Old West Myth & Fact Archives

GAMBLERS

GamblersMen who came out west gambled everything on the hopes of becoming prosperous and having a good life. That same spirit led them into gambling halls, and games of chance. One such game started on June 15, 1853 and ended 24 years later.

For people of the Old West gambling was a way of life. They risked their life by going into Indian Territory for furs, precious metal or land. They staked everything they owned on a herd of cattle being driven north. And for sure they enjoyed a game of chance.

There was faro, euchre, monte, casino, and, of course, poker…which, incidentally, was always dealt to the left of the player to make it easier to pull a gun with the right hand in case of irregularities. The origin of most games of chance came from Europe, with the exception of the old three walnuts and a pea, which started in America, probably on the streets of New York, where it still prospers.

Not only did cowboys loose their wages, but whole herds of cattle, and a cattleman’s entire wealth would change hands over night. A few wives were even offered to “match the pot.”

On June 15, 1853, in Austin, Texas Major Danelson and Mr. Morgan sat down to play poker, and evidentially with little to go home to, forgot to quit. The game went on for a week… then a month… a year became years. The Civil War broke out, was fought and lost, but these two Texas gentlemen still dealt the cards. Finally in 1872, 19 years after it started, both men died on the same day…but the game continued. Their two sons took over, and played for 5 more years.

Finally the game ended in 1877 when a railroad train killed one of the sons, and the other went crazy. Not that all of them weren’t crazy in the first place.

FIRST DAYLIGHT BANK ROBBERY

No one noticed a group of men who rode into Liberty, Missouri on February 13, 1866. But, a short while later, when they rode out, everyone noticed them, because they had just done what no one had ever done before.

It was FebrJesse & Frank Jamesuary of 1866.  The Civil War was over.  Supposedly, Jessie James was at his mother’s home in Kearney, Missouri recovering from a war wound, and his brother Frank was spending his time with Jessie reading books.

About ten miles away, on February 13, Valentine’s Day, a dozen men rode into Liberty, Missouri.  They wore long military coats.  It was a cold day, and the streets were deserted.  Three men dismounted and took casual positions on the street.  The others rode up to the Clay County Savings Association. Two went inside.

A clerk and cashier were inside.  One of the men in long coats walked up to the clerk and asked him to change a ten dollar bill.  The long coated man then pulled his pistol, and casually asked for all the money in the bank.

These men were doing something that had never been done before…holding up a bank during operating hours.  A gain sack was filled with gold and silver coins, paper money and securities totaling $60,000.

After the robbery, the men mounted their horses, and riding at full gallop, whooped, and shot their way out of town.  Unfortunately, a 19-year-old college student, George Wymore, was walking down the street.  One rider fired at him four times, and Wymore fell dead.  A later examination of Wymore discovered that any one of the four shots would have killed him.

In spite of their alibis, this first bank robbery was led by the two James boys from nearby Kearney.  Over the next few years they robbed at least twelve other banks, more than a handful of trains, almost a handful of stagecoaches, and even a county fair.

FIVE CARTRIDGES?

Here’s another Old West Myth and Fact. Tradition and the early Colt Pistol manuals says to load only five cartridges in a pistol and leave the empty cylinder under the hammer. The reason being if the hammer is accidently hit with a live cartridge under it, it could go off…Incidentally; modern pistols have a safety bar to prevent accidental firing.

So, did they load only five cartridges? Not always. Wyatt Earp’s pistol fell to the floor in a saloon and it went off. Lawman Dallas Stoudenmire was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter. During the interview Dallas showed his shooting skills. The reporter said all six shots hit the target. A couple of years ago we published an article in Chronicle of the Old West from 1898 where two men went into the back room of a saloon, and while there a pistol was fired. The people in the saloon though it was a gun fight. Actually, one of the men dropped their pistol.

My feeling is if you were an average Joe you probably loaded five cartridges, but if there was a chance of gunplay you wanted as much firepower as possible. And that extra cartridge could mean the difference between life and death.

What do you think?

COWBOYS & PISTOLS

We’re going to add another element to the posts on Cowboy to Cowboy.  And that is “Old West Myth and Fact.”  As with anything that has happened in the past, even my exploits, when time gets between the event and the present, a lot of myth begins to surround the fact.  And this is very true with the Old West.

So, we’re going to look at things that we accept as fact and see if it truly was fact.  We’re asking you to put in your two cents, because we could be wrong.  The desire is to discover the truth about how it really happened.

The first topic we’ll cover is cowboys and pistols.  From everything I’ve been able to discover cowboys normally didn’t carry pistols.  First, anytime they were working cattle, the pistol would get in the way.  On a cattle drive a long gun was much more practical.  Any pistols stayed in the chuck wagon.

 Many a cowboy never buckled on a six-shooter because gunmen normally never bothered a man without a gun, and a man without a gun sure wasn’t going to bother a man with one.

 In addition, most western towns wouldn’t allow guns to be carried within the city limits.

What do you say?