The 1850s to the early 1900s marked a tumultuous period in the American West. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 permitted the forcible removal of Native Americans to reservations. This left large swaths of previously claimed land open for the taking, and many white settlers packed up and headed to the frontier to stake their claim.
The lack of federal oversight during this westward expansion led to some notoriously lawless and dangerous areas, where shootouts over land, cattle, and even card games were not uncommon. While town sheriffs and marshals attempted to keep order, vigilante justice was commonly served by outlaws and gunslingers. Here are the guns that won the old West.
To compile a list of famous gunfighters of the American West, 24/7 Tempo consulted numerous sources including History.com, Biography.com, and Britannica. A few famous sharpshooters who never killed anyone have been included, as have a small number of outlaws from the East.
Some of the most notorious gunfighters, including Wild Bill Hickock and Wyatt Earp were sheriffs, marshals, and deputies who became famous for maintaining order and carrying out justice. Most, however, were bandits who robbed trains, banks, or stagecoaches, either alone or with a posse. Some were also cattle rustlers or horse thieves, while a few crossed the line from lawmen to outlaws.
Many have become legendary figures, with famous films and television shows dramatizing their hard lives and fantastical deaths. (For example, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which follows two famous outlaws from the Wild Bunch Gang, is one of the most successful movies of the 1960s.)
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