Old West History Archives

SHERIFF BILL HICKOK

On September 27 back in 1869, Ellis County Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok and his deputy responded to a disturbance by a local ruffian named Samuel Strawhun and several of his drunken buddies at John Bitter’s Beer Saloon in Hays City, Kansas. Hickok ordered the men to stop, Strawhun turned to attack him, and Hickok shot and killed him.

This was typical of Wild Bill’s approach to a confrontation. As one cowboy said, Hickok would stand “with his back to the wall, looking at everything and everybody under his eyebrows–just like a mad old bull.”
But some Hays City citizens wondered if their new cure wasn’t worse than the disease. Shortly after becoming sheriff, Hickok shot a soldier who resisted arrest, and the man died the next day. Then, a few weeks later Hickok killed Strawhun. Even though his ways were effective, many Hays City citizens were less than impressed in that after only five weeks in office he had killed two men.

During the regular November election later that year, the people expressed their displeasure, and Hickok lost to his deputy, 144-89. Though Wild Bill Hickok would later go on to hold other law enforcement positions in the West, his first attempt at being a sheriff had lasted only three months.

OLIVER LOVING

On September 25, 1867 pioneering cattleman Oliver Loving died from gangrene poisoning in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Living had been attacked by 500 Comanche at the Pecos River. Although he managed to escape and reach Fort Sumner, he had been shot in the arm and leg. Loving soon developed gangrene in his arm, a common infection in those days. Even then he might still have been saved had his arm been removed, unfortunately the fort doctor had never amputated any limbs and didn’t want to undertake such work.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because the lives of Oliver Loving and his partner, Charles Goodnight, were portrayed in the movie Lonesome Dove. Robert Duvall played Gus, a takeoff of Oliver Loving.

OKLAHOMA LAND RUSH

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.

HOPALONG CASSIDY

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.

NORTHFIELD RAID

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.

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