to come. In addition to alphabetical listings, it offers a glossary of lawmen and a glossary of outlaws, a magnificent photo and illustration appendix, and an extensive bibliography of books on the American West.

584 pages, Da Capo Press; First Da Capo Press edition, 1994.

Tales Behind the Tombstones: The Deaths and Burials of the Old West’s Most Nefarious Outlaws, Notorious Women, and Celebrated Lawmen
by Chris Enss

Tales Behind the Tombstones tells the stories behind the deaths (or supposed deaths) and burials of the Old West’s most nefarious outlaws, notorious women, and celebrated lawmen. Readers will learn the story behind Calamity Jane’s wish to be buried next to Wild Bill Hickok, discover how and where the Earp brothers came to be buried, and visit the sites of tombs long forgotten while legends have lived on.

224 pages, TwoDot; First edition, 2007.

Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War
by T.J. Stiles

In this brilliant biography T. J. Stiles offers a new understanding of the legendary outlaw Jesse James. Although he has often been portrayed as a Robin Hood of the old west, in this ground-breaking work Stiles places James within the context of the bloody conflicts of the Civil War to reveal a much more complicated and significant figure.

Raised in a fiercely pro-slavery household in bitterly divided Misssouri, at age sixteen James became a bushwhacker, one of the savage Confederate guerrillas that terrorized the border states. After the end of the war, James continued his campaign of robbery and murder into the brutal era of reconstruction, when his reckless daring, his partisan pronouncements, and his alliance with the sympathetic editor John Newman Edwards placed him squarely at the forefront of the former Confederates’ bid to recapture political power. With meticulous research and vivid accounts of the dramatic adventures of the famous gunman, T. J. Stiles shows how he resembles not the apolitical hero of legend, but rather a figure ready to use violence to command attention for a political cause—in many ways, a forerunner of the modern terrorist.

544 pages, Vintage, 2003.

Beyond the Wild Bunch: The Fast-Growing Sport of Cowboy Action Shooting
by Gary Kieft

The first “coffee-table” book about the fast-growing sport of Cowboy Action Shooting. This book contains over 200 photographs illustrating the various aspects of Cowboy Action Shooting, including but not restricted to: firearm safety, firearm selection, and shooting tips and techniques. This fine book also includes the official guidelines for the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA).

160 pages, Dillon Precision Products Inc., 1999.

Action Shooting Cowboy Style
by John Taffin

The thunder of a Colt Peacemaker will ring in your ears as nationally known handgun expert John Taffin brings the lore of the wild west to the era of modern shooting competition. Feel the rich gun leather and taste the smoke of America’s fastest-growing shooting game. Every aspect is explained for shooters of all levels. Join the fun of cowboy-style shooting. Let John Taffin take you from the general store where he’ll show you the latest in old western garb, to the firing line where some of the fastest guns around drop the hammer in search of a winning score.

320 pages, KP Books, September 1999.

The Gun Digest Book of Cowboy Action Shooting: Guns · Gear · Tactics
by John Taffin

Fantasy gunfighting has never enjoyed as much popularity as it does today. This one-of-a-kind guide offers complete coverage of the sport from the top experts and personalities in the field. Well-known Single-Action Shooting Society (SASS) member Judge Roy Bean provides background information on Cowboy Action Shooting in “The Spirit of the Game,” and chapters from other experts, including “Getting Started” and “Dressing the Part & Choosing Your Alias” provide help for beginners.

All aspects of the sport are covered in the feature articles, including shooting techniques, how to choose a gun, stage setup and more. Shooting experts will gain more insight into the field and beginners will learn everything they need to know from this detailed guide. A valuable reference section in the latter part of the book contains a comprehensive catalog of equipment and suppliers for everything players will need.

-Reviews rules for the two main Cowboy Action Shooting organizations (SASS and National Congress of Old West Shootists) -Contains a directory of events around the country -Lists magazines, books and videos for shooting enthusiasts

256 pages, Gun Digest Books; 1St Edition, 2005.

The American West
by Dee Brown

The American West centers on three subjects: Native Americans, settlers, and ranchers. Dee Brown re-creates these groups struggles for their place in this new landscape and illuminates the history of the old West in a single volume, filled with maps and vintage photographs. In his spirited telling of this national saga, Brown demonstrates once again his abilities as a master storyteller and as an entertaining popular historian.

448 pages, Touchstone, 1995.

National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West: Capturing 125 Years of Majesty, Spirit, and Adventure
by James C. McNutt (Introduction)

The Wild West is perhaps the most enduring of American myths, but the reality is even more compelling. It’s a magical place of extraordinary people, exciting events, and stunning scenery–big sky, wide-open spaces, epic grandeur, and pristine wilderness. National Geographic brings together award-winning photographers to capture this outsized land of majestic dimensions and emotive power. Unparalled images–some iconic, some rarely or never-before-seen–speak to the powerful forces of nature and culture at work in the West and showcase the region as never before.

