The Wild West was a challenging time to be alive. Living in the Frontier during the 19th century meant saloons, cowboys, Native Americans, gunfights and lots of mustaches. There was a lot of brawling going on, but also a lot of traveling and new discoveries happening. Without this time, our world wouldn’t be what it is today! Here are some amazing photographs that define this time period:
Put ’em up, cowgirl! Ms. Griffith was a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but she wasn’t there to look pretty! Goldie Griffith was known for her mean abilities as a boxer and wrestler, she also rode broncos and performed various other acts.
Griffith became a star in her own right, even getting married at Madison Square Garden! She famously rode her horse up the steps of Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb in New York City and was known as “the gol darndest gal who ever sat leather.” On a bet, she rode her horse over 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York.
We all want to be as tough as Goldie! Keep reading to see more fascinating figures from the Old West.
John Wilson Vermillion, also known as Texas Jack, is one of the legendary gunfighters of the Old West who was known for working with the Earps in their vendetta rides searching for outlawed cowboys. He was also known by the name “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion” because it was rumored that he once shot a man in the eye.
Texas Jack is called as such because that’s how they listed him on all of his wanted posters, which he was on for shooting a man during an argument at cards. Yikes! Someone once asked him why he was called Texas Jack and replied, “because I’m from Virginia.” Well, that explains a lot!
Jesse James is a notorious American outlaw, but his talents didn’t end there! He was also a guerrilla fighter, a gang leader, bank and train robber and, of course, a murderer. James was born in Missouri and, together with his brother, the two formed the James-Younger Gang. That’s one strong sibling bond!
They were Confederate bushwhackers during the Civil War and were ultimately accused of committing multiple monstrosities against Union soldiers during the war, including their many infamous robberies.
Olive Oatman was only 14 years-old when her family was attacked and killed by a group of Native Americans. The Oatmans were traveling through present-day Arizona at the time. Olive and her sister were kidnapped and sold to the Mohave people. Her sister died of starvation while in captivity.
Olive is best recognized by her blue face tattoo which she believed was a sign of slavery in the Mohave tribe where she was kept, but that is inconsistent with tribal traditions. According to the Mohave tradition, all members of the tribe receive face tattoos. Her story was widely publicized but few details are known about her time with the Mohave.
Santiago ‘Jimmy’ McKinn was a boy by the age of 11 or 12, who lived with his family in the lower Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. One day, while out with his older brother Martin, a group of Chiricahua Apache led by Geronimo approached the two. The Apache then killed Martin and abducted young Santiago.
As the story goes, Santiago was eventually rescued by General George Crook, but the boy did not want to go back to his family and preferred to stay with the Apache. The above photo depicts young Santiago McKinn along with his captors, with whom he lived for six months, taking up their language and lifestyle.
Annie Oakley is probably one of the most well known faces of the Wild West. Born Phoebe Ann Mosey, Oakley rose to fame at the early age of 15 due to her outstanding sharpshooting skills. She began trapping, shooting and hunting by the age eight, to support her poor family after the death of her father.
After making a name for herself as a trained shooter, young Annie married fellow marksman and former rival Frank E. Butler. The two later joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, turning Oakley into an international star.
Buffalo Bill has a “wild” reputation throughout the Old West, and has been one of the most influential showmen ever! Bill was a scout and a bison hunter, but when he wasn’t out in the wild, he was working his show! Don’t you want a ticket?
The Wild West Shows were a series of traveling shows that romanticized life in the American Frontier. They performed variety acts, including reenacting the incident of Warbonnet Creek, a parade, and many other circus-like acts. There was something for everyone!
This next Wild West woman is something of a western legend. Rose Dunn, also known as Rose of the Cimarron, was romantically involved with outlaw George “Bittercreek” Newcomb around the age of 14 or 15. Newcomb’s gang adored Dunn for her good looks and cool demeanor. After a shoot-out with US Marshals, the gang went into hiding.
