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Copy of How Violent was the Old West?
Transcript of Copy of How Violent was the Old West?
“Old” West~ The time period of the early 1860’s to 1890
Violence~ Physical acts carried out in order to kill or injure another person. Violence in the Old West The sheriff walked into the saloon, hand on his gun. A group of cowboys were laughing heartily over at the bar. As the sheriff walked in, the men stopped laughing, and one stood up to face him. Next thing you know, the two are out in the dust-paved road, ten feet away and facing each other. Their hands are inches away from the two guns at their sides, fingers flexing, mouth twitching, but their eyes never leave their opponent. Suddenly you hear the all-too familiar noise(Press play), and you see a tumbleweed roll past.
We've all seen the movies.
What many of us don't know is that this lawless, rowdy, dangerous way of life is not "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." In fact, the Old West was not incredibly violent. The Indians, which are believed to have caused great damage among settlers, didn't kill as many people as we're led to believe. The Old West was neither "lawless" or that "dangerous" for the majority of the population. And, on the terms of not losing your life, it was more dangerous to be in a war as a soldier than a western settler. Document 6- The Battle of Beecher's Island "In the upper, eastern part of Colorado, on an island known as Beecher's Island, a battle of 300 Indians and 50 soldiers took place on September 17, 1868. 10 soldiers were killed, and 20 were wounded, while 35-50 Indians were killed, at least 200 were wounded." ~The Military was outnumbered 6 to 1, and they managed to wound over 2/3 of the Indians. This hints that maybe the Indians weren’t the greatest, savage, killing-machines of the west that so many of us have been told about. I believe, however, despite the results, that it was glorified because it took place as a battle in the West. If we really took a look at the casulties, why, they are so few, it wouldn’t have made the history books as a battle in the Civil War. The Battle of Beecher's Island wasn't really a battle, it was more of a skirmish. Document 8- Reported Kills at Three-Year Intervals As you can see, there is no doubt that Indians have caused some hardship on settlers. However, it seems that the ones to bear the most of the kills were not the settlers, but rather, the Indians. When you compare the number of settlers killed and the number of Indians killed, the settlers become very small and seemingly very fortunate. This goes to show that fewer settlers were killed by Indians than was originally suspected. It was more dangerous to be a soldier in the Civil War than to be a settler. The Indians weren't as threatening as we assumed. Document 9- Data from the Overland Trail From this document we can conclude that few Indian attacks ever occured. However, this also says that the fear of Indians and encountering them was wide-spread and probably already exaggerated. Document 10- Robert Dykstra: A Historian Comments " ...the number of combat deaths soldiers and warriors was not particularly large. Between 1865 and 1898, regular troops killed while encountering Indians totaled 919. But well over a third of these- 37 percent- died in two exceptional occasions. One was the Fetterman ambush in 1866, which cost the lives of 79 officers and men. The other was the Little Big Horn Battle ten years later in which 258 soldiers died. Absent those two blood-lettings, combat deaths averaged about 17 per year." ~In a period of 33 years, less than 1000 troops were killed. In the meanwhile, America has been killing millions of buffalo and driving what's left of the Indians further and further from the rapidly expanding country. Don't be persuaded to think that 1,000 soldiers is a large amount either. May I remind you that even in the War of 1812, double that amount was lost, and the War of 1812 consisted of many navy battles, rather than battles on either country's soil. The Old west was neither "lawless" or very dangerous.
~ “...Nor was the high homicide rate a subject of great concern. Aurorans and Bodieites accepted the killings because those killed, with only a few exceptions, had been willing combatants. They had chosen to fight. Commenting on killings in Bodie the Daily Free Press said on January 7, 1880: "There has never yet been an instance of the intentional killing of a man whose taking off was not a verification of the proverb that "He that liveth by the sword shall perish by the sword.' " The old, the weak, the female, and those unwilling to fight were almost never the object of an attack.
Moreover, many of those killed in Aurora and Bodie were "roughs" or "badmen," as they were called. If a badman died in a shootout, he was not to be pitied. Sudden and violent death was an occupational hazard he had assumed upon becoming a gunman." Document 3- Chart: Annual Homicide Rates ~ Though these cattle towns had high homicide rates, these deaths mostly came from gunfights, in which both willingly participated. If you didn’t want to die in a gunfight, then you backed down, or ran away. Very, very few actually resulted in the harming of innocents. I think that if the amount of men killed in gunfights were removed from the number of homicides, we would have a much lower stat on our hands. http://ehistory.osu.edu/uscw/features/medicine/cwsurgeon/statistics.cfm “110,100 Union soldiers died in battle… Confederate KIA and MW 94,000 .”
