Lesser-known Facts about the Wild West

We’ve all heard stories about the Wild West and tend to associate it with handsome, strong cowboys, gunfights, Native Americans, ranchers, and a lot of style. While much of it is true, there was a lot more to the Wild West than just this. Having been an active community between the years 1865 and 1895, inhabitants had a tough and dangerous life, having to source food and water and work on the infrastructure of their towns themselves. Some were farmers and some miners, while others traded fur and other goods for a living. Our love for the movies largely stems from watching old cowboy shows and movies. The mystery and charm of the Wild West have long held us all enthralled.


01 Gunsmoke’s Long Branch Saloon was not just a movie set

Fotosearch / Getty Images

Did you grow up loving the TV Series Gunsmoke? Then you’ll be thrilled to know that the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, actually existed! The original saloon served various drinks, including alcohol, lemonade, and tea. It was sadly burned down in a fire in 1885 but was later rebuilt as a tourist entertainment center replete with a bar.


02 The feral camels of the Texas west were Middle Eastern imports

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In 1855, the American Army imported camels in bulk from the Middle East. They believed that camels would survive the Texas heat much better than horses would and formed the Camel Corps dedicated to their missions. However, many camels escaped into the wild during the Civil War.


03 Proving an outlaw’s death with pictures was mandatory

Jesse Woodson James (September 5, 1847 – April 3, 1882) was an American outlaw and the most famous member of the James-Younger Gang. Jesse and his brother Frank James were Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

It was customary to photograph the dead bodies of outlaws in the Wild West to convince the public of their certain demise. Bodies were propped upright against walls and photographed. This was used to confirm the outlaw’s death, and the reward could then be claimed.


04 A dead outlaw was unwittingly part of a traveling carnival

Steam Powered Carousel, Ca 1880S. Salon Steam Carousels Were Assemblies From A Large Number Of Parts From Several Specialist Artisans And Other (Older) Fairground Rides. A Salon Steam Carousel Was Never Bought As A Whole At One Moment In Time. Many Children Waiting For There Turn To Ride On The Carousel. There Are Cables Running From The Steam Engine To Carousel To Power It Around. A Couple Of Figures Under The Tent, Many Wooden Horses And Looks To Be A Hand Carved Sled. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

There is a gory but true story of an outlaw named Elmer McCurdy. A robber of trains and banks, he was finally killed in an encounter with the law. His embalmed dead body was used as a slideshow exhibit of a traveling carnival for 60 long years! Onlookers were horrified when a limb fell off and discovered that it was not just a prop but a dead body they were observing!


05 The O.K. Corral gunfight was short-lived

The Dodge City Peace Commission, Kansas, USA, June 1883. Standing: WH Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson; sitting: Charles E Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McClain and Neal Brown. The Dodge City Peace Commission was a group of gunfighters assembled by Earp and Masterson to support Short, who purchased a half share in a saloon in the notoriously lawless town of Dodge City, Kansas, in 1883. An iconic figure in the story of the American West, Wyatt Earp is best remembered for his career as a lawman and his involvement in the notorious Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881. Artist Unknown. Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images / Getty Images

The famous gunfight involved 8 people and was just 30 seconds short! Also, the entire shooting spree happened at the intersection of Fremont Street and Third Street in Tombstone, Arizona, behind the actual corral. Though it was short-lived, it claimed the lives of three cowboys and three lawmen. The Earp brothers and the gang of Clanton-McLaury went head to head in the fight vying for the command over Tombstone and Cochise County. Sadly, none of them won the control they desperately looked for.


06 The Texas flag has German origins

Christine_Kohler / Getty Images

The Texan flag with its lone star has become a symbol well known and loved. Its origins, however, are not with the Lone Star State but with German settlers. The Germans brought along a lot of their customs and traditions overseas, and one of these was to paint five-sided stars on their barns. It quickly caught on and is today synonymous with Texas.


07 The great train robbery cowboy was actually a salesman’s son

Steam train duncan1890 / Getty Images

Broncho Billy Anderson is even today loved and revered as the first cowboy movie star of the early 1900s. Immortalized for his portrayal of the iconic role of Broncho Billy in The Great Train Robbery, Maxwell Aronson was the son of a salesman and had no cowboy roots.


08 Cowboys of the Wild West had the coolest names for their whiskeys

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Creativity was rife in the cowboy saloons of yore. Bug juice, coffin varnish, gut warmer, neck oil, nose paint, and tonsil varnish were some of several alcoholic poisons of choice. Crafted of alcohol, burnt sugar, and chewing tobacco, the drinks were a deadly concoction. Firewater and cactus wine were also made popular during the period of the Wild West.


09 The lucky horseshoe has cowboy country origins

Old rusty horseshoe hanging on a wooden background. DusanManic / Getty Images

Today, the horseshoe is a popular symbol of good luck. This came about in the Wild West when new settlers nailed horseshoes above their front doors to drive away bad spirits. Over a period of time, this superstition gave way to horseshoes being seen as a sign of good luck.


10 The Wild Bunch was the original Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Gang

John Swartz Archive / Getty Images

Who hasn’t heard of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Synonymous with the Wild West, Cassidy originally formed a four-member gang together with gunslingers, the Tall Texan, Kid Curry, and the Sundance Kid. They went by the name The Wild Bunch but later became more famously known by the former name we love today.


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