These Photos of the Wild West are Absolutely Breathtaking

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Olive Oatman

It’s fair to say that Olive Oatman didn’t exactly have the best of lives. When she was just a small child, the whole of Olive’s family was murdered by a tribe of Native Americans but spared Olive. They marked her chin with a traditional Mojave tattoo and taught her the ways of the Native Americans. However, she was also treated as a slave. She was eventually saved by a group of Western Americans but struggled to reintegrate herself into society.

Olive Oatman was captured by Native Americans and lived with them until she was an adult

Catching their enemy

As you can tell from pretty much every cowboy movie ever made, the cowboys in the Wild West were incredibly proud of their work and stopped at nothing to ensure that their livestock and farms were protected at all times. However, the open landscape is often prey to other animals – who will feast their eyes on their cattle. To stop this, the Cowboys patrolled their land and caught any animals who threatened their livelihood. Like this wolf.

Cowboys would often catch animals who threatened the livelihood of their cattle

Open spaces

Way back in 1872, there were no high-rise buildings, no suburban neighborhoods, and no residential areas. Instead, there were wide open spaces and barren landscapes that explorers simply chose and claimed for themselves. The rent prices were probably a little cheaper back then…

The Wild West was full of wide, open and barren landscapes that were claimed by Cowboys

 

Armed escorts

We’ve all seen the movies, and we all know that the Wild West wasn’t exactly the safest era. With bandits and thieves running amok in the mountains, many people often hired armed escorts to lead the way to their next destination. This was to ensure that their produce or lives weren’t endangered. However, many people had to travel without an armed escort, as you couldn’t buy this luxury for the price of a beer; more the price of the whole saloon.

Those who could afford armed escorts would use them to protect themselves from bandits and thieves

For the love of Bandits

Although most people feared the bandits and thieves, there were some people that got a kick out of being around them – including this little lady, Belle Star. Belle just absolutely loved a bad boy and soon surrounded herself with some of the most notorious bandits of the time. Belle even married a couple of them during her life! Unfortunately, she died a mysterious death in 1889, and we’re not going to point fingers at who may have killed her but…

Belle Star was enamored with the bandits of the Wild West and even married some during her lifetime

Bathing together

For most of us, sharing a bath with other people is normally saved for special, romantic occasions (or, you know, everyday life. Whatever floats your rubber duck) – but not for the people of the Wild West. Back in the late 1800s, bathrooms were nonexistent, so everyone had to bathe together. After three months on the road, these Cowboys decided to have a little wash in the river before heading back home. Yep, even horses need a wash too!

Bathing was a luxury back in the 1800s, and many had to share their lakes or water holes with others

The Texas Rangers

With the increase in crime plaguing the Wild West, the Cowboys knew that something needed to be done, so they created their own unofficial police force; the Texas Rangers (nope, they didn’t fight the bandits with their baseball skills). The Texas Rangers formed their alliance in 1823, and this was one of their first photos as a group. They patrolled the streets and kept their homes from harm, and finally expanded enough to create an official law enforcement unit.

The Texas Rangers were established to fight off bandits and thieves

Mining the most money

The people of the Wild West veered onto numerous career paths (although not ones many of us would choose today), but the most profitable career path during the late 1800s happened to be down the mines. Cooper, Gold, and Silver were highly valuable during this time – meaning you could make a heck load of money. Of course, the businessman who owned the mine itself scored most of the profits, but the workers were also highly paid. Result.

The most profitable business came from mining, as the mines were full of Copper, Gold, and Silver

Taking a break

The people of the Wild West got bored pretty quickly and wanted to upgrade their living quarters every so often. Because of this, they mostly lived Nomadic lives and moved around from place to place. To do this, the Cowboys needed some help – and employed the use of their horses and a wagon to carry all of their worldly belongings. But moving around all the time was hungry work, so they had to stop every so often for a spot of lunch.