Divided into four chapters–Legends, Encounters, Boundaries, and Visions–renowned National Geographic photography, past and present, brings the magic and the mystery of the American West alive through the best of its collection. From red-rock waves of stone to rugged snow-capped mountains, from ghost towns to prairie dog towns, from cowboys to wild horses, National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West captures it all in spectacular color photography augmented by periodic archival photographs. The photographs weave together a visual tapestry–complemented by informative captions–of this rich, varied, and enduring landscape that is the American West.

304 pages, National Geographic, 2012.

Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait
by Karen Holliday Tanner

John H. Holliday, D. D. S., better known as Doc Holliday, has become a legendary figure in the history of the American West. In Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, Karen Holliday Tanner reveals the real man behind the legend. Shedding light on Holliday’s early years, in a prominent Georgia family during the Civil War and Reconstruction, she examines the elements that shaped his destiny: his birth defect, the death of his mother and estrangement from his father, and the diagnosis of tuberculosis, which led to his journey west. The influence of Holliday’s genteel upbringing never disappeared, but it was increasingly overshadowed by his emerging western personality. Holliday himself nurtured his image as a frontier gambler and gunman.

Using previously undisclosed family documents and reminiscences as well as other primary sources, Tanner documents the true story of Doc’s friendship with the Earp brothers and his run-ins with the law, including the climactic shootout at the O. K. Corral and its aftermath.

This first authoritative biography of Doc Holliday should appeal both to historians of the West and to general readers who are interested in his poignant story.

“Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait will be considered the definitive Holliday biography and will supplant all previously published works on the man’s life as a complete and authoritative account. This book will undoubtedly take a place among the foremost books in the Western gunfighter genre.” – Robert K. DeArment, author of Alias Frank Canton<

338 pages, Univiversity of Oklahoma Press; First Edition edition, 1998.

John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas
by Leon C. Metz

Thus spoke one lawman about John Wesley Hardin, easily the most feared and fearless of all the gunfighters in the West. Nobody knows the exact number of his victims- perhaps as few as twenty or as many as fifty. In his way of thinking, Hardin never shot a man who did not deserve it. Seeking to gain insight into Hardin’s homicidal mind, Leon Metz describes how Hardin’s bloody career began in post-Civil War Central Texas, when lawlessness and killings were commonplace, and traces his life of violence until his capture and imprisonment in 1878. After numerous unsuccessful escape attempts, Hardin settled down and received a pardon years later in 1895. He wrote an autobiography but did not live to see it published. Within a few months of his release, John Selman gunned him down in an El Paso saloon.

352 pages, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic
by William C. Davis

In the whirlwind of revolutions in the Americas, the Texas Revolution stands at the confluence of northern and southern traditions. On the battlefield and in the political aftermath, settlers from the United States struggled with those who brought revolutionary ideas from Latin America and arms from Mexico. In the midst of the conflict stood the Tejanos who had made Texas home for generations.

This masterpiece of narrative and analysis, first published in hardback in 2004, brings the latest scholarship to bear on the oldest questions. Well-known characters such as Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and General Santa Anna—and the cultures they represented—are etched in sharp and very human relief as they carve out the republic whose Lone Star rose in 1836 and changed the course of a continent.

376 pages, Texas A&M; University Press, 2006.

The Railroaders (Old West Time-Life Series)
by Keith Wheeler & the Editors of Time Life Books

This book, as others in the series, features many wonderful photos from the era, maps, and other features that assist the reader in helping to understand the importance of the development of railroads in the Old West. Like all the other books in The Old West Series, it is bound in immitation leather and profusely illustrated.

240 pages, Time-Life Books; First edition, 1973.

The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History
by Frederick Nolan

The legend of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico and its most romantic figure, Billy the Kid, holds a special place in the history of the American West. Fueled by greed, propelled by religious and racial prejudice, inflamed by liquor and firearms, the war was a struggle to the death for the economic domination of a region where both sides saw enormous opportunity for acquiring wealth. In the end, neither side won and both suffered tremendous losses, human and financial.

John Tunstall, the McSweens, Jimmy Dolan, Billy the Kid, the Hispanic townspeople of Lincoln, the outsiders who tried to understand what was happening and restore law and order to the strife-torn territory–all speak out, and Frederick Nolan weaves their stories and opinions together with his own insightful commentary to produce a seamless, immensely readable account enlivened with eighty-three photographs and three maps.

Selected by True West magazine as one of its Fifty Greatest Western Books of the 20th Century, acknowledged to be the fullest and most carefully researched study of perhaps the most famous feud in the history of the American West, Frederick Nolan’s masterwork, The Lincoln County War, A Documentary History, the result of fifty years of research, is now presented in a new edition which includes an addendum with corrections and additions, together with a new foreword by the author.

