Thomas Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, began the expansion of the US from coast to coast. Once Lewis and Clark crossed the Mississippi River, the West was born. In 87 years from 1803 to 1890, the American frontier was gone.

The heyday of the West, when legends such as Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Chief Crazy Horse, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reigned fell between the end of the Civil War and the Battle of Wounded Knee ( a mere twenty-five years).

Tombstone, Arizona:

In October 1881, a town called Tombstone in Arizona had a famous shootout in what history books now call the OK Corral.

The players were Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan. Helping them was gambler, Doc Holliday. Their opponents were the Clanton and McLaury brothers. The battle lasted all of one-half a minute, but it was recorded in the headlines of the Tombstone Epitaph: "Three Men Hurled in the Duration of a Moment."

Firearms were commonplace on the frontier. The West was written up, in all the Eastern newspapers as the land of gunfights in saloons, outlaw raids, vigilante wars, and even occasionally there was a one on one duel to the death.

Both men of the law and criminals alike were ruthless killers, and the gun was the "great equalizer." Lawlessness was common in the early days of the West. Lawmen had to have cool heads and a good aim to survive.

Wyatt Earp summed this up: "I did not intend that any of the band should get the drop on me if I could help it."

Frontier towns had wide, unpaved streets that were sun-baked in the summer and rock hard in the winter. Tents and flimsy wooden shacks were constructed nearby. The main social gathering places were the saloon, dance hall, and the brothel. In many early western towns, the saloon might even be a plank across two kegs of beer. Only the richer towns had the saloons with mirrors, chandeliers, and nude paintings (such as one sees in modern western movies).

The brothel might be a small shack attached to the dance hall or saloon. These places weren't fancy, that's the truth, but they offered miners and cowboys a place to unwind after a hard day of work. Most fights were between drunks over a woman or money (in the case of gamblers).

Tombstone, Arizona went from a town of tents and shanties to an overpopulated boom town in less than one year. Silver mines in nearby San Pedro Hills brought in the crowds. Tombstone represented a chance to make a fortune in silver claims.

Wyatt Earp understood the mind of a lawbreaker since he had been charged with horse stealing in Oklahoma. From there Wyatt worked as a policeman in Wichita, Kansas. Then he was assistant Marshal in Dodge City, where he boostered his wages in the Long Branch Saloon as a faro and monte dealer. This job, hosting card games, offered him a percentage of the house winnings. He also saw to it that losers were made to go on their way without disturbance. Wyatt Earp's arrival in Tombstone made his reputation as a gunfighter.

By the early 1880's, Tombstone had two dance halls, a dozen gambling places, and more than twenty saloons. It was also noted that the town had two Bibles. Tombstone never rose above rowdy and rambunctious. It seemed that the drunks ruled the town and were always firing at the moon and the stars.

Since the Earp brothers basically had to try and keep "peace," they were soon hated by the cowboys and miners, who cavorted with lewd women and drank themselves to sleep. One favorite haunt was the Bird Cage Theatre, with its women and entertainment. Men were asked to check their firearms, but the place was dappled with over 100 bullet holes in the ceiling and walls. One man told of one bullet killing 12 men. Working at the Bird Cage was anything but safe. The only one getting rich in tombstone was the undertaker, since he had a steady line of cadavers to be prepared. All in all, Tombstone, Arizona earned its reputation as a "wicked town." Other towns were equal to this task. The barometer for evil was how many shoot-outs occured on the town streets.


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