Old West History Archives


On September 16, 1893, the largest land run in history begins with more than 100,000 people pouring into the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma to claim their homesteads. With a single shot from a pistol the mad dash began, and land-hungry pioneers on horseback and in carriages raced forward to stake their claims to the best acres.

Ironically, not many years before that same land had once been considered worthless desert. Early explorers of Oklahoma believed that the territory was too arid and treeless for white settlement, but several suggested it might be the perfect place to resettle Indians, whose rich and fertile lands in the southeast were increasingly coveted by Americans.

By the late nineteenth century, farmers had developed new methods that suddenly made this land valuable. The giant Cherokee Strip rush was only the largest of a series of massive “land runs” that began in the 1890s, with thousands of immigrants stampeding into Oklahoma Territory and establishing towns like Norman and Oklahoma City almost overnight.


After almost 40 years of riding across American TV and movie screens, the cowboy actor William Boyd, best known for his role as Hopalong Cassidy, died on September 12, 1972 at the age of 77.

His greatest achievement was to be the first cowboy actor to make the transition from movies to television. After World War II Americans began buying television sets in large numbers for the first time, and soon I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners were standard evening fare for millions of families. But despite their proven popularity in movie theaters, westerns were slow to come to TV. Many network TV producers scorned westerns as lowbrow “horse operas” unfit for their middle- and upper-class audiences…As it I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners was highbrow.

During the 1930’s, William Boyd made more than 50 successful “B-Westerns” starring as Hopalong Cassidy. After the war, Boyd recognized an opportunity to take Hopalong into the new world of television, and he began to market his old “B” westerns to TV broadcasters in Los Angeles and New York City. A whole new generation of children thrilled to “Hoppy’s” daring adventures, and they soon began to ask for more.

Rethinking their initial disdain for the genre, producers at NBC contracted with Boyd in 1948 to produce a new series of half-hour westerns for television. Soon other TV westerns followed. In 1959, seven of the top-10 shows on national television were westerns. The golden era of the TV western would finally come to an end in 1975 when the long-running Gunsmoke left the air, three years after Boyd died.


The movies show frontier town folk as being meek and easily intimated. But this was not so. These were people who were tough enough to brave the trip to the frontier, as well as being tough enough to endure frontier life. And after 1865 many were ex-soldiers.

A good example of the toughness of the frontier people is an event that took back in 1876 on September 7.

The James-Youngers were the “cock of the walk.” They were robbing everything in sight. And even though the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency was after them, the Pinkertons were stymied at every turn.
So, the gang decided to go to Northfield, Minnesota and rob a bank there.

From the moment they walked into the bank, they encountered resistance. The bank cashier said the safe was on a time clock. Then a bank teller ran out the back door and sounded the alarm.

The citizens of Northfield surrounded the bank and shot the robbers as they tried to escape. The result was that, with the exception of Jesse and Frank James, the gang was either shot up in Northfield or was captured by a posse some two weeks later.

It seems there was another gang known as the Daltons who had a similar problem in Coffeeville, Kansas.


Today’s story is a lesson about quitting.

Back in 1869 John Wesley Powell took an expedition of 11 men and 4 wooden boats down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It was an under-financed project, and virtually every day the expedition was on the verge of destruction.

On this date, near the lower end of the canyon, the party saw a giant rapids. They spent the night on the shore. Powell wrote, “The billows are huge and I fear our boats could not ride them…There is discontent in the camp tonight and I fear some of the party will take to the mountains but hope not.”

The next day, convinced the rapids were impassable, three of Powell’s men did leave. On this day in 1869, Seneca Howland, O.G. Howland, and William H. Dunn said goodbye to Powell and the other men and began the long climb up out of the Grand Canyon.

The remaining members of the party steeled themselves, climbed into boats, and pushed off into the wild rapids. Amazingly, all of them survived and the expedition emerged from the canyon the next day.

When Powell reached the nearest settlement, he learned the three men who left had been less fortunate–they encountered a war party of Indians and were killed.


August 23, 1877 climaxed probably the most dramatic manhunt in the Old West.

Although John Wesley Hardin had killed a number of men, on May 26, 1874 Harden Killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Texas and killing a lawman couldn’t be overlooked.

For three years Harden was able to elude the Texas Rangers by using an alias and keeping a low profile. He also moved to Florida.

But, the Rangers discovered where he was, and even though they had no authority in Florida, sent John Armstrong after him.

Acting on a tip, Armstrong spotted Hardin in the smoking car of a train stopped at the Pensacola station. Local deputies were stationed at both ends of the car, and the men burst in with guns drawn. Hardin reached for the gun holstered under his jacket. The pistol caught in Hardin’s fancy suspenders, this allowed Armstrong time to club Hardin with his long-barreled .45 pistol instead of having to shoot him.

They spirited Hardin back to Texas on the next train. Hardin was tried and found guilty of killing Sheriff Webb and sentenced him to life in the Texas state prison at Huntsville. He served 15 years before the governor pardoned him.

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