“The standard reference encyclopedia on the Lincoln County War.” — K. Steven Monk, Old West historian

“I have no hesitation in labeling Frederick Nolan the world’s foremost authority on the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid. No one comes close to knowing and understanding as much. His works have vastly enriched the historiography of this significant segment of western American history.” –Robert M. Utley

712 pages, Sunstone Press, 2009.

Ghost Towns of the West
by Lambert Florin

Prepared by the West’s most traveled spook hunter, this is an accurate guide to over 400 ghost towns in the western U.S. and Canada. With tales of greed and gold, pictures of dust-blown ruins in the coyote country, and specters drifting out of shaft heads, the author brings back that other life in the ageless West. Hundreds of rare photos make the ghosts of the early West walk again.

872 pages, BBS Publishing Corporation, 1986.

Ghost Towns of California: Your Guide to the Hidden History and Old West Haunts of California
by Philip Varney

Ghost Towns of California is a guidebook to the state’s best boomtowns. Once thriving, these abandoned mining camps and pioneer villages still ring with history.

Ghost town expert Philip Varney equips you with everything you need to know to explore these remnants of the past. Featured are color maps, driving and walking directions, town histories, touring recommendations, and stunning color photography of 70 sites, including the famous Bodie. Come see where it all started at the mother lode, and trace the great migration throughout the region. Visit the northern mines and the ghosts of San Francisco Bay, the Eastern Sierra, Death Valley, and the Mojave Desert. This is the essential guidebook to the glory days of the Old West!

240 pages, Voyageur Press; First edition, 2012.

Ghost Towns of the American West
by Berthold Steinhilber

German freelance photographer Steinhilber gathers 80 full-color photographs of Western ghost towns in this glossy testament to the boom-and-bust of the Gold Rush era. On commission from Smithsonian Magazine, Steinhilber set up his tripod in 19 different abandoned places, shooting as darkness fell; with a powerful headlamp and long exposures, he captured crumbling buildings, old chimneys and rotting mills. With richly blue skies in the background, and the light catching the tips of grasses or the curve of pebbles in the foreground, these pictures show the buildings illuminated as if by klieg lights; the effect is to render them eerily, glowingly clear. They look fake, even-like Hollywood back lot renditions of saloons and mines (some of the buildings were actually featured in TV and film westerns). The effect grows a little stale, and the more traditional shots-interiors with old portraits and school desks, barbershop chairs and typewriters-are not especially interesting. But the spooky exterior shots are a startling way to look at towns that sprang up quickly and died nearly as swiftly, and the captions offering thumbnail sketches of places like Manhattan, Nev. (which “a few determined people” still call home) and Bodie, Calif., are fine historical tidbits.

120 pages, Harry N. Abrams; First Edition, 2003.

Ghost Towns of the Southwest: Your Guide to the Historic Mining Camps and Ghost Towns of Arizona and New Mexico
by Jim Hinckley

For centuries, the stunning panoramas of Arizona and New Mexico served as the backdrop for a veritable cavalcade of human history. From Anasazi cities built within towering canyon walls to early outpost villages of an expanding young nation, the Southwest served as the home to a range of communities that first thrived and ultimately demised in the region’s rugged, sprawling landscapes. Today, the Southwest lures visitors with its majestic natural scenery and links to a fascinating chapter in our nation’s history. In Ghost Towns of the Southwest, Jim Hinckley and Kerrick James present the colorful stories, colorful characters, and colorful landscapes that bring to life these landmarks of our past.

256 pages, Voyageur Press; First edition, 2010.

Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend
by Robert K. DeArment

The colorful figures of the western American frontier, the Indian fighters, the mountain men, the outlaws, and the lawmen, have been romanticized for more than a hundred years by writers who found it easier to invent history than the research it. “Bat” Masterson was one such character who cast a long shadow across the pages of western history as it has been routinely depicted.

“A legend in his own time,” he was called in a television series produced in the 1960’s. A legend he has become—one firmly fixed in the popular imagination. But in his own time W.B. Masterson was a man, a less-than-perfect creature subject to the same temptations and vices as his fellows, albeit one who, through circumstance and inclination, led an exciting life in an exciting time and place. As buffalo hunter, army scout, peace officer, professional gambler, sportsman, promoter, and newspaperman, Masterson’s career was stormy and eventful.

Surprising to many readers will be the account of Masterson’s career after his peace officer days, during his employment as a sports writer and columnist. The gun-toting western peace officer reputed to have killed more men than Billy the Kid (not so, says DeArment) spent his last years happily in New York City, writing for a nationally known newspaper.

This book, the product of more than twenty years of research, separates fact from fiction to extricate the story of his life from the legend that has enmeshed it. It is the most complete biography of Bat Masterson ever written.
442 pages, University of Oklahoma Press; Second Edition edition, 1989.

The West of the Imagination
by William H. Goetzmann

A landmark overview of western American art, the original edition of The West of the Imagination brought the region to wide public attention as a companion to a popular PBS series of the same name. This book, significantly expanded and updated, shows that the West is a vibrant mirror of American cultural diversity. Through 450 illustrations—more than 300 in color—the authors trace the visual evolution of the myth of the American West, from unknown frontier to repository of American values, covering popular and high arts alike.

