Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Old West : Fact or Fiction

I’ve often thought I was born in the wrong century. Since joining a local historical group and donning a corsets and hoop skirt to portray an 1800’s southern lady, I’ve been fascinated with how the people of that time period lived. 

In researching for our local events I’ve run across some fascinating bits of information, some of which molded certain aspects of our current society. Most everyone has heard of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but did you know it didn’t actually happen there? 

Take a look below at a few old west legends and facts and see how many you’ve heard of go along with the way it really happened.

  • The term “red light district” originated in Dodge City, Kansas. The Red Light Bordello had a red, glass door. When the lamps were on at night, the door produced a red glow to those outside. The name carried over to refer to the brothel district.
  • Wyatt Earp was indicted for stealing a horse in 1871 but he escaped trial by jumping bail and fleeing to Kansas.
  • The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral only lasted 30 seconds and actually didn’t happen ‘at’ the O.K. Corral. It happened in a vacant lost between Fly’s Photograph Gallery and the Hardwood house on Fremont Street. The O.K. Corral was nearby and the name somehow became attached to the shootout.
  • Cowboys driving cattle to market made anywhere from $25.00 to $40.00 a month while the trail boss made as much as $125.00.
  • Cattle drives rarely went more than ten to twelve miles a day. Herding cattle from Texas to Montana could take up to five months.
  • Cowboys sometimes referred to beans as “Deceitful Beans” because they talked behind your back.
  • The term “stick ‘em up” seen in popular western movies wasn’t actually used until the 1930’s.
  • The last stagecoach robbery was in 1899 and held up by a female bandit by the name of Pearl Hart.
  • Rumor has it that the tradition of spreading sawdust on the floors of bars and saloons started in Deadwood, South Dakota due to the amount of gold dust that would fall on the floor. The sawdust was used to hide the fallen gold dust and was swept up at the end of the night.
  • Texas was the most active gunfighting state, with some 160 shoot-outs from the 1850's through the 1890’s.Contrary to popular thought, most cowboys didn't shoot up the the many towns that they arrived in, as most of them didn't carry guns while they were riding. Carrying a gun was a nuisance to the riders that scared both the cows and the horses.Outlaws, who were afraid of little else, were curiously superstitious about one thing - dying with their boots on. They dying request of countless outlaws was to remove their boots before they died. If this request was denied, many pleaded with authorities not to forward the news to their mothers that they had died with their boots on.On the cattle drives, when the chuck wagon cook was finished with his work for the day and before hitting the sack, he would always place the tongue of the chuck wagon facing north. When the trail master started in the morning he would look at the tongue and then know what direction he would be moving the herd.
  • In 1876, the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota averaged a murder a day.
  • One practice that is credited to the Old West is that of taking the scalp of an enemy. However, that actually started in the French and Indian War when General Edward Braddock offered £5 sterling to his soldiers and their Indian allies for each French soldier's scalp. The Indians actually picked up this nasty habit from the British.
  • Whiskey had a number of names during the days of the Old West including bottled courage, bug juice, coffin varnish, dynamite, fire water, gut warmer, joy juice, neck oil, nose paint, redeye, scamper juice, snake pizen, tarantula juice, tonsil varnish, tornado juice, wild mare's milk.
  • On November 24, 1835, the Republic of Texas established a force of frontiersmen called the "Texas Rangers”. The rangers were paid $1.25 per day for their services. The members of The Texas Rangers were said to be able to "ride like a Mexican, shoot like a Kentuckian, and fight like the devil.”
  • From the end of the Civil War until 1890, some 10 million head of cattle were driven from Texas to Kansas.
  • The Colt Peacemaker, the weapon that became known as "the gun that won the West” was a .45-caliber manufactured by Colt’s Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut in 1873. At the time it sold for $17.00.

You can find many of these old west facts within the pages of my historical western romance, Willow Creek Series.

About Lily Graison

USA TODAY  bestselling author Lily Graison writes historical western romances and dabbles in contemporary and paranormal romance. First published in 2005, Lily has written over a dozen romance novels that range from sweet to spicy.

She lives in Hickory, North Carolina with her husband, three high-strung Yorkies and more cats than she can count and is mother of two and grandmother of three. On occasion, she can be found at her sewing machine creating 1800’s period clothing or participating in civil war reenactments and area living history events. When not portraying a southern belle, you can find her at a nearby store feeding her obsession for all things resembling office supplies.

To see the dresses Lily has created, visit her Pinterest page.

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  1. Interesting post, Lily. I picked up a couple of tidbits I didn't know. Thanks.

  2. Most of these I did not know. But...I did know The Gunfight at the OK Corral did not take place at the corral. And I also knew this about the Texas Rangers. After all, you are talking to a Texan, here! And Texas was the most gun-fightin' state? Well, pardner, it probably still is...unfortunately. Not exactly anything to be proud of.
    Thanks for this list--it not only enlightened me, it was a joy to read.

  3. Interesting, isn't it, how facts seem to take on a different interpretation over time? Many historical facts become warped and twisted by people who may have a vested interest in changing history to suit their own ideals and purposes. And there are those who love the romantic notions brought about by historical facts that are enhanced over time. Where would we be without Robin Hood and King Author? So we may dabble in the romance of the old west regardless of the facts. That's the way imaginative people roll--or so it seems. LOL
    Loved reading the true facts of the old west, Lily. I especially liked that the last stagecoach robbery was by a woman.

  4. Oh, I love all of these facts, Lily! Some I'd heard before but lots more, I didn't. Thanks for sharing!


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