Old West History Archives

Old West Myth and Fact: 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.

Jesse Chisholm Died of Food Poisoning

Jesse Chisholm Died of Food PoisoningOn March 4, 1868 Jesse Chisholm died of food poisoning.

Even though the Chisholm Trail is known for its use during the cattle drive era, Jesse wasn’t a cattleman, but a frontier trader.  He had a great knowledge of the southwest that was valuable in trailblazing.

Because he was a trader, Jesse Chisholm’s trail was a straight road with easy river crossings and few steep grades so lumbering heavy freight wagons would have no trouble traveling it.

He had originally used this trail to supply his various trading posts among the Native American tribes in Indian Territory, what is now western Oklahoma. He worked with Black Beaver, a Lenape guide, to develop the trail. Chisholm died before the peak period of the cattle drives from Texas to Kansas; but he was important to numerous events in Texas and Oklahoma history. He served as an interpreter for both the Republic of Texas and the United States government in treaty-making with Native American tribes.

A year before Chisholm died; his trail also began to be used for cattle drives.  For five years, more than a million head of cattle traveled up the road, creating a path that was 200 to 400 yards wide.  Traces of the trail can still be seen to this day.

End of Kansas Trail Drives

Kansas Trail DrivesWhen it came to the Kansas Trail Drives, it seems that Kansas had a love-hate relationship with Texas cattle and the cowboys that brought them up.

The love part was the profits to be made providing supplies to the cattle drives and a good time to trail-weary cowboys.  Frontier struggling towns like Dodge City, Caldwell, Ellsworth, Hays, and Newton competed with Abilene to be the top “Cow Town” of Kansas.

But, as Kansas started getting less “frontier” and farming became more important, residents, anxious to attract businesses other than saloons and places of ill repute, started getting less enamored with the Texas cattle industry.

Although the Texas cattlemen tried to stay away from cultivated farmland, according to one cowboy “there was scarcely a day when we didn’t have a row with some settler.”

In addition to this, the Texas cattle carried a tick fever and hoof-and-mouth disease for which they were immune, but the Kansas cattle weren’t.

So, on this date back in 1885 the Kansas Legislature passed a bill that barred Texas cattle from the state between March and December 1.

This, along with the closing of open range with barbed wire fences, signaled an end to the cattle drives to Kansas.

The Prospector and the Gunfighter

Here’s the story of the Prospector and the Gunfighter, with not one, but five lessons for each of us:Prospector and the Gunfighter

An old prospector shuffled into town leading a tired old mule.  The old man headed straight for the only saloon to clear his parched throat.

He walked up and tied his old mule to the hitch rail.  As he stood there, brushing some of the dust from his face and clothes, a young gunslinger stepped out of the saloon with a gun in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other.

The young gunslinger looked at the old man and laughed, saying, “Hey old man, have you ever danced?”

The old man looked up at the gunslinger and said, “No, I never did dance.  Never really wanted to.”

A crowd had gathered as the gunslinger grinned and said, “Well, you old fool, you’re gonna dance now,” and started shooting at the old man’s feet.

The old prospector — not wanting to get a toe blown off — started hopping around like a flea on a hot skillet.  Everybody was laughing, fit to be tied.

When his last bullet had been fired, the young gunslinger, still laughing, holstered his gun and turned around to go back into the saloon.

The old man turned to his pack mule, pulled out a double-barreled shotgun, and cocked both hammers.

The loud clicks carried clearly through the desert air.  The crowd stopped laughing immediately.

The young gunslinger heard the sounds too, and he turned around very slowly.  The silence was almost deafening.

The crowd watched as the young gunman stared at the old timer and the large gaping holes of those twin barrels.

The barrels of the shotgun never wavered in the old man’s hands, as he quietly said, “Son, have you ever kissed a mule’s ass?”

The gunslinger swallowed hard and said, “No sir. But — I’ve always wanted to.”

There are a few lessons for us all here:

1 – Never be arrogant.

2 – Don’t waste ammunition.

3 – Whiskey makes you think you’re smarter than you are.

4 – Always, always make sure you know who has the power.

5 – Don’t mess with old men; they didn’t get old by being stupid.

Pearl Grey, Future Old West Author

Pearl GreyToday’s story is about a man who was a dentist.  But he gave up his career to go out west and gain fame in a completely different profession.  Do you think you know the person I’m talking about?  You may be surprised: Pearl Grey was born on January 31, 1872.  He was a talented baseball player, and played for the University of Pennsylvania while getting a degree in dentistry.  Pearl was scheduled to follow in his father’s footsteps as a dentist.  Looking for some excitement, he played some semi-pro baseball.  But that didn’t satisfy his need.

Incidentally, Pearl Grey never liked his first name, which was thought by everyone to be a woman’s name.  So he decided to change it to his mother’s maiden name, Zane.

Pearl Zane Grey (January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was an American author and dentist best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts; he idealized the American frontier. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his best-selling book.

In addition to the commercial success of his printed works, his books have had second lives and continuing influence when adapted as films and television productions. His novels and short stories have been adapted into 112 films, two television episodes, and a television series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater

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