What Was Life Really Like In The Wild West?

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The world has always been fascinated about the life in the Wild West. From the shows that Buffalo Bill did in Europe, acting and showing how they lived in the American Frontier to the hit HBO show Westworld, it has always been a successful theme. But so many years of fictionalizing the life in the Wild West made us believe that it was a little different from what it really was. Luckily for us, the photography was in the middle of its boom when all these happened, so we have a lot of photographical evidences of how the real life in the wild wild west was. Take a look at these 50 photos and forget about what you saw in the movies. Living in the Wild West was much more difficult than you may think.

SMELLY

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Native Americans were shocked when they smelled the new emigrants. Imagine walking in the sun for days, without sunscreen, without changing clothes and of course, without deodorant.

CONTAMINATED WATER

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To that fact, you need to add that fresh water was hard to find, and most of the bodies of water they could find were extremely contaminated, resulting in diarrhea. You do the math.

WATER WAS GOLD

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This demand of fresh water turned it into an expensive luxury. A cup of water was often sold from one dollar to a hundred dollar, in a time a pound of bacon only costed one cent.

lonely wagon travelling

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If you believe in that image of the lonely wagon travelling through the prairies, you got it wrong. Those wagons travelled on trails in enormous groups, sometimes dozens and dozens of them.

THE FIRST AND THE LAST

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Imagine being one of the lasts in that trails and having to drink the water the first left all contaminated or feeding your animals with whatever the other animals left.

LATRINES

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And even the first travelers often had made latrine facilities near the trail that would eventually contaminate the water supply of those that came along later. Remember what I told you about contaminated water?

DUSTY

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It was a very dusty environment. if you were at the back of the pack, the dust that was kicked up by the giant train could get incredibly thick. A pair of goggles was necessary for one to be able to see.

ELMER MCCURDY

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There was a bandit named Elmer McCurdy that had a long life… after death. He robbed a horse and a few dollars, and died when he was trying to escape…

MOMIFIED

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… the Funeral Home director used a very strong preservative solution in McCurdy's body, and since no one came to reclaim it (and of course, to pay for the funeral) he put the body on display…

THE TRAVELLING CORPSE

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Then the corpse was bought by a travelling carnival until 1949 and then they stored it, leaving it forgotten in a warehouse for a couple of years. But Elmer's travel was not finished…

THE PROP CORPSE

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Believing it was a prop and not a real corpse, Elmer's body was used as part of the decoration of a FunHouse in Los Angeles and that's when the whole truth was known…

PONY EXPRESS

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A TV crew went to the funhouse in 1976. When one of the crew members touched the body, its arm felt… and a human bone was found inside. They then realized that it was a human corpse all along.

BURIED

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The police then made the proper investigation and they determined that the body belonged to Elmer McCurdy and gave him a proper grave, in 1977, sixty six years after his death.

CAMELS

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You may not believe this, but during the early nineteenth century someone came up with the idea of importing camels, because they would get used to the arid environment quickly, so they did. The last recorded sighting of a wild camel was in 1941.

COWBOY HAT

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Cowboy hats were not a thing back then. Everyone wore headwear in the wild west, but not the kind of hats we are used to see in the movies. Bowler hats were more popular.

OREGON TRAIL

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The famous Oregon Trail was more than 2,000 miles long. It is believed that one in every seventeen people that travelled through it died in the way, mostly from cholera.

GUNS

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What you see in this picture is Kinman Bar. Seth Kinman, the owner, was some sort of celebrity back then. He was an entertainer and he performed for Abraham Lincoln.

LAW WEST OF THE PECCOS

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But Seth Kinman was also known for his brutality towards animals and indians. It is said that he killed over 800 bears in his entire life, and 50 elks in one month.

BLACKSMITH

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This is a school where they teached indians everything they needed to know to become a blacksmith and work in the development of the train tracks and other tasks required.

PONY EXPRESS

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Pony Express was a delivery service (like a vintage UPS) that was mostly formed by teenage horse riders that developed a way of travelling from coast to coast in ten days.

LORING

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Frederick Wadsworth Loring was a journalist, writer and poet that was sent to the west to document an expedition. He died during an ambush known as The Wickenburg Massacre, two days after this photo was taken.

NATIVES

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The natives had established a good relationship with animals, but the settlers slaughtered them indiscriminately. In part, they also used them for meat and for their hides but there was also a policy to destroy the buffalo in order to starve the native people into submission.

BEAN

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There was a famous justice of peace named Roy Bean. One day an irishman killed a chinese man. He was imprisoned but a mob of more than 200 irishmen threatened to kill Bean if the killer wasn't freed. Bean read the law and determined that killing was to take another man's life, and that did not apply to chinese. The irish guy was set free.

DODGE

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This photo of 1872 shows the first building ever built in the city of Dodge, Kansas. It was a sod house built by Henry L Sittler (who is depicted here). The city is now home of 30,000 people.

