For some reason, a lot of people are smitten with the Wild West. Is it because it focused on a time when conquest, survival and the merging of peoples and cultures which ultimately led to the strong continuance of American life? Or is it because it was a time of gun toting cowboys, open land and air where everything and nothing was impossible? Either way, it was a quite a time to be alive which is why we pulled together rare photos of life in the Wild West, take a look!
Never heard of Goldie Griffith? Well you’re about to, she was a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but she wasn’t a nobody. Griffith was well known for her sick abilities as a boxer and wrestler, further she even rode broncos and other acts. Once, in New York City, she even famously rode her horse up the steps of Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb and was referred to as “the gol darndest gal who ever sat leather.” She was a tough cookie! But she wasn’t the only one bad-a$$ in the Wild West.
John Wilson Vermillion, AKA Texas Jack, is a legendary gunfighter who worked the Earps during their vendetta searching for outlawed cowboys. Vermillion was also known as “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion” because there’s a rumor he once shot a man…in the eye. Nice guy.
Where do we begin, Jesse James accomplished a lot in his life. He was after all an outlaw, guerrilla, gang leader, train robber, bank robber, and murderer from the state of Missouri and he was the most famous member of the James-Younger Gang. Most people thought of him as Robin Hood, as he liked to rob the rich and give to the poor.
Olive was from Illinois and her family was killed in 1851, when she was just 14, in present-day Arizona by a Native American tribe. The tribe captured and enslaved her, along with her sister and later sold them to the Mohave people. While with the Mohave people, she got blue tattooing on her face to show she was theirs. After many years with the Mohave, her sister sadly died of hunger, she did eventually return to American society.
Meet 11/12 year old Santiago ‘Jimmy’ McKinn from Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. While out with Martin, his older brother, the boys were approached by a group of Chiricahua Apache, led by Geronimo. The Apache then proceed to kill Martin and abduct young Santiago. Eventually Santiago would be rescued by General George Crook, however at this point, he didn’t want to go back to his family. So he stayed with the Apache and took up their language and lifestyle.
Just about everyone knows that Annie Oakley was a kick a** female sharpshooter and exhibition shooter back in the 1860s. Her incredible talent became legenddary when she was just 15 years old and won a shooting match with a traveling-show marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she later married. This power couple later joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Oakley became a renowned international star and even performed before royalty and heads of state.
There wasn’t much that Buffalo Bill didn’t do, and it’s not like there was any need for a car accident lawyer in that day and age (hey, they make good money, I’m just sayin’). He started up Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows to provide entertainment and education about bronco riding, roping, handling bovine and equine livestock, and other herdsmen skills that were seen in present-day rodeos. He toured all over America, England and Europe.
More commonly known as Rose of the Cimarron, was quite the looker back in her day. She was also romantically involved with outlaw George “Bittercreek” Newcomb when she was just a teenager during the closing years of the Old West. She lived as an outlaw for three years but it was long enough to make her a western legend.
Buffalo Bill’s Troupe
Most of the men you see below are members of Buffalo Bill’s troupe. They would travel worldwide and perform for people wanting a glimpse of the Wild West! If only we could catch a show like that!
Gold Rush Ladies
1848 is when the California Gold Rush kicked off, attracting men and women from all corners of the world. In the beginning, very few women worked in the gold fields however that changed, and they took part in the searches and panned for gold together. The question we suppose is why, but when you’re talking gold and riches, we suppose the answer is clear.
Meet Charley Nebo (pictured left), who was born to an English father and Canadian mother. Nebo would become a well known cowboy from the New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska areas. He would go on to serve in the Union Army during the civil war, but a painful injury left him handicapped. As a result, he was honorably discharged and then worked as a stockman.
Just your everyday cowboys enjoying a drink at a Saloon in Old Tasacosa, Northern Texas. Most saloons kept their doors open 24-7 and hosted many cowboys, soldiers, travelers, and gold diggers. Is it like the movies depict? Maybe, we can only hope.
Bob Leavitt’s Saloon
Jordan, Montana is where Bob’s Saloon made its establishment. The photo below was snapped in 1904 by L.A. Huffman and shows a group of cowboys relaxing in front of the saloon. Robert Leavitt, the owner of the saloon, was actually a cowboy himself, and was even an early settler in Jordan. Most saloons offered loads of entertainment like dice and card games, dancing girls, and piano players.
The Wild West was a time when cowboys were more than just animal herders. And the term, cowboy, originated from the Spanish Vaquero, which is a livestock herder who rides on horseback, and also requires skill and lots of physical ability, from an early age. Most American cowboys were white men although a few were African American freedmen, Mexicans, and also American Indians. And yes, their look became iconic: bandanna, chaps, boots, leather gloves, sturdy jeans, and most important of all, a wide brimmed cowboy hat. Yee-haw!
Virginia City, Nevada Mines
Virginia City came to life with the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, which was the first major silver deposit discovery in America, with numerous mines opening. The city’s poulation grew quickly in the mid-1870s, with an estimated 25,000 residents. The mines’ output however declined after 1878, and the city itself declined as a result.
We’ve spoken of saloons, but did you know the first one was established in 1822 in Wyoming? Well, you do now. By 1880, bartenders and owners prided themselves on the keeping of their saloon and their drink pouring abilities. As we know, most saloons were heavily used for gambling, prostitution, and opium dens. Salud!