640 pages, University of Oklahoma Press; Second Edition, 2009.

The Cowboys (Old West Time-Life Series)
by William H. Forbis & the Editors of Time Life Books

Yet one more in the Time-Life “Old West” series. . . . Here, the focus is cowboys. As the work says at the outset, outlining context for what is to follow (Page 17): “The high time of the American cowboy lasted a bare generation, from the end of the Civil War until the mid-1880s, when bad weather, poor range management and disastrous cattle-market prices forced an end to the old freewheeling ways.”

250 pages, Time-Life Books; Revised edition, 1973.

Cowtown Wichita and the Wild, Wicked West
by Stan Hoig

Before she was Wichita, Kansas, she was a collection of grass huts, home to the ancestors of the Wichita Indians. Then came the Spanish conquistadors, seeking gold but finding instead vast herds of buffalo.

After the Civil War, Wichita played host to a cavalcade of Western men: frontier soldiers, Indian warriors, buffalo hunters, border ruffians, hell-for-leather Texas cattle drovers, ready-to-die gunslingers, and steel-eyed lawmen. Peerless Princess of the Plains, they called her.

Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson were here, but so were Jesse Chisholm, Jack Ledford, Rowdy Joe and Rowdy Kate, Buffalo Bill Mathewson, Marshall Mike Meagher, Indian trader James Mead, Oklahoma Harry Hill, city founder Dutch Bill Greiffenstein, and a host of colorful characters like you’ve never known before.

Stan Hoig depicts a once-rambunctious cowtown on the Chisholm Cattle Trail, neighbor to the lawless Indian Territory, roaring and bucking through its Wild West days toward becoming a major American city.

Cowtown Wichita and the Wild, Wicked West provides tribute to those sometimes valiant, sometimes wicked, sometimes hilarious, and often audacious characters who played a role in shaping Wichita’s past.

224 pages, University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

Queen of Cowtowns Dodge City
by Stanley Vestal

Western Americana. Though representative, Dodge City was not just another cowtown; beginning as a military post it was the booming camp of the buffalo hunters before it became the greatest cattle market in the world.

297 pages, University of Nebraska Press, 1972.


Single Action Shooting Society (SASS)
The Single Action Shooting Society is an international organization created to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting™. SASS endorses regional matches conducted by affiliated clubs, stages END of TRAIL The World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, promulgates rules and procedures to ensure safety and consistency in Cowboy Action Shooting matches, and seeks to protect its members’ 2nd Amendment rights. SASS members share a common interest in preserving the history of the Old West and competitive shooting.
Read more…

An Unforgetable Era

For all its glamour and glory, the era in American history known as the Old West lasted, in reality, for only about 30 years… roughly, from about the end of the Civil War in 1865, until about 1895. By that time, the Indians were all on reservations, the great cattle ranges had all been fenced, the notorious outlaws of the Old West were all either behind bars or dead, and the great lawmen who put them there were writing books about their brave and daring exploits. In so many ways, the end of an era in American history had come to pass. But it had been no ordinary era, its phenomenal influence on our culture extending well into and even beyond the 20th century.

A Chronological History of the Old West


February 23 – March 6, 1836 – The Siege of the Alamo. Thirteen days of glory. On February 23, Mexican troops under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna entered San Antonio de Bexar, Texas and surrounded the Alamo Mission. The Alamo was defended by a small force of Texians and Tejanos, led by William Barrett Travis and James Bowie, and included Davy Crockett. The siege ended when the Mexican Army launched an early-morning assault on March 6. Almost all of the defenders were killed, although several civilians survived.


September 5, 1847 – Jesse Woodson James Born. Seen by some as a vicious murderer and by others as a gallant Robin Hood, the famous outlaw Jesse Woodson James is born on this day in 1847, in Clay County, Missouri. He was the third of four children born to Robert and Zerelda Cole James, both Kentucky natives. Jesse James had an older brother Frank, a brother, Robert, who died in infancy, and a younger sister, Susan. His father was a slave-owning farmer and popular Baptist minister in Clay County. Intending to preach to the gold miners, lured by the prospect of gold, or simply restless, Robert James left his family and traveled to California when Jesse was three years old. He never returned to Missouri, dying—probably of cholera—in a gold mining camp in 1850.


March 19, 1848 – Wyatt Earp Born. Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp is born in Monmouth, Illinois. He is the fourth child of Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp, after James, Virgil, and Martha. From Nicholas’ first marriage, Wyatt had an older half-brother, Newton. Wyatt was named after his father’s old army captain, Wyatt Berry Stapp, whom he served under during the Mexican War. Wyatt spent his early life in Illinois and Iowa. Wyatt’s younger brothers Morgan and Warren and sisters Virginia Ann and Adelia were born between 1851 and 1861. Martha and Virginia Ann died in childhood.


