The Wild West, also known as the Old West or the American frontier, includes the history, geography, culture, and folklore in the forward wave of American expansion that commenced with European colonial settlements in the early 17th century CE and concluded with the admission of the last few western territories as states in 1912 CE. This era of settlement and massive migration was especially encouraged by President Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase, giving rise to the expansionist approach known as “Manifest Destiny” and the historians’ “Frontier Thesis.” The historical events, legends, and folklore of the American frontier have buried themselves into United States culture so much that the Old West and the Western media genre have become one of the defining tenets and points of pride of American national identity.
Stories from the Wild West
In 1911 CE, Elmer McCurdy wrongly robbed a train he thought carries thousands of dollars. The sad outlaw made off with just $46 and was shot by lawmen shortly after that. McCurdy’s unclaimed corpse was later wrapped with an arsenic preparation, traded by the undertaker to a traveling carnival, and presented as a sideshow curiosity. For more than 60 years, McCurdy’s body was sold and bought by numerous wax museums and haunted houses for use as an attraction or prop. His corpse eventually wound up in a Long Beach in California amusement park funhouse. During filming there in 1976 CE for the television show “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the prop’s finger broke off, exposing human tissue. Subsequent testing by the Los Angeles coroner’s office revealed the mount was actually McCurdy. He was ultimately buried at the famous Boot Hill cemetery in Dodge City in Kansas, around 66 years after his death.
One of the weirdest ideas in American history, the U.S. Camel Corps was founded in 1856 CE at Camp Verde, Texas. Rationalizing that the desert southwest was a lot like the Egyptian desert, the Army imported over 66 camels from the Middle East. Despite the animals’ more offensive qualities—they drooled, parroted, and defied orders—the experiment was considered a success. As the eventual Civil War broke out, frontier exploration was curtailed, and Confederates took Camp Verde. After the war, they sold most of the camels (some to Ringling Brothers’ circus), and others fled into the wild. The last reported sighting of a feral camel came out of Texas in 1941 CE. Presumably, no descendants of the Camel Corps’ members remain alive today, but we could be wrong.
One of the most popular gunfights in history—the shootout between the three Earp brothers (Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt), Billy Claiborne, Doc Holliday, the two Clanton brothers (Ike and Billy), and the two McLaury brothers (Tom and Frank)—didn’t amount to much. Despite the engagement of eight people, the gunfight lasted about 30 seconds. Moreover, the shootout didn’t take place inside the O.K. Corral at all. Instead, all the shootings happened near the prevailing intersection of F Fremont Street and Third Street in Tombstone, Arizona, which is behind the corral itself. The bloodshed made up for the brevity, though: three of the cowboys killed, and three of the lawmen were injured.
Universally attributed with creating the Western film genre, Broncho Billy Anderson, star of 1903’s CE “The Great Train Robbery,” was born Maxwell Henry Aronson in 1880 CE, the son of a wandering Arkansas salesman. As soon as Aronson was old enough, he quickly hightailed it to New York City, where he acted or produced in literally hundreds of films. Cast somewhat by accident in “The Great Train Robbery,” Aronson chose to capitalize on its success by building the Broncho Billy persona. Aronson ended up recording and starring in dozens of Western films, becoming the first known cowboy matinee idol.
It’s no new knowledge that Native American villages predate European ones by thousands of years, but it may surprise some individuals that Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been constantly occupied since the 12th century CE. The Acoma still occupy their “Sky City,” a town of about 5,000 people that sits atop a 365-foot mesa. Traditionally traders and hunters, the Acoma tribes now make their income from the casino complex and a cultural center.