These Are 5 Fabrications About the Wild West That Are Perpetuated to This Day

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Movies, books, comics, songs – the history of the Old West has become more mythical than real in the minds of people today. We imagine cowboys living freely on the range roping cattle, shootouts and showdowns, and rebellious outlaws honored by simple folk yet hated by the law. So what are some of the biggest myths of Wild West?

5 The Free Living Cowboy

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Ah yes, riding the range under the stars, playing the harmonica – just a man, his horse, the cattle, and the beautiful American west. These cowboys were wanderers and adventurers who wanted nothing more than to be one with the land, sipping whiskey under the painted sky. I don’t want to be the guy who ruins this for your but truth is, cattle driving was petty uncomfortable and brutal. With long, hard days in bad weather and harsh conditions, there wasn’t anything pleasant about sitting in saddle for days on end, in heavy rain or the hot, relentless sun. These self-made men were more or less doing anything they could to survive more than escaping into freedom. There wasn’t much glory in saddle sores, crappy food, and two-months on the range away from civilization.

4 Gunslingers and Outlaws

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Were outlaws loved and revered as we see in the movies of today? Sorry, this is just another myth we’ve grown attached to over the years. In fact, outlaws in the Old West were the scum of the world and mostly psychotic. In a time of relative peace, these nut-jobs were more akin to gang-bangers and serial killers than rebellious rapscallions who gave a proverbial finger to ‘the law’. Dime store novels perpetuated the myth of these free spirited individuals and Hollywood took the reins from there. And what about the legendary gunslingers: marksmen who participated in countless showdowns at high noon? Truth is, guns back then were nearly impossible to accurately aim and shoot. Most gunfights happened between two drunks unloading as many bullets as they could in the direction of their target, hoping that one would hit. To really kill a man, you would have to get right up close to your target. Trick shooting was almost impossible and anybody who claimed to do it was probably lying to make their selves seem like more of a bad ass.

3 The Prostitute

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The Miss Kitty myth: a friendly, witty, caring, beautiful woman of the night. Prostitutes in the Old West were care-free, in control, and fun loving. Wait, really? REALLY? Yeah, I think you know where this is going. Truth? The situation of prostitution was heartbreaking. Ranging from young teenagers to older women, prostitutes were poor and fairly wrecked. They were often extremely addicted to drugs (like opium) and were heavy booze drinkers. Sadly, most died young. The more attractive one was, the more likely they were to make more money and move away from ‘crib’ status (prostitutes that lived in shacks and made around 25 cents per customer). Even if they made it into a mansion ruled by a madam, they were still were just as heavily addicted to substances as the cribs.

2 Violence

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Gun slinging, stand-offs, intense shoot-outs, knifing a man to death for “lookin’ at ya funny”… did all this copious amounts of violence really happen? Truth be told, the most violent shoot-out (at Tombstone) ended in three deaths. You have more of a chance getting shot walking around a bad part of town these days than you did strolling through the Old West. People didn’t walk around strapped with guns and most people just wanted to live in relative peace. Sure, there was an abundance of guns back then, but there wasn’t a massive outbreak of gun violence. You can ‘blame’ dime-store novels and Hollywood for this myth.

1 Bank Robberies

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Ah yes, the classic Wild West bank robbery! The bandits walk into a bank, tell everyone to “get their hand high in the air” and once they get the safe open and steal a few bags of money, they take off into the sunset on horseback. Truth is, before 1900 there was not a single successful bank robbery in the old west. Bandits were most likely to mug the innocent and undefended. A bank in the Old West was just not an ideal place to perform a ‘get in and get out’ type of crime. There are, by far, more bank robberies in today’s world than back then. You see the availability of the automobile made bank robberies more practical and so it wasn’t until the 1920s that they became more prominent.

Even though much of what we believe of the Old West was probably myth, it’s still a fun place to journey to in our stories and spin tall tales. As long as we know how to separate truth from fabrication, it does us no harm to have a little fun manipulating our past in fiction.

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