June 5, 1850 – Patrick Floyd Garrett born. Patrick Floyd Garrett was born in Cusseta, Alabama, and grew up on a prosperous Louisiana plantation near Haynesville in northern Claiborne Parish, just below the Arkansas state line. He left home in 1869 and found work as a cowboy in Dallas County, Texas. In 1875, he left to hunt buffalo. In 1878, Garrett shot and killed a fellow hunter who charged at Garrett with a hatchet following a disagreement over buffalo hides. As he lay dying, the hunter brought Garrett to tears upon asking him to forgive him.

Patrick Floyd Jarvis Garrett
(June 5, 1850 – February 29, 1908).
For a full size view of this photo click here.


August 14, 1851 – Doc Holliday Born. John Henry “Doc” Holliday is born in Griffin, Georgia in the family home on Tinsley Street. He was the second child born to Henry Burroughs and Alice Jane Holliday. Their first child, Martha Eleanora Holliday, had died in infancy on June 12, 1850, possibly due to diphtheria. The exact date of Doc Holliday’s birth, for many years a mystery, was taken from a family bible.


May 26, 1853 – John Wesley Hardin Born. In terms of the total number of men killed, John Wesley Hardin was considered by many to be the Old West’s most deadly killer. He was born in Bonham, Texas into a well respected family. His father was a Methodist preacher, schoolteacher, and lawyer. His grandfather had served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas, other forebears had signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. Nobody expected his life to turn out the way that it did.


December 31, 1859 – William Henry Roberts born in Buffalo Gap, Texas. If it were not for the claims of an old character known as Brushy Bill Roberts in Hico, Texas in 1950, the name of William Henry Roberts would be unknown to historians today. His claim, which he never admitted to until a certain researcher named William V. Morrison confronted him with evidence of, was that he was none other than the legendary outlaw, Billy the Kid. Once Roberts admitted to his true identity, he produced some very convincing evidence, which he had kept in an old trunk, to prove who he was. Whatsmore, Brushy had scars on his body in many of the places where the Kid was known to have had them. As Roberts related his story to Morrison, he told him many things about his involvement in the Lincoln County War that only someone who had been there could have known.

For the complete story on William Henry “Brushy Bill” Roberts, click here. Then ask yourself, who did Pat Garrett really kill in the darkness of that room in Fort Sumner, New Mexico on that night so long ago?


April 3, 1860 – The Poney Express established. The first Westbound Pony Express trip left St. Joseph on April 3, 1860 and arrived ten days later in San Francisco, California, on April 14. These letters were sent under cover from the East to St. Joseph, and never directly entered the U.S. mail system. To this day there is only a single letter known to exist from the inaugural westbound trip from St. Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco, California.[20] The mailing depicted below is on a pre- stamped (embossed) envelope, first issued by the U.S. Post Office in 1855, used five years later here.

The first eastbound Pony Express trip left San Francisco, California, on April 3, 1860 and arrived at its destination some ten days later in St. Joseph, Missouri. From St. Joseph, letters were placed in the U.S. mails for delivery to eastern destinations. There are only two letters known to exist from the inaugural eastbound trip from San Francisco to St. Joseph.

There were 184 stations along the long and arduous route used by the Pony Express. The stations and station keepers were essential to the successful, timely and smooth operation of the Pony Express mail system. The stations were often fashioned out of existing structures, several of them located in military forts, while others were built anew in remote areas where living conditions were very basic. The route was divided up into five Divisions. To maintain the rigid schedule, 157 relay stations were located from 5 to 25 miles apart as the terrain would allow for. At each swing station, riders would exchange their tired mounts for fresh ones, while “home stations” provided room and board for the riders between runs. This technique allowed the mail to be whisked across the continent in record time. Each rider rode about 75 miles per day.


October 24, 1861 – The First Transcontinental Telegraph established. The federal contract authorized through the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 was awarded to Hiram Sibley, the president of the Western Union Company. He then formed a consortium between Western Union and the telegraph companies in California: to share the efforts of constructing the overland telegraph, to split up the federal and state subsidies, and to share any profits from operation of the line. The newly consolidated Overland Telegraph Company of California would build the line eastward from Carson City (the eastern terminus of their lines), using the newly developed central route though Nevada and Utah. At the same time, the Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska was formed by Sibley. It would construct a line westward from Omaha, essentially using the eastern portion of the Oregon Trail. The lines would meet at a station in Salt Lake City.

Materials for the line were collected in late 1860, and construction proceeded during the second half of 1861. Major problems in provisioning the construction teams were overcome, and there was a constant shortage of sources of telegraph poles on the plains of the Midwest and the deserts of the Great Basin. The line from Omaha reached Salt Lake City on October 18, 1861, and the line from Carson City was completed on October 24.