Lakota Chief Charging Thunder joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at just 26 years old. Eventually, he married a crew member of the American horse trainers in the show – aww! After Buffalo Bill’s, he became a British citizen and worked as an elephant trainer in Manchester’s Belle Vue Circus. Later he changed his name to George Edward Williams and worked in a factory job.
Mojave Native American
Pictured below is Maiman, a Mojave Native American from the 19th Century who worked as a guide and interpreter. Maiman often guided Timothy O’Sullivan, a photographer, and would help him locate the best spots for his photographs.
Billy The Kid
Billy the Kid has quite the reputation as a gun-fighter and well, an outlaw as he’s killed eight men. He was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett but he escaped from jail and killed two deputies in the process. He eluded the law for another two months until the Sheriff caught up to him again at Fort Sumner, the Sheriff shot and killed him. Looks like Billy could have really used a defense attorney at the time.
General Custer was a well known United States Army officer and cavalry commander back in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars. He earned an impeccable reputation during the Civil War, although I’m sure his wife would have preferred to hire a wrongful death lawyer after his defeat and death at Little Bighorn.
Numerous madams and prostitutes were thought to be fixtures of old Western towns. In fact, some of there notorious women were so popular and successful that they became millionaires. Hmm. Many of the women were called upon a different name depending which region they came from. For instance, in California they were called “soiled doves” by cowboys, “ladies of the line” or “sporting women”. Other names were also “fallen frails,” “doves of the roost,” “nymphs du prairie,” and “fallen angles.”
Wheeler Survey Group
You’ve probably never heard of the Wheeler Survey, but they were a giant expedition that surveyed the Western United States. Captain George Montague Wheele led the expedition from 1869 to 1879. This expedition led to topographic maps of the Southwest being made!
Earp was a restless man, I mean at some point in his life, he served as a constable, city policeman, county sheriff, Deputy U.S. Marshal, buffalo hunter, teamster, saloon-keeper, bouncer, gambler, brothel keeper, miner, and boxing referee. Although he was a most notorious gambler and he’s best known for his role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which lawmen killed three outlaw cowboys.
Louisa Earp, Morgan Earp’s Wife
You may heard tons of the Earp’s, and rightly so, but not much is said of the Earp woman. Meet Louisa Earp, the wife of Morgan, and while no one knows how they met or when they got married, they’re still a spectacular couple. Before moving to California, they lived in Montana for some time. However when Morgan moved to Arizona, he would leave Louisa behind, as he thought it would be a short trip. Sadly, the two never saw each other again.
The Navajo Indians are the second largest federally recognized tribe in America with 300,460 enrolled tribal members as of 2015. The Navajos were mainly hunters and gathers who had an unfortunate and tragic history as they were often forced into encampments with little food and water.
Timothy O’Sullivan took this very photo in 1873 and entitled it “Aboriginal Life Among the Navajo Indians Near Old Fort Defiance, New Mexico”. The photo clearly shows the Navajoes at their home, which is an abandoned military post, during the Old Wild West. We can’t imagine their struggles.
We all know the name Doc Holliday, and we all know his story. At just 20 years old, Holliday became a dentist but when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he turned to a life of crime. Doc became a gambler in Arizona but we know him as a dangerous gunfighter and a great friend to Wyatt Earp.
Rufus Buck Gang
Formed by Rufus Buck, this group became known as the Rufus Buck Gang. They were a multi-racial gang of outlaws who robbed stores and ranches in the areas of Arkansas-Oklahoma in the late 1890’s. The gang killed many men, including John Garrett a U.S. Deputy Marshall. Eventually they were captured outside Muskogee, Oklahoma and received a death sentence. They were hanged in 1896.
Calamity Jane would have definitely needed a dui attorney as she was known to be quite the itinerant alcoholic. However she was also an extraordinary frontierswoman and professional scout, who appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
This man is extraordinary, Geronimo was a prominent leader from the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. He was known as a leader in raiding and revenge warfare that he frequently led numbers larger than his own following.
Fannie Porter’s brothel was the perfect place for outlaws to frequent. The ex-prostitute porter was well respected among criminals thanks to her warm and sincere attitude, and let’s not forget her discretion. Fannie never refused a customer and was quite popular with the Wild Bunch gang as a result. Her frequent clients were Butch Cassidy and Kid Curry, the Sundance Kid, amongst others.
In the 1850s, the ambrotype photograph was introduced. It’s basically a positive photograph that is on glass and is made by a variant of the wet plate collodion process (whatever that means). But basically it’s like a print on paper, as it is viewed by reflected light.
If you think that Chuck Norris from Walker, Texas Ranger created the Texas Rangers well you’re actually mistaken. They were founded in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin, who was known as the Father of Texas. They have been involved in some high profile cases in history so far, such as Bonnie and Clyde, Sam Bass and more.
The Pah Ute (Paiute) Indian Group
Paiute are the indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, which are the Native Americans who are part of the northern Great Basin, Snake River Plain, and upper Colorado River basin. The Paiute are made up of the Northern Paiute of California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon; the Owens Valley Paiute of California and Nevada; and the Southern Paiute of Arizona, southeastern California, Nevada and Utah. Additionally, their people have become members of various federally recognized tribes.
Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch
This bunch of people were an outlaw crew led by Butch Cassidy, this group became quite popular due to the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This gang was the most successful train-robbing gang in history.
“Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” was penned in 1893 by Stephen Crane. The plot follows a young girl from Bowery, whose life takes an unfortunate turn. After she is seduced by a friend of her brother’s, Maggie’s life comes to a tragic end.