2007-04-27 10:12:43 UTC
How many murders were there in Dodge City (Kansas) in 1878?
100? 200? 300? More?
Not even close to the truth in this classic "Wild West" town in the heyday
of the "violent, shoot-em-up, West."
'Five' (5), is the correct answer!
How many murders in *all* of the so-called "wild" Kansas cattle towns from
45 in all those 15 years, for an average of THREE murders per year.
Dodge City had a mere 15 murders in the 10 years between 1876-1885; a tiny
rate of only 1.5 murders per year on the average.
For Jim Beaver (and 'Deadwood' fans), the total of murders in Deadwood, SD
during its *worst* year of violence saw a measly FOUR murders! Tombstone,
AZ (site of the famous 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral") saw its worst violent
year suffer only FIVE murders.
So much for the Hollywood movies, tv Westerns, dime-store novels, and other
made-up "Wild West" stories about how if today "everybody" carries a
concealed weapon it would lead to numerous gunfights in the streets. (There
wouldn't be enough murders and shootings to have enough "action" for even 10
episodes of a Western tv series today (or in the 1950s), or for a 1-hr.
movie if it wasn't for the made-up hype!)
It didn't happen in the 1870s and 1880s in the peak years of the real "Old
West" and it won't happen today.
"The American West: A Heritage of Peace"
By Ryan McMaken
Posted on 2/12/2004
Excluding the Indian wars of the mid to late 19th century which were
lopsided affairs conducted by the United States government, we find that the
allegedly inherent violence of the West was not noticeably any greater than
that of points east.
Historian Richard Shenkman largely attributes this to the legacy of those
reliably-violent Western films. "Many more people have died in Hollywood
Westerns than ever died on the real Frontier.[i]n the real Dodge City, for
example, there were just five killings in 1878, the most homicidal year in
the little town's Frontier history: scarcely enough to sustain a typical
Shenkman was basing this comment on Historian W. Eugene Hollon's research in
which he notes that in many places like Dodge City, tales of violence were
actually accentuated to appeal to the tourist trade in the latter years of
the Frontier. This is not difficult to understand considering the movement
made popular by promoters of the "West cure," a fad (much promoted by
proto-yuppie Theodore Roosevelt) that claimed that a period of hunting and
tough travel out West would make men more masculine.
Hollon reached these conclusions in 1976 with the publication of Frontier
Violence: Another Look in which he examined a number of statistical
indicators in order to determine the true level of violence in the American
West. Historians have been working to refute his conclusions ever since,
although the results have been less than conclusive. Adding to Hollon's
thesis in 1983, Robert Dykstra published Cattle Towns which included an
examination of the violence in Kansas cattle towns like Abilene, Wichita,
and Caldwell. In novels and on the silver screen, these towns became known
for their shootouts. But, as Dykstra tells us, the reality was quite
different. These cattle towns had an economic interest in ensuring as little
violence as possible-and they delivered.
More recently, we find Lethal Imagination: Violence and Brutality in
American History, edited by Michael Bellesiles (the now infamous author of
Arming America) which contains a number of essays by authors further
examining the disappointing reality that the West was actually quite a bit
more boring than the movies led us to believe. Indeed, taken together, this
body of research leaves us with a West that hardly lives up to the
reputation of the Wild West.
As with Dodge City, the excitement in the Old West in general has been much
overstated. All the big cattle towns of Kansas combined saw a total of 45
murders during the period of 1870-1885. Dodge City alone saw 15 people die
violently from 1876-1885-an average of 1.5 per year. Deadwood, South Dakota
and Tombstone, Arizona (home of the O.K. Corral), during their worst years
of violence saw four and five murders respectively. Vigilante violence
appears to not have been much worse."
Ryan McMaken is a policy analyst in Colorado.