May 10, 1869 – First Transcontinental Railroad. Opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the “Last Spike” with a silver hammer at Promontory Summit, the road established a mechanized transcontinental transportation network that revolutionized the settlement and economy of the American West by bringing these western states and territories firmly and profitably into the “Union” and making goods and transportation much quicker, cheaper and much more flexible from coast to coast.

The First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the “Pacific Railroad” and later as the “Overland Route”) was a 1,907-mile contiguous railroad line constructed between 1863 and 1869 across the western United States to connect the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay with the existing Eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River. The rail line was built by three private companies: the original Western Pacific Railroad Company between Oakland and Sacramento, California (132 miles), the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California eastward from Sacramento to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory (690 miles), and the Union Pacific Railroad Company westward to Promontory Summit from the road’s statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs on the eastern shore of the Missouri River opposite Omaha, Nebraska (1,085 miles).


June 27, 1874 – Second Battle of Adobe Walls fought. The battle was between Comanche forces and a group of twenty-eight U.S. bison hunters defending the settlement of Adobe Walls, Texas, in what is now Hutchinson County, Texas. Adobe Walls was scarcely more than a lone island in the vast sea of the Plains, a solitary refuge uncharted and practically unknown.

Adobe Walls was the name of a trading post in the Texas Panhandle, just north of the Canadian River. In 1845, an Adobe fort was built there to house the post, but it was blown up by the traders three years later after repeated Indian attacks. In 1864, the ruins were the site of one of the largest battles ever to take place on the Great Plains. Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson led 335 soldiers from New Mexico and 72 Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts against a force of more than one thousand Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache. The Indian army forced Carson to retreat, though he was acclaimed as a hero for successfully striking a blow against the Indians and for leading his men out of the trap with minimal casualties. This is known as the First Battle of Adobe Walls.

On June 5, 1874, Hanrahan and his party of hunters departed Dodge City for Adobe Walls and on the 7th, at Sharp’s Creek, seventy-five miles southwest of Dodge, the party encountered a band of Cheyenne Indians who ran off all of their cattle stock. The party then joined a wagon train which was en route to the Walls and accompanied them, arriving just hours before the major battle took place. Some 28 men were then present at Adobe Walls, including James Hanrahan (the saloon owner), a 20-year old Bat Masterson, William “Billy” Dixon (whose famous long-distance rifle shot effectively ended the siege), and one woman, the wife of cook William Olds.

Billy Dixon’s lucky shot. Controversy prevails over the exact range of the shot; although Baker and Harrison set it at about one thousand yards, a post-battle survey by a team of US Army surveyors, under the command of Nelson A. Miles, measured the distance of the shot: 1,538 yards, or nine-tenths of a mile. For the rest of his life, Billy Dixon never claimed the shot was anything other than a lucky one; his memoirs do not devote even a full paragraph to “the shot”.


April 21, 1875 – Wyatt Earp joins the Wichita marshal’s office. Earp officially joined the Wichita marshal’s office on April 21, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal (or police chief), making $100 per month. He also dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon.

In late 1875, the Wichita Beacon newspaper published this story:

On last Wednesday (December 8), policeman Earp found a stranger lying near the bridge in a drunken stupor. He took him to the ‘cooler’ and on searching him found in the neighborhood of $500 on his person. He was taken next morning, before his honor, the police judge, paid his fine for his fun like a little man and went on his way rejoicing. He may congratulate himself that his lines, while he was drunk, were cast in such a pleasant place as Wichita as there are but a few other places where that $500 bank roll would have been heard from. The integrity of our police force has never been seriously questioned.

Earp was embarrassed in early 1876 when his loaded single-action revolver fell out of his holster while he was leaning back on a chair and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. The bullet went through his coat and out through the ceiling.

Wyatt’s stint as Wichita deputy came to a sudden end on April 2, 1876, when Earp took too active an interest in the city marshal’s election. According to news accounts, former marshal Bill Smith accused Wyatt of using his office to help hire his brothers as lawmen. Wyatt got into a fistfight with Smith and beat him. Meagher was forced to fire Earp and arrest him for disturbing the peace, which ended a tour of duty that the papers called otherwise “unexceptionable”. When Meagher won the election, the city council was split evenly on re-hiring Earp. When his brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, Kansas, Wyatt joined him.


June 25, 1876 – Battle of the Little Big Horn. George Armstrong Custer and approximately 200 men of the U.S. 7th Cavalry are annihilated at the Little Big Horn in Montana by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under the leadership of Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

August 2, 1876 – Wild Bill Hickok Shot Dead! James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok is killed in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. He was shot in the back of the head by a man named Jack McCall while playing cards in Saloon No. 10 of this Black Hills mining town. The hand he was holding was a pair of aces and a pair of eights, forever after known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

September 7, 1876 – The James-Younger Gang tries to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. The robbery was the gang’s first serious disaster. The Younger brothers were caught and sent to prison. The James brothers fled and eventually settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where they lived under assumed names. Jesse became “Thomas Howard” and Frank became “B. J. Woodson.”