Those who lived in the Wild West were Nomads who moved around from place to place

The Rufus Buck Gang

The Wild West was full of violent and ruthless gangs that would cause havoc and make their money from exploiting others. During the year of 1895, The Rufus Buck Gang were perhaps the most ruthless of them all (even though they look pretty young and harmless). The Rufus Buck Gang would fill their time with robbery, murder, and rape. Soon enough, their faces adorned the ‘WANTED’ posters, and they were eventually caught and punished for their awful crimes.

The Rufus Buck Gang were ruthless criminals who undertook violent and horrific crimes before they were caught

Indian Teepees

Of course, before the Wild West settlers found their homes – they were often already inhabited. The Native Americans had spread their Sioux Teepees across the barren lands for years before the Cowboys came along and forced them out of their homes. Although most Native Americans did attempt to fight to keep their land, ultimately the Cowboys were stronger, faster (and carried guns). Because of this, landscapes laden with these Teepees soon vanished, as they were forced to move elsewhere.

The Native Americans would live in traditional Teepees scattered around the barren landscape

The old railroads

Nowadays, we’re used to modern and fully engineered railway systems – it makes us pretty happy to know that we’re safe when we’re hurtling along at 100mph. However, the Wild West was very different. Back in the day, the railroads were haphazardly built across the bumpy landscape and with materials and methods that would not definitely not pass health and safety standards today. Nevertheless, they were vital for trade and transportation during the 1800s, and the people of the Wild West made do.

The railroads in the Wild West were used for transportation but weren’t the most sturdy of structures

Going through Death Valley

Death Valley is one of the biggest and most barren landscapes in the Wild West – and is known for miles and miles of barren landscape. As you can tell by the less-than-desirable name, you wouldn’t want to walk through Death Valley. Because of this, many cowboys used wagons and mules to transport get help them through the desert landscape. This photograph depicts a couple of cowboys with their mules as they transport their wagons through the dusty roads.

Cowboys and Western Americans used wagons and mules to transport their goods across Death Valley

Pearl Hart

When you think of cowboys and bandits, you probably think of the Hollywood bandit – with the black and white shirt and the cotton bag with a dollar sign on it. And most of the time, the bandit is male. However, the real Wild West was vastly different, and there were numerous female bandits. One of the most famous was Pearl Hart, who made a name for herself as one of the most notorious stagecoach bandits of the time.

Pearl Hart was one of the most famous female bandits and prided herself on her stagecoach robberies

The Pacific Railroad

Although they weren’t quite up to the standard of today, the Americans of the Wild West were at the height of engineering at the time. During the latter half of the 19th Century, they knew that they needed an easier way to transport goods out of the Wild West and into larger populated areas. From this, the Pacific Railroad was born. The railroad took a whopping six years to create but provided a route for goods from Iowa to San Francisco.

During the late 1800s, the Pacific Railroad was built. This was built from Iowa to San Francisco

The good ol’ saloon

Whether you were a bandit or a good ol’ fashioned cowboy (or cowgirl), there was nothing better than coming back from a long day of cattle farming to a nice cold one in the local saloon. There are numerous depictions of the Wild West saloon in movies and cartoons – but do you know what one really looks like? This photo shows a true Wild West saloon. Yeah, we could imagine having a few drinks with the lads here.

The Wild West Saloon is a famous image when describing the lifestyle of cowboys and bandits during this time

The Paiute Tribe

Although most Native Americans despised the Americans for their colonization of the Wild West, there were many who gave into the Western ways to enable them to continue living in their settlements and avoid confrontation and certain death (which often occurred). This photograph of the Paiute Tribe shows a perfect mix of traditional Native American clothing mixed with Western clothing and accessories – such as cowboy hats, jackets, and pants. They continued to live alongside the cowboys and are still recognized today.

