The history of the American West includes that of the people who lived, worked, and traveled there. Among these people were three groups which often went hand in hand. They were the lawmen, outlaws and gamblers.
Western lawmen were in several forms. There was the law enforcement who kept the peace inside city limits, such as Virgil Earp in Tombstone, Arizona. More well-known was Virgil’s younger brother, Wyatt Earp, who worked in law enforcement positions in such places as Wichita, Kansas, and as a deputy sheriff in the Tombstone area. The Federal government had its own law enforcement in the form of the U.S. Marshals Service. One of the most famous U.S. deputy marshals was African American Bass Reeves, but other people were part of law enforcement in the West, including Judge Isaac C. Parker whose court was located at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Judge Parker’s nickname was the “Hanging Judge” for sending at least seventy-nine people to the gallows. While not all lawmen were honorable, more than once these men put their lives on the line to see justice done.
Of course, the people that lawmen often pursued were the outlaws. Perhaps the most famous outlaw was the Missourian Jesse James who with his brother, Frank James, and the James gang robbed trains and banks, as well as killing several people. There were also Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who rode in the Wild Bunch. Some outlaws were women, and one of the most famous was Belle Starr whose only crimes might have been one or two cases of horse thievery. Some lawmen were even considered outlaws, or at least came from questionable criminal backgrounds. During his younger days, Wyatt Earp had been charged with horse stealing and possible theft of money. If caught, outlaws faced jail time or even execution.
The third group, the gamblers, consisted of men and women who gambled with money in hopes of making their fortune. Some of them were indeed successful, although some probably gained and lost several fortunes during their lives. There were all types of ways to gamble, whether it be roulette, poker, faro, horse racing, etc. John Henry Holiday, better known today as “Doc” Holiday, was a trained dentist who turned to gambling and became famous for backing up the Earp brothers at the famous O.K. Corral gunfight in October, 1881. Although there were some successful gamblers, there were some who died penniless.
If you have an interest in any or all of these groups, visit the book display located just northwest of the circulation desk in the Al Harris Library. Whether you have a personal interest or a class research project, step back in time and find out about the Old West lawmen, outlaws and gamblers. Feel free to check out any of the books or DVDs!