April 28, 1881 – Billy the Kid’s Daring Escape. In what is now considered the boldest escape in western history, Billy the Kid regains his freedom by killing deputies Bob Bell and Bob Olinger. The Kid was being held in the Lincoln County Courthouse in Lincoln, New Mexico pending his hanging which had been scheduled in the following month. It is suspected that he accomplished this daring by having someone slip him a revolver by hiding it in the outhouse in back of the courthouse. No one is really sure just how he got the weapon, but the fact is very well established that he did get it, and that he used it to good advantage in effecting his escape. He killed Bob Bell with this revolver. Deputy Bob Olinger was just finishing breakfast in the hotel’s diner at the time and, when he heard the shots that killed Bell, came running across the street to investigate. He was almost across when he stopped to look up at a second story window to see Billy the Kid sitting in it with Olinger’s own shotgun, aimed right at him. It was the last thing on this earth that Olinger ever saw. The Kid let go with both barrels, riddling Olinger with more than two dozen buckshot. He was dead when he hit the ground and Billy the Kid was once again a free man.

July 14, 1881 – Billy the Kid Killed? In a shootout around midnight at the home of Pete Maxwell in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Sheriff Pat Garrett shot a man who he alleged to be Billy the Kid. But William Henry Roberts, who died of old age in Hico, Texas in 1950, tells a different story. He claimed to be none other than Billy the Kid himself and presented some mighty convincing evidence to back up his claim. Click on the about links to read the full story.

The above photo is of Fort Sumner, with the house of the Maxwell family being the large building located in the center. The room where Billy was allegedly killed is the corner room nearest the photographer. At the time of the shooting, the house was only one-story, with the second story being added in 1882. For a full size view of this photo click here.

October 26, 1881 – Gunfight “Near” the OK Corral. In what is now known as the Gunfight “Near” the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, the three “fighting” Earps (Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan) and Doc Holliday shoot it out with the cowboy faction in this Old West silver camp in what is now regarded as the West’s most celebrated gunfight. Outcome: three cowboys dead, two Earps wounded. Doc Holliday was nicked by a shot. The Earps and Holliday are exonerated of the killings in a subsequent trial, but are forced to leave Arizona Territory because of the vengeance of the cowboy faction.


November 8, 1887 – Doc Holliday Dies Peacefully. At about ten o’clock in the morning, John Henry “Doc” Holliday dies at the Hotel Glenwood in Glenwood Springs, Colorado of miliary tuberculosis. He was buried near Palmer Avenue and Twelfth Street in the Linwood Cemetery that afternoon at four o’clock, at a service attended by many friends. Big Nose Kate arranged for the eulogy to be delivered by the Reverend W. S. Rudolph of the Presbyterian Church.


October 5, 1892 – The Dalton Gang Goes Down at Coffeeville. The Dalton gang is wiped out by the citizenry of this small Kansas town when the gang attempts the simultaneous robbery of two of its banks. They had put on fake beards upon coming into the town, but they were so well known in Coffeeville, a town they had grown up in, that someone recognized them through the disquises and shouted an alarm. Immediately, nearly every able bodied man in town grabbed a rifle or revolver and commenced to firing on the Daltons. The gang was literally shot to rag dolls. The Daltons were one of the last of the great outlaw gangs of the Old West, and their downfall marked the passing of an era in outlaw history. Never again would a horseback-mounted band of outlaws attempt such a bold and brazen act of outlawry in the American West.

The last photograph of the Dalton Gang. After the citizens of Coffeeville wiped out the Daltons during the gang’s attempted raid on two banks, they laid the fallen members of the gang out on some boards and snapped this photo. From left to right the gang members are Bill Powers, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and Dick Broadwell. For a full size view of this photo, click here.


September 1, 1893 – The Gunfight at Ingalls. A large posse led by John Hixon and including such members as Jim Masterson, Dick Speed, Lafe Shadley, and Tom Houston attempt a surprise attack on the Doolin Gang in Ingalls, a shabby and remote excuse for a town in Oklahoma Territory. The attempt to surprise the outlaws was foiled and what then insued has become one of the most celebrated shootouts in Old West history, rivaling in notoriety the one in Tombstone at the OK Corral 12 years earlier. Outcome: three lawmen killed, two outlaws wounded. All the outlaws, except for “Arkansas” Tom Daugherty, escaped. Arkansas Tom held officers at bay from a position of concealment in an attic of the town’s “cat house” while his outlaw comrades made good their escape. He was captured by the posse after ammunition for his Winchester and revolvers had given out.


May 4, 1895 – Doolin Gang Train Robbery. The Bill Doolin gang robs a Rock Island train near Dover, Oklahoma Territory, taking several thousand dollars from the express car and passengers.