Native Indians would often adopt the Western way of life, and begin to wear Western clothing

The Shoshone Falls

When it comes to waterfalls, there’s always one that sticks out; Niagara Falls. However, there is another waterfall in the US that could definitely compete with it. The Shoshone Falls are located in Idaho and is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. During the late 1800s, many cowboys, Native Americans and tourists would travel to the Falls to see the beauty for themselves, have a swim in the pool below and cool down after a hard day.

The Shoshone Waterfall became a tourist attraction during the Wild West period and rivaled Niagara Falls

Buffalo Bill

Even if you don’t know much about the Wild West, you’ve probably heard of Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill, who was actually named William Cody at birth, was the founder of one of the most famous ‘Wild West’ shows of the time. His traveling show featured epic gunfight re-enactments – and many people would travel far and wide to witness the show for their very eyes. His original concept is still used today by numerous historical sights and shown at Wild West exhibitions.

Buffalo Bill founded the famous ‘Wild West’ traveling show, which featured gunfight re-enactments

Bloody Bill

It’s best not to get these two confused. Bloody Bill was a lot more…well, bloody….than Buffalo Bill. This bandit was the leader of Quantrill’s Raiders who fought for the Confederate side during the American Civil War. Bill seemed to get a taste for blood and would murder hundreds of Union soldiers at a time – just because he felt like it. However, Bloody Bill was notoriously secretive, and this is only the second photograph ever recorded of him.

Bloody Bill was the leader of the Quantrill’s Raiders and murdered hundreds of people

Playing their games

Whenever you watch a Western movie, you can almost guarantee that there will be a scene where a bunch of cowboys congregate in the saloon, drink a couple of beers and play a few rounds of poker. However, this is historically incorrect. Instead of playing poker, most cowboys played another game called Faro. This game originated in France but made its way over the US, and had a similar concept to Poker – although the odds in Faro were much better!

Although it is believed that Cowboys played Poker, they actually played a game called Faro

Native American goods

Although they lived completely separate lives, the cowboys of the Wild West saw the benefits of having Native Americans close by – mainly because their products were so beautiful. Many Native American tribes have their own form of weaving which can create intricate rugs, blankets, and clothing. The Western Americans absolutely loved these products, and would often trade these woven goods for their own Western attire, food or materials. The Native Americans soon lived up to the demand and weaved more every day.

The Americans and the Native Americans built up a trade between traditional Native goods and Western produce

Bringing out the big guns

During the late 1800s, it was all about status. However, your status wasn’t decided by the clothes you wore or the house you owned. Instead, your status was determined by how big your gun was. Nearly everyone in the Wild West owned a gun, as it was vital to survival – and everyone was proud of their own. To show just how proud they were, most cowboys posed with their precious gun in every single photograph they took.

Many Cowboys would pose with their guns to show off their social status and strength

Grass Dancers

As Buffalo Bill’s traveling ‘Wild West’ show picked up more and more traction, he wanted to expand his show and provide more variation for his audience. This photograph shows Buffalo Bill’s Grass Dancers – called Elk and Black Elk. They were Oglala Lakota Natives and were brought into the show to display their traditional Grass Dancing skills, while they wore bells and shells on their costumes. The dancers proved so popular they continued to tour the world with Bill.

Elk and Black Elk were Grass Dancers for Buffalo Bill’s traveling ‘Wild West’ show

A traveling dark room

During the late 1800s, cameras and photography were relatively unknown concepts – especially in the Wild West. Thankfully, we have Timothy H. O’Sullivan to thank for some of the most intricate photographs of this period. However, taking photos in this harsh environment wasn’t easy, and Timothy often struggled. As you can see in this photo, he had to permanently transport a darkroom around with him so he could develop his photographs. This was carried through the desert by four strong mules.

Timothy H. O’Sullivan famously took pictures of the Wild West and had to transport a traveling dark room around with him

Rough terrain

Although life in the Wild West may seem pretty simple compared to our stressful and busy lives in the 21st-Century, they were anything but. In fact, many people struggled to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert heat and the rough and rocky terrain of the nearby mountains. This proved especially difficult for those who had to travel to work, find food, trade or graze their cattle. This photograph proves just how difficult it must have been.