Newcomb and another gang member eventually returned to visit Rose and her brothers shot them on site. The Dunn’s collected a $5,000 bounty for Newcomb. He was wanted “Dead or Alive.” Legend says that Dunn set him up, but we may never know the true story.
Brothels and outlaws usually go well together, and Fannie Porter’s brothel was no exception. Ex-prostitute porter was respected among criminals for her warm and sincere attitude, as well as her discretion. She was known for refusing to turn in her costumers, and was popular among members of the Wild Bunch gang for this reason.
Among the San Antonio brothel’s frequent clients were Butch Cassidy and Kid Curry, the Sundance Kid and other members of the gang. What’s more, a number of Porter’s “girls” became involved with the gang members. Wild Bunch member, Laura Bullion (pictured above), is even said to have worked at the brothel for a time.
These charming men gathered around a log cabin are several members of Buffalo Bill’s troupe. These are some of the people that would likely travel all over the world performing for people who wanted to get a glimpse of the Wild West! Lucky for us, we can catch a glimpse of it on here.
In this photograph, we have a John Nelson, John Burke, a Sioux Native American, and several other stern cowboys.
Charley Nebo, pictured left, was born in 1842 to an English father and Canadian mother. He was a well known cowboy that lived in New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska. Nebo served in the Union Army during the civil war, and suffered a painful injury that left him handicapped. He ended up being honorably discharged, and eventually became a stockman.
In 1878, Nebo started working for John Chisum’s cattle empire. He was also friends with renowned robber, Billie the Kid, and was known to be a skilled cowboy, that left a lasting impression on the old Wild West.
Being a cowboy wasn’t always hard work on horseback at the ranch. In the photo below, a group of cowboys is seen enjoying a drink and a quick chat with the bartender at a saloon in Old Tasacosa, Northern Texas ca. 1907.
The saloon was a place to rest, have a drink, play some poker and even negotiate cattle. Some saloons were open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and were popular not only among cowboys, but also gold diggers, soldiers, travelers and even lawyers.
Bob’s Saloon was a popular establishment in Jordan, Montana, in the early 1900s. In this 1904 photo by L.A. Huffman, a group of cowboys is seen relaxing in front of the saloon. The owner, Robert Leavitt, was a cowboy himself, and was also one of the early settlers in Jordan.
The old Western saloons offered their clientele various types of entertainment, including dancing girls, card games, dice games and even bowling. Some saloons even had piano players and theatrical skits for their costumers to enjoy.
In the wild west, cowboys were so much more than mere animal herders. The term originated from the Spanish Vaquero, a livestock herder riding on horseback, and required skill and plenty of physical ability, developed from an early age.
American cowboys were mostly white men, though quite a few African American freedmen, as well as Mexicans and American Indians, also worked as cowboys by the late 1860s. The cowboy look, that has since become iconic, famously included a bandanna, leather gloves, chaps, boots, a sturdy pair of jeans and most importantly, a wide brimmed cowboy hat.
Mining was a huge part of the Wild West – there were plenty of jobs in the field and lots of towns revolved solely around mining! This mine here is a silver mine in Virginia City, Nevada. The city had two major mines: Savage and the Gould and Curry.
The miner here is 900 feet underground, and yet all he has for light is a burning magnesium wire. Can you believe that? Virginia City became a boomtown after the discovery of the silver deposits. At its peak, the city boasted of 25,000 residents. When the mine’s output declined, so did its residents. As of 2010, only around 850 people live in Virginia City. People in the West really were fearless!
We’ve all heard of saloons, right? Back in the old West, saloons were a specific kind of bar that served a wide assortment of folks, including cowboys, fur trappers, soldiers, miners, and many more. The very first saloon ever was established in Wyoming in 1822, but they quickly popped up all around the American Frontier!
By 1880, these were one of the more popular establishments available to people in the West. Bartenders prided themselves on the appearance of their saloons, as well as their drink pouring abilities. Many of these saloons were used for gambling, prostitution and opium dens. Cheers!
Charging Thunder was one of the several Native Americans who participated in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This Lakota chief joined the crew when he was only 26 years old. Eventually, he married one of the American horse trainers in the crew… ah, stage romance!
