Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Evolution of Wanted Posters in the Old West


Wanted posters are synonymous with the Old West, perhaps because they are used as a story device so often in books and movies that depict that era. Yet wanted posters didn’t start off being posters at all, nor were they circulated among the general public as we tend to believe—at least, not right away. Their beginnings are actually much humbler than our romanticized ideas.


According to Western historian Marshall Trimble, who writes for True West magazine, wanted posters were about as big as a postcard and they didn’t usually include photos of the men law enforcement officials were after the 20th century. The few exceptions were in the case of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassins being at large. The posters showing the likeness of John Wilkes Booth, John H. Surratt, and David C. Herold (wrongly spelled Harold) with rewards being offered for their heads at $50,000 for Booth and $25,000 for his two accomplices. Imagine what that kind of money could have done for a person! Is it any wonder that bounty hunters sprang up from miles around? Of course, tangling with a known criminal, often armed and dangerous, wouldn’t have been easy. But that’s a story for another time—or perhaps inside the pages of a sweet western romance, lol.


Another interesting fact was that wanted posters didn’t always target outlaws. Oftentimes, the person on the wanted poster was a missing person, as was the case for the example you see here. 



Later, when the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was replaced by the FBI, Identification Orders were used. Here’s one that shows famous duo Bonnie and Clyde:




As you can see, they included much more background information on their subjects, even going so far as to list relatives and their whereabouts. Yikes!


You’ve probably heard of certain female outlaws from the Old West. Some of these include Belle Starr, Pearl Hart, and Laura Bullion. Most of the female outlaws worked as prostitutes, but a few of them also assisted their male counterparts in their schemes. Here are copies of their wanted posters.






In an age when women were raised to be genteel, I find it fascinating that there were still some who grew up in respectable homes who chose a completely opposite way of life. I’ve often wondered what might have driven these female outlaws to choose the second alternative over the other. Did they not get along with their parents? Feel they had something to prove? Or just plain yearn for adventure? Of course, dire situations that arose with tight finances may have also contributed, as did the cases of women falling in love with male outlaws that we know of.


In my sweet historical western romantic book, Her Only Hope, I decided to write my heroine as a woman whose family had just been attacked by an outlaw, and in order to escape and survive, she needed to dress up as a boy. However, the truth finally catches up to her when a wanted poster with her likeness shows up in the town of Hope Hollow, which she has escaped to. Someone from her past knows she is there. Who could it be?


Alexandra and Jake have an entwined past, but now they must forge a new future together. Will true love prevail? Click on the book cover here to download the book and find the answers to these questions. Her Only Hope also introduces a few new characters in the town of Hope Hollow, who will take center stage in the next installment of the series. I hope you'll check it out. 




1 comment:

  1. That's a beautiful cover. Some of the early wanted posters gave such general descriptions that it's surprising more innocent people weren't charged by mistake--or perhaps they were and we don't know about it.


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