Many Cowboys had to traverse rough and dangerous terrain to look after their cattle

A real cowboy

Of course, there is one thing that the old Western Hollywood movies have got right. In popular culture, we’re shown these images of cowboys riding their steeds across a barren landscape, with a cowboy hat on top of his head, a lasso hanging off his arm and a bunch of cows in front of him; ready to be herded. And that’s exactly what they did. Whether or not they shouted ‘Yee-Haw’ at the same time is yet to be established…

Like most movie depictions, Cowboys traveled around on their horses with a lasso in their hand

To the highest bidder

Although the desert plains of the Wild West were there to be taken, the civilized Americans knew better than to simply take the land for themselves. In fact, as the town’s started to grow, so did leaders and businesses. To buy new land, the townspeople congregated together to bid on the land which was being auctioned off to the highest bidder. If you didn’t have the money, you would get the worst (and cheapest) land in the area.

When the Western Americans claimed their land, they had to bid and pay for it themselves

The Wheeler Survey Group

This group of (fairly unhappy looking) men was the Wheeler Survey Group. These men took part in an exhibition that was headed up by Captain George Montagu Wheeler. The aim of this mission was to create a topographic map of the Wild West and took them a whopping ten years to complete. After doing so, Wheeler – being the humble man that he was – decided to name numerous locations after himself; including Wheeler Peak and Wheeler Geologic Area.

The Wheeler Group Survey aimed to create a topographic map of the American Wild West

Gold Hill

Gold Hill became famous for one thing (wonder if you can guess?) – Gold. This little town in Nevada was a breeding ground for miners, businessmen, and crooks during the late 1800s. The town once thrived and featured numerous saloons, the famous Gold Hill Hotel, houses and more. However, the gold soon ran out, and the miners were forced to leave the area. Although the town is still going today, there are only around 190 people who live there!

Gold Hill was a famous gold mining town during the late 1800s and is still established today

Family feud

Rose Dunn, who was also called the ‘Rose of Cimarron’ was an extremely famous figure from the American Wild West. She rose to fame when she was still a youngster (around 14 or 15-years-old) after she entered into a notorious relationship with one of the most violent outlaws of the time, George ‘Bittercreek’ Newcomb. Of course, her family wasn’t too fond of her choice in a boyfriend – so her brothers murdered him two years later. Oops, that must have been awkward.

Rose Dunn fell in love with a famous bandit, before her brothers murdered him

 

Chief Joseph

Although there were many Native American tribes who simply watched as their lands were taken away from them, there were also other tribes who fought back. Chief Joseph was one of the most famous chiefs during this time. As the leader of Nez Perce tribe, Chief Joseph didn’t want to stand by and watch as his people were murdered. Instead, he led his tribe on a mission to Canada to start a new life. Unfortunately, the mission was unsuccessful.

Chief Joseph attempted to fight back against the settlers and tried to take his tribe to Canada

The epic cowgirls

The history of the Wild West is shrouded in stories surrounding Cowboys. However, there were hundreds of cowgirls who were equally as able – and some were even better shooters than the men! These cowgirls would often join forces to run their own farms, look after their own livestock and practice their sharp shooting skills. But of course, just like all of us (including the men) sometimes you just have to stop and rehydrate at the watering hole.

There were hundreds of cowgirls who worked just as hard as Cowboys during the Wild West period

The cowboy

During the late 1800s, John C. H. Grabill worked as a miner – but soon decided to change his career path and enter into the world of photography. As he took photos of the Wild West, he took this photo of a Cowboy working the land and going about his daily life. Nowadays, this photograph is known as the most accurate depiction of what the typical Cowboy looked like back in the day. We especially like the leather Chaps.