DEADWOOD

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This is the main street of Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876. That same year more than 20 million dollars in gold and other minerals were extracted from the mines located in that city.

SCHOOL

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In 1860 only 30 percent of school aged children attended classes. Many pioneer parents believed (probably because of their own education) that learning to be self-reliant, resourceful and strong was more important than books.

COWBOYS

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The cowboy's job was to follow the herds on horseback, to manage and care for the cattle and to drive them back to the ranch for slaughter. They lived rough, camping out under the stars.

SCHOOL HOUSE

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Schools in those days were what we call "One Room Schools", what means that all children were educated at the same time, by the same teacher, in the same room.

CHINESE

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What you see in this picture is a Chinese Fishing Camp. Chinese people settled in the wild west and took care of laundry for miners, fishing and cooking. The white people used to call them "John John"

JOHN HEITH

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John Heath is hanged accused of being the one who organized the "Bisbee Massacre", when five cowboys (including Heath) robbed a general store and killed four people in 1883 in Bisbee Arizona. The five were executed.

LOOKING FOR A LOT

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After the Indians were defeated, thousands of settlers hurried west. Some hoped to find new, rich farmland. The soil they left behind was thin and overworked. Their crops were poor. Some simply hoped to buy any kind of farmland but they did not have enough money to buy farmland in the east, so they just claimed the land they wanted.

JOHN SONTAG

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John Sontag was a famous train robber that started his criminal life after his house was burned down. He died in jail in 1893 because of infections in wounds that he had all over his body.

INFANTRY

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The Infantry crossing the river. At that time, the United States Army was formed by regular units and volunteers. They were usually assigned to defend the nation's frontiers from attacks by the Native Americans.

GAMBLING

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The popularity of gambling in the West can be attributed mostly to the fact that all who left the relative safety and comfort of the East to seek fame and fortune on the frontier were natural-born gamblers.

BUFFALO BILL AND WILD BILL

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Wild Bill was the mentor of the famous Buffalo Bill. The two demonstrated various skills of the frontier scouts/plainsmen on their shows, including the actual shooting of targets on stage.

CALAMITY JANE

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Calamity Jane was an explorer and soldier that is better known for being the allegedly best friend of Wild Bill. She toured with Buffalo and Wild in her last years, and asked to be buried near her friend.

GUTHRIE

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This is the first blacksmith shop in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The city was only a railroad station stop, but after the land run of 1889 Guthrie gained about 10,000 inhabitants.

FARO GAME

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Faro, or Pharaoh, was a very popular game in the Wild West. It was created in France, but it took over every salon in America, because rules were much simpler than the Poker rules.

INDIAN RESERVATION

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The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in 1906. This reservation is shared by two different native american tribes, that settled there in 1888: The A'aninin (depicted in this photo) and the Nakota.

JIMMY MCKINN

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Jimmy McKinn was a 11 years old irish boy that was kidnapped by the Apaches after his brother was killed. He spent six months with them and became very familiar with their customs and the language and didn't want to leave the natives camp.

LIVESTOCK BRANDING

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This photo was taken in Montana in 1940. Calves are being branded by their owners, the Pattons. Livestock branding method remains almost the same, and it is made by a burning iron.

WILD WEST STORES

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The owners of the stores usually began as roving peddlers, but then, when they gathered enough capital and inventory, they settled in villages, camps or near train stations, creating the firsts General Stores of the area.

EXPLORERS

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John Charles Frémont led a series of expeditions in the 1840s which answered many geographic question. He crossed through the Rocky Mountains by five different routes, and mapped parts of Oregon and California.

BLACK JACK KETCHUM

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Black Jack Ketchum is considered the last of the train robbers. He was condemned to be hanged and was decapitated when he dropped through the trapdoor. There's only two recorded cases of this happening in all history.

ROSE DUNN

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Rose Dunn, also known as Rose of the Cimarron, was married to a famous outlaw. People commonly think that the woman in this picture is her, but she is actually a prisoner that was forced to pose as Rose.

Desert Land

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In 1877, Congress passed the Desert Land Act which permitted settlers to purchase up to 640 acres of public land at 25 cents an acre. Settlers were required to properly irrigate the land they purchased.

EMMETT DALTON

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Emmett Dalton was a famous bank robber. In one of those robberies, he survived twenty three gunshots. That made him famous and after serving a few years in jail he became a movie star.

RODEO

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Rodeo was not a sport at the beginning. Farmers of the Wild West were obliged by law to give at least one rodeo a year, in order to separate their cattles from their neighbors'.

GENERAL CROOK

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General Crook was an important General that fought in several wars, most of them against the Natives, but he was very respected by them, because they were also very respected by him. They gave him the nickname "Chief Wolf".

LONG BRANCH SALOON

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Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, was one of the most well known Salons in the Wild West. It was the scene of several famous altercations, shootouts, gunfights, and standoffs.

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