~ The total number of soldiers that died in battle is 204,100. The Civil War lasted about four years, which makes the annual homicide rate around 8,170 per 100,000. Whereas the homicide rate in the Cattle Towns was 50(Figure above). This shows that your odds are heavily stacked against you living through the Civil War, and that you be safer as a settler in the West. Document 3- Chart: Annual Homicide Rates ~Settlers didn’t know if they were to be attacked, and most weren’t. Soldiers, on the other hand, knew they were going to fight in battle, and they did. Both parties were filled with worry, but the soldiers had a more definite reason for worrying. For them, it wasn’t “Am I going to be attacked?”, but rather, “Am I going to die fighting?” Document 9- Data from the Overland trail http://ehistory.osu.edu/uscw/features/medicine/cwsurgeon/statistics.cfm
“Your chances of dying as a soldiers in the Civil war is about one in four."
~In a group of your soldier buddies, lets say there are eight of you, well then at least two of your are going to die, if not more. It is more than obvious that you have much better odds being a settler than a soldier. Document 7- Casualty Figures: America’s Wars
~Almost half a million men never went home, never saw their families again, because of their participation in the Civil War. Thousands gave their lives for a cause, in one war or another. Yet we seem to have the nerve to call the west dangerous because of a couple hundred who died. ~Women in the Old West were treated with a certain respect from even the most lowly "scum" of a man. They knew that for the most part, the law protected them from attacks on their person. More than that, the respect for women was part of their society. Even the most violent men still withheld their brutality from women, elders, and children because that was not deemed honorable at all. Grant H. Smith, "Bodie Last of the Old Time Mining Camps," California Historical Society Quarterly 4 (March 1925); 64-80.
"One of the remarkable things about Bodie, in fact, one of the striking features of all mining camps in the West, was the respect shown even by the worst characters to decent women. . . . I do not recall ever hearing of a respectable woman or girl in an manner insulted or even accosted by the hundreds of dissolute characters that were everywhere. In part, this was due to the respect that depravity pays to decency; in part, to the knowledge that sudden death would follow any other course.” ~ There was little danger from thieves and attackers because most of the men they would try to attack were armed. Most of the population was armed, and it proved to lessen the danger. Almost all of the men who carry their weapons aren’t planning to use it for anything other than self-defense. It also provides a huge deterrent to anyone who would want to use it. I honestly doubt that this robber is going to try that again. Bodie Daily Free Press 12 Aug. 1880.
“More robberies might have occurred if Aurorans and Bodieites had not gone about armed and ready to fight. They were, unless staggering drunk, simply too dangerous to rob. Robbers occasionally made mistakes though. Late one night when a robber told miner C.F. Reid to throw up his hands, Reid said "all right" and began raising them. As he did so he suddenly drew a foot-long bowie knife from an inside coat pocket and drove the steel blade into the robber's shoulder. The robber screamed with pain and took off running "like a deer." Reid gave chase but soon lost sight of the man. Nonetheless, Reid was satisfied, feeling certain he had "cut the man to the bone." Sober armed men were not to be trifled with.” Document 5- Green River City Ordinances ~ While many Americans believe that the Old West was a rowdy and ungoverned place, there were many settlements, like Green River City, that had laws, and judicial systems to carry out those laws. Some of the cities were quite civilized, despite popular belief. A man in Bodie was sentenced to jail for 30 days because he was guilty of swearing in a woman’s presence. (Bodie Daily Free Press, April 14, 1880.)There was more of a law enforcement system than just a sheriff in a cowboy hat astride his trusty horse. Conclusion As much as everyone enjoys the western showdowns, history and Hollywood don't always go hand in hand. The level of brutality shown by the Indians doesn't amount to much. What more, a soldier in the war would probably have traded places with a settler if he could. The untamed and perilous picture of the West doesn't quite fit, either. In this case, it's probably best to keep the stack of movies and the history books apart.