After Buffalo Bill’s show, Charging Thunder became a British citizen and ended up working in Manchester’s Belle Vue Circus as an elephant trainer. He later changed his name to George Edward Williams and found a factory job after the circus.
This Mojave Native American’s name was Maiman, and he worked as a guide and interpreter in 19th century Colorado, especially during the 1870s. Maiman would often guide photographer Timothy O’Sullivan around and help him find the best locations for his photographs.
O’Sullivan, unlike many other photographers at the time, didn’t like to photograph Native Americans in a studio, which lent his works a very realistic quality which we can see here! He also famously photographed many Civil War battlefields.
Here’s everyone’s favorite outlaw… Billy the Kid, who was actually born as Henry McCarty, is one of the most well-known outlaws of the Old West. Kid was one of the most notorious gunfighters of the time, and is known for having killed at least 8 men at a very young age.
Billy the Kid was born in New York City and later resided mostly in New Mexico, he even fought in their Lincoln County War! Kid was eventually arrested and jailed, then died by gunshot of Sheriff Pat Garrett in an attempt to escape his jail cell. He was only 21! But his legacy didn’t end there. It was rumored that the outlaw didn’t die in the gunfight and over the next few decades numerous people committed crimes while claiming to be Billy the Kid.
This photograph is of the Dakota Territory, which encompassed what is now North and South Dakota, and features General Custer’s men crossing the plains. General Custer – as you may remember from your history books – was an officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.
This photograph is by W.H. Illingworth, another famous photographer on this list, but unlike the rest of them, he’s English! Illingworth once accompanied an expedition to the Montana Territory in the 1860s and 1870s, through the Black Hills of the Dakotas.
Plenty of notorious madams and prostitutes were considered fixtures of old Western towns, some were so popular and successful they became millionaires. These women came from all over the world, despite the harsh conditions they had to endure.
These scarlet women had different, surprisingly poetic nicknames, depending on the region. In California, they were labeled “soiled doves” by the cowboys, and “ladies of the line” or “sporting women” by the California ’49er. Other nicknames were “fallen frails,” “doves of the roost,” “nymphs du prairie” and “fallen angles.”
This incredibly happy looking group of men were the Wheeler Survey group. The Wheeler Survey was a giant expedition to survey the Western United States, led by Captain George Montague Wheeler. The expedition took place from 1869 to 1879 and led to the creation of topographic maps of the Southwest!
Three areas of the survey were named after Captain Wheeler: Wheeler Peak in Nevada, Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, and Wheeler Geologic Area in Colorado! That’s not a bad deal!
Wyatt Earp was a good friend of Doc Holliday and had some very similar interests. He was also a proficient gambler in the Wild West, but had a working job as a deputy sheriff in Arizona! It seems like everyone at the time had the same job…
He gained his notorious reputation during a gunfight at the O.K. Corral in which he killed three cowboys. From then on he was known as a regarded shooter, especially in Tombstone, Arizona! He continuously clashed with cowboys until his death in 1929.
We’ve heard plenty about the Earp men so far, but nothing about the woman! They say that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, and that’s certainly true of Morgan Earp. Morgan Earp was married to Louisa Earp, though nobody knows how they met or got married.
The two lived in Montana for some time, then moved to California. When Morgan moved to Arizona, he left Louisa behind, expecting it to be a short trip, but the two would never meet again.
This photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, entitled “Aboriginal Life Among the Navajo Indians Near Old Fort Defiance, New Mexico” was printed in 1873! The print depicts the Navajoes at their home, an abandoned military post, back in the Old Wild West.
The Navajoes themselves are known for being very intelligent and fierce, and are one of the most wealthy aboriginal tribes of the United States. In this photo, you can see the ears of corn that they cultivate and the looms for making blankets.
Doc Holliday is another incredibly well known and dangerous gunfighter of the Wild West. He was a good friend of Wyatt Earp and is well known for being a gambler, a gunfighter, and… a dentist! Say what?
