Friday Friends: The Wild West of Myth and Reality
CowboySpirit.TV- This week's edition of Friday Friends features an article from Buzzle.com, "The Wild West of Myth and Reality" written by Earl Hunsinger.
The Wild West - the very expression conjures up images of stagecoaches and bat-wing door saloons, and of men facing each other in a dusty, tumble weed strewn street, ready to draw their guns and shoot it out. But just how wild was the Wild West?
The European settlement of North America is unique in history. With the possible exception of England's settlement of Australia, never before has there been such a large migration of people into such a large and sparsely populated area of land. What we think of as the Wild West period is only the final stage of this centuries-long process. Various factors caused this westward expansion to speed up in the latter part of the 19th century, contributing to the West's lawless reputation. As an example, the California gold rush of 1848-49 caused mining towns to spring up virtually overnight in previously unsettled areas. Most of the inhabitants of these towns were young men looking for adventure and the chance to get rich quick. When saloons, brothels, and gambling dens opened up, which they always did, problems inevitably arose. With no regular courts and officers of the law, these towns would often settle disputes through an informal miners' court, with local miners serving as a jury. While this provided some measure of justice, it was often a matter of might makes right, with the powerful and popular breaking the law with impunity and the weak and unpopular punished for crimes they didn't commit. Eventually the federal and state governments caught up with this expansion, sending in judges, marshals, and sheriffs to provide a more equitable legal system.
The homestead act of 1862 also contributed to rapid settlement of western lands, and thus to conflict, specifically with the cattle barons that were already there. Cattlemen often claimed large areas of open range, using it for grazing and for driving their cattle to market. Although in most cases they had no legal claim to the land, some had used it in this way for years, often fighting off Indians and rustlers in order to do so. Along with their great wealth and the power provided by the men working for them, they felt that having come first gave them the right to do whatever it took to drive the homesteaders out. This was especially true when homesteaders fenced off their land, limiting access to already scarce sources of water. The most famous of the conflicts that resulted is the Johnson County War, which ended only after the cavalry was sent in by order of the President.
The large cattle barons also fought among themselves for control of the open range and lucrative government supply contracts. The most infamous of these fights is the Lincoln County War of 1878, in which the outlaw Billy the Kid rose to fame. Of course, miners, homesteaders, and cattlemen alike also had to worry about the native tribes that they were displacing. These conflicts also led to violence.
[Read the rest of the article at http://www.buzzle.com/articles/the-wild-west-of-myth-and-reality.html]
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