Here are some snippets and bits of trivia about the Old West. You may or may not be able to use them in your writing, but they do make interesting reading.
Rumor has it that the habit of spreading sawdust on the floor of a bar or saloon began in Deadwood, South Dakota. So many miners were spilling gold dust that saloon owners began using sawdust to hide how much dust was actually on the floor. At the end of the night, the dust (and gold) would be swept up and separated.
“Hanging” Judge Roy Bean once killed a Mexican official in a battle over a young lady. A friend of the official tried hanging Bean, but the young lady cut him down in time to save his life. However, afterwards, the judge could never fully turn his head due to his injuries.
The term “red light district” came from the Red Light Bordello in Dodge City, Kansas. The entire front door was made of red glass, and the glow lit the way to the brothel. The name later came to mean that entire part of the city.
Wyatt Earp was indicted for horse theft in Van Buren, Arkansas on May 8, 1871. He jumped bail to escape his trial and fled to Kansas.
Harry Longabaugh became known as the Sundance Kid because he served a term in Sundance, Wyoming for horse theft.
The Oregon Trail, from Independence, Missouri to Fort Vancouver, Washington, measured 2,020 miles. An estimated 350,000 emigrants took this route. One in 17 died along the way. The most common cause of death was cholera.
The infamous Dalton Gang only operated for a year and five months – beginning with a train robbery in Wharton, Oklahoma on May 9, 1891 and ending with the shootout at Coffeyville, Kansas on October 5, 1892.
Although the term “stick ‘em up” is widely used in Western film and literature, the term wasn’t actually coined until the 1930s.
In Tombstone, Arizona’s brief heyday (from 1878 to 1886) some 80 million dollars’ worth of silver was mined there.
America’s first train robbery is believed to have taken place on October 6, 1855 in Jackson County, Indiana. The two bandits, John and Simeon Reno, got away with $13,000 from the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad.
From the end of the Civil War until 1890, some 10 million head of cattle were driven from Texas to Kansas.
On September 8, 1883, Sitting Bull delivered a speech at the celebration of driving the last spike in the Northern Pacific railroad joining the transcontinental system. He delivered this speech in the Sioux language, deviating from the one prepared for him by the army translator. In this speech, Sitting Bull denounced the army, settlers, and the U.S. Government, though listeners believed he was praising them. Periodically, the Lakota chief would pause for applause, bow and smile, then continue insulting the audience as the translator delivered the original speech in English.
The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral only lasted about 30 seconds.
Jesse James was called “Dingus” by his friends.
The telephone was invented in 1876. After the White House, the first community to have one was Deadwood, South Dakota.
According to witnesses, Wild Bill Hickock could hit a dime tossed into the air nine out of ten times at 25 paces. At the same distance, he could knock an apple from a tree with one shot, then hit the same apple on the way to the ground.
Doc Holliday claimed he almost lost his life nine times. Four attempts to hang him were made, and he was shot at five times.
Annie Oakley (Phoebe Anne Mozee) never lived further west than Ohio.
The first gold rush in the United States was not the California gold rush of 1849 – it took place in Georgia in 1828. It was her that terms such as bonanza, gold digger, placer and gold belt were coined.
After surviving decades of notorious outlaws, retired marshal Bill Tighman was shot and killed by a corrupt Prohibition Officer in 1924 – he was 70.
About one-third of gunmen died of “natural causes,” living 70 or so years. Of those who did die violently (shot or executed), the average life span was 35. Gunfighters-turned-lawmen lived longer lives than their totally criminal counterparts.
One practice credited to the Old West is the Indian practice of taking scalps. However, that actually began in the French and Indian War when General Edward Braddock offered five pounds sterling to his soldiers and their Indian allies for every French scalp. The Indians actually learned the practice from the British.
Female bandit Pearl Hart was the last person to rob a stagecoach in the Old West in 1899.