Holliday became a dentist when he was 20 years old, then when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he became a gambler in Arizona. Why not, right? He couldn’t stay away from the gun, though, and soon earned a reputation for being a deadly gunman.
Old Mission Church in New Mexico is one of the earliest examples of a Spanish Colonial era mission, as it was established way back in 1630! The mission itself is relatively small, but complex. It’s a long-standing piece of adobe history, and you can still visit it today!
The Mission played a big role during the Pueblo Revolt and was inhabited by Franciscans for some time until Mexico gained independence from Spain. Now, it marks a tourist attraction for Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico!
The Sioux Nation of Native Americans is one of the largest tribes to have lived on the Great Plains. The Sioux Nation is actually 3 different tribes under the same nation: Eastern Dakota, Western Dakota, and the Lakota tribes. All of these were nomadic tribes that hunted bison, and as a part of their lives on the great plains, they built the teepees that you see here!
It’s not known exactly where this photograph was taken, but it’s safe to guess that it’s probably the Dakota Territory. Wherever it was, it’s pretty amazing!
On May 9, 1913, the tough and rough girl Goldie Griffith got married at Madison Square Garden to fellow Buffalo Bill performer Harry Griffith. The two didn’t always have the best marriage or the best life, but they did give birth to an adorable baby boy, Sterling.
After her time in the Wild West shows, Goldie Griffith took her son to Nederland, Colorado where she raised him alone in a happy tight-knit family. During their time in Colorado, the family opened a number of restaurants and trained dogs.
Timothy O’Sullivan was born on Staten Island, New York, and would go on to become one of the most influential photographers of the Civil War era, though he also garnered a solid reputation for his photography of the American Western landscape. One of his best-known photographs is this one, of Native Americans.
O’Sullivan joined a geological survey team in 1871 which allowed him to travel around the United States and take picturesque photographs everywhere that he went, especially in the pueblos of the Canyon de Chelly. There was nobody as talented as him!
This photograph is exactly what you’d expect from the Old West! Keep reading to see even more incredible photographs.
Morgan Earp was also friends with Doc Holliday and was Wyatt Earp’s brother! Just like his brother, Morgan Earp often spent his time in Tombstone, Arizona confronting outlaw cowboys. The Earps interfered so much that they all had targets on their heads!
Those targets eventually got to Morgan Earp, who was killed by ambush. After his death, Wyatt Earp took matters into his own hands and avenged his brother’s death outside of the law. It’s like a real-life Western movie!
Don’t you just want to take a dip in these waters too? So refreshing! These waters are a part of the Pagosa Hot Springs in Colorado, which are still around today. It’s amazing to think that people are still doing the same things that those in the 19th century were doing.
The Pagosa Hot Springs are renowned for their mineral waters, which supposedly could cure any ailments and rejuvenate any person – including this man!
Nobody is sure who this specific buffalo soldier is, but his face will forever be remembered in history! Buffalo soldiers were the name given to the 10th Cavalry of the United States Army between 1866 and 1951.
The nickname, Buffalo soldier, was given to black soldiers by the Native Americans when the soldiers fought during the Indian Wars. The name has stuck ever since!
This photograph is an amazing piece of history – click on for even more!
John C.H. Grabill is another well-known photographer from the 19th century! He mostly worked out of the Dakota Territory, though he had a studio in Chicago as well. This photograph of his is of the infamous Deadwood Coach. The Deadwood Coach is perhaps the most historic and well-known stagecoach in existence!
This is the stagecoach that was carried by Buffalo Bill in all of his Wild West shows throughout America and Europe. Can you imagine how many wonderful adventures this coach has seen?
This photograph, which is currently located in the Library of Congress, is from the largest surviving collection of John C.H. Grabill’s works. This particular photograph is an image of frontier life in Sturgis, South Dakota. Can you imagine living in a town like this?
All of the Dakota Territory was full of prospectors, hunters, and cowboys, many of which used these teams of oxen. Who needs cars when you’ve got a wagon?
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