This picture is known as the most accurate depiction of the Wild West Cowboy

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Earp and Masterson

Wyatt Earp was renowned for his epic gunfight at the O.K. Corral which lasted a whole 30 seconds, between a group of outlaws called the Cowboys and some lawmen. Special Policeman Wyatt Earp (pictured sitting) was left unharmed and became a local hero. Bat Masterson, the former Kansas Sheriff and friend of Earp, is the guy standing menacingly next to him in the photo. These were seriously tough lawmen that you wouldn’t want to mess with.

Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were two important lawmen in the Wild West days

Jesse James

Everyone has heard of the legend that is Jesse James. This outlaw made his name robbing banks and trains, all in a pretty brutal way. For some reason, the public really resonated with Jesse James, which is probably how he managed to evade capture for so long. He was killed by the Ford brothers, who were trusted members of his gang, back on April 3, 1882. Jesse James became a legendary figure of the Wild West days, featuring in many books and films.

Jesse James is one of the most famous outlaws in American history

Tiburcio Vasquez

This Californio Bandido managed to evade capture by the authorities for 20 whole years! After bringing together a load of other criminals to create a bandit gang, a $8,000 reward was put on his head. This led to him hiding out in various parts of the country, including the area that is now known as Vasquez Rocks around 64 km north of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hide forever and was hanged on March 19, 1875, when he was 39-years-old.

Tiburcio Vasquez managed to evade capture for around 20 years in the Wild West era

General George Crook

Nicknamed Crook Nantan Lupan (Chief Wolf) by the Apache, General George Crook was a force to be reckoned with in both the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. Crook spent much of his last years fighting against the unjust treatment of his Indian adversaries and was seen as one of the good guys by the Apaches. He passed away suddenly on March 21, 1890, after nearly 40 years of dedicated service in the United States Army.

General George Crook was a hero of the Civil War and Indian Wars, and good friends with Apaches

Geronimo

You probably recognize the name Geronimo, or perhaps even used the word when jumping from a height! “Geronimo!” However, did you know that Geronimo was a prominent leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe? This Apache hero was known for leading several resistance operations against US military campaigns, even surrendering to General George Crook back in the mid-1880s. He became an American Prisoner of War and passed away from pneumonia after his horse threw him off and he lay in the cold all night.

Geronimo was a prominent leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe

The Black Hills

The Black Hills of South Dakota is where this photo was taken, but it’s who is in the photo that holds the most importance. This picture shows the army of George Custer who was just a lieutenant at the time. The group were searching for somewhere they could build a fort and felt as though The Black Hills would be the optimum location. Many years later, Custer was defeated in the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn, nicknamed “Custer’s Last Stand.”

This photo was taken at the Black Hills of South Dakota during the Wild West times

Cowboy Detectives

Charles Siringo was the author of a tell-all book about his former employer, the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The book, entitled ‘A Cowboy Detective’ goes into details about all of the adventures that Siringo went on, along with a few of his detective crew. This picture was taken while Siringo was on the trail of the Wild Bunch between 1899 and 1900, with W.O. Sayles. In the book, however, his partner’s name has been changed to W.B. Sayers to protect his identity.

Charles Siringo wrote a tell-all book about his time with the Pinkerton Detective Agency

Cowboy Stag Dance

Women were few and far between in the Wild Western days, especially in the frontier. Because of this, men would often dance with each other, at ‘Stag Dances.’ The “Heifer branded men” would take on the part of the woman’s role, and would often wear handkerchiefs tied around their arm to show they were the female. These events were often quite hilarious and not really taken too seriously, although we bet they wished there were actual women to dance with!

The cowboy stag dance was quite a popular pastime during the Wild West era

Deadwood

Nope, Deadwood isn’t just an epic TV series on HBO. It’s actually a real place, in South Dakota! This photo, taken by John Grabill, shows the town celebrating the completion of the Deadwood Central Railroad and streetcar railroad. The settlement of Deadwood was actually started illegally in the 1870s, on land that belonged to the American Indians. The entire city of Deadwood is now a National Historic Landmark District, thanks to a lot of the Gold-Rush era buildings still standing.