August 19, 1895 – John Wesley Hardin Killed. On July 19, 1895, at around 11:00 p.m., Hardin was playing dice in El Paso’s Acme Saloon with grocer H.S. Brown. Suddenly a shadow darkened the doorway at Hardin’s back. The shadow belonged to Constable John Selman, himself a notorious mankiller with a dark past. The other patrons in the saloon quit talking. The only sounds came from the two men throwing dice, at 25cents a throw. Hardin had just thrown the dice and rolled up four sixes when Selman pointed his six-shooter at the back of Hardin’s head and pulled the trigger. Hardin spun around to face his killer, a hole showing at the corner of his left eye – the exit wound of the bullet that had passed through his brain. Witnesses said Hardin reached for his six-shooter as he fell to the floor. Selman kept shooting, even as Hardin lay prostrate, his life fluids rapidly forming a gooey lake on the barroom floor. Selman’s son, John, Jr., ran into the bar and took his father by the arm and pleaded: “Don’t shoot him anymore. He’s already dead.”


April 5, 1896 – John Selman Killed. On the night of April 5, 1896, Selman was killed in a shootout by US Marshal George Scarborough. The two men had been playing cards and gotten into an argument. It has been alleged that the argument that night was due to Scarborough having been good friends with Outlaw, who had been killed on that same date two years earlier by Selman. However, this is highly unlikely, as Scarborough and Selman had known one another for many years, and Outlaw was generally disliked by the other Rangers and was buried with no mourners present. Also, Selman had killed Hardin, who had in the past had serious disputes with Scarborough. Instead, it is far more likely that Scarborough’s own testimony when he was tried for killing Selman was actually truthful. By this time, Young John had fallen in love with a Mexican girl, whose father, an ambassador, disapproved. He had the younger Selman jailed in Juarez. On this particular night, Selman, who had also been drinking with Scarborough, had prevailed upon him to help spring Young John from the jail across the border. Scarborough, usually a far more cautious type, had tried to decline, stirring Selman’s wrath. According to Scarborough, it was Selman who drew on him first, and Scarborough then killed Selman in self-defense. There were no other witnesses to the shooting. According to Scarborough, both men exited to the alley and “shot it out”, after which Scarborough returned alone. Scarborough was arrested for murder because it was found that Selman had no gun. Just before his trial, a thief by the name of Cole Belmont, alias Kid Clark, was arrested and it was discovered he had Selman’s gun. The thief stated that he had seen the shooting, and stolen Sellman’s gun, loaded and cocked, before the crowd arrived. Scarborough was acquitted on murder charges and released.


February 29, 1908 – Patt Garrett murdered in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The circumstances surrounding Pat Garrett’s death remain unclear to this day. It is generally believed by most historians that a man named Wayne Brazel murdered Pat Garrett. Brazel was tried for the crime but acquitted on the grounds of self defense. Another suspect in Garrett’s murder was Jim Miller, a hired killer, but it is generally believed that Miller was in Oklahoma at the time of the killing.

The Garrett family cemetery in Las Cruces at the Masonic Cemetery. Garrett’s body was laid to rest next to his daughter, Ida, who had preceded him in death eight years earlier. For a full size view of this photo click here.


January 13, 1929 – Wyatt Earp dies. The last surviving Earp brother and the last surviving participant of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp died at home in the Earps’ small apartment at 4004 W 17th Street, in Los Angeles, of chronic cystitis (some sources cite prostate cancer) on January 13, 1929 at the age of 80. His Associated Press obituary described him as a “gun-fighter, whose blazing six-shooters, were for most of his life allied with the side of law and order”. It gave prominent attention to his officiating of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight. His pallbearers were W. J. Hunsaker, (Earp’s attorney in Tombstone and noted L.A. attorney); Jim Mitchell (Los Angeles Examiner reporter and Hollywood screenwriter); George W. Parsons (founding member of Tombstone’s “Committee of Vigilance”); Wilson Mizner (a friend of Wyatt’s during the Klondike Gold Rush); John Clum (a good friend from his days in Tombstone, former Tombstone mayor, and editor of The Tombstone Epitaph); William S. Hart (good friend and western actor and silent film star); and Tom Mix (friend and western film star). Mitchell wrote Wyatt’s local obituary. The newspapers reported that Tom Mix cried during his friend’s service. His wife Josie was too grief-stricken to attend. Josie, who was of Jewish heritage, had Earp’s body cremated and buried his ashes in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California.

Although it never was incorporated as a town, the settlement formerly known as Drennan located near the site of some of his mining claims was renamed Earp, California in his honor when the post office was established there in 1930. At the time of his death, he was more famous for his decision ending the Fitzimmons-Sharkey fight than for the Tombstone shootout.

When she died in 1944, Josie’s ashes were buried next to Earp’s. The original gravemarker was stolen on July 8, 1957 but was later recovered. Their gravesite is the most visited resting place in the Jewish cemetery.

Wyatt Earp at his home in Los Angeles in 1923. He was about 75 years old when this photo was taken. For a full size view of this photo click here.

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