This photo shows the town of Deadwood celebrating after completing the Deadwood Central Railroad

Nebo and Janis

This photo shows Cottonwood Charlie Nebo, who was a true cowboy! The man with him, was his “half-breed” partner, Nicholas Janis. Charlie Nebo was known for being a real frontiersman who was extremely modest about his achievements. The original photograph has a handwritten note at the top which says, “The Genuine Cowboy Captured Alive,” although it’s thought he was just “passin’ through” when the photo was taken; something he did often, choosing not to settle in one place for too long.

This photo shows cowboy Cottonwood Charlie Nebo and his partner Nicholas Janis

Navajo Nation

The Navajo people are the second largest Native American tribe in the United States – and they are notorious for living in some of the most inhospitable environments in the Wild West. They soon claimed the Navajo Nation as their own, and it’s now the biggest reservation in the country! This photo shows the Navajo people traveling across the Canyon de Chelly during with the desert and rocky landscapes in the background. And of course, they have a little doggo in the background, too.

The Navajo people moved from place to place across the barren desert

Quanah Parker

This Comanche Chief was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by the Comanches when she was around 9-years-old, during the raid of Fort Parker. When Buffalo Hunters tried to take over the Comanche territory, Quanah Parker led his warriors into a bloody battle known as the Battle of Adobe Walls. His victory secured his role as Comanche Chief until he passed away in 1911. Even after his passing, his people remained proud of their once glorious and victorious leader.

This photo shows Quanah Parker a Comanche Chief who passed away in 1911

George Armstrong Custer

It’s believed that George Armstrong Custer was an especially vain man, who loved nothing more than posing for photographs. Some say he had more than 150 photos taken of himself over his lifetime, but this one was the most pertinent. This photo is the last picture ever taken of him, two months before the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1976, where he lost his life alongside his entire detachment (which included two of his brothers).

This is thought to be the last photo taken of George Armstrong Custer two months before the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Texas John Slaughter’s Cowboys

John Horton Slaughter (AKA Texas John Slaughter) was a Texas Ranger, known for fighting hostile Indians and Mexicans, particularly in New Mexico and Arizona. After, he became a cattle driver and formed a cattle-transportation company with his brother. This photo shows a group of Slaughter’s cowboys and is thought to be one of the best group photos depicting real-life working cowboys, according to Robert G. McCubbin who is renowned for his collection of Old West photos.

This photo shows a group of Texas John Slaughter’s cowboys

Wild Bill Hickok

One of the most famous gunslingers of the American Old West was James Butler Hickok, known as Wild Bill. While many of the stories about his life were thought to be fabricated by himself, to gain respect and admiration, it is known that he was one of the best gunfighters in the whole of the Wild West – particularly when it came to shootouts. His legend lives on, as he’s often featured in TV shows and movies, including the HBO series named Deadwood.

This photo shows Wild Bill Hickok who is one of the most famous names in the American Old West

Fort Belknap Reservation

This photo is thought to be taken at Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana, around 1906. This was a Native American Reservation that welcomed riders to stop off during their long journeys across the frontiers. According to some sources, what they’re roasting over the fire is actually a dog. While that may make you cringe in horror now, it was commonplace to eat whatever you could find in the Wild West. Even if that did mean cooking Fido for dinner!

This photo shows riders stopping off at Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana

Abducted

This haunting photo was taken in Arizona back in 1886, according to sources. It depicts an 11-year-old named Santiago (Jimmy) McKinn, who had been abducted by the Apache he is surrounded by in the picture. His parents managed to get him back, but apparently, he was having none of it. He fought hard when they came to collect him, asking to stay with the Apache instead. It’s thought Jimmy since grew up, had kids and grandkids and passed away in the 1950s.

This photo shows Santiago (Jimmy) McKinn surrounded by his Apache abductors in 1886

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