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Thread: Death Toll in the Old West from firearms vs the unarmed East

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    Death Toll in the Old West from firearms vs the unarmed East

    I was watching the History Channel this morning. They had a segment on Wyatt Earp and another on the Cowboys. They stated that even though almost everyone in the Old West was armed with some sort of firearm, the death rate at the time from firearms was less than it was in the supposidely gun controlled East. Even 160 years ago the same scenario applied, an armed society was politer and safer than a supposedly unarmed society. I would think that an unbiased study would show the same thing today, but the anti's have the study statistics skewed thier way because they are the one's mainly doing the studies. The facts from 160 years ago prove the old saying still holds true, "When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns".
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    I watched the same thing - but I wonder if they are taking into account the much smaller population in the west than the east?

    At the beginning they explained how "Wyatt's" revolver went off accidently one day when he dropped it because he left the hammer resting on a live chamber. They then went on to explain this was because of a "design flaw" in the early six shooters, and explained how "Wyatt" had left his gun at half cock in the holster, and that's what allowed the AD to happen. No, that's not how it works...
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlock
    At the beginning they explained how "Wyatt's" revolver went off accidently one day when he dropped it because he left the hammer resting on a live chamber. They then went on to explain this was because of a "design flaw" in the early six shooters, and explained how "Wyatt" had left his gun at half cock in the holster, and that's what allowed the AD to happen. No, that's not how it works...
    Some times these shows are really wrong. From what I have read in period books over the years accidental shooting and unintentional discharges happen fairly often during the period of western expansion. Lot of immigrants with little experience with fire arms and the need to keep a fire arm ready to fire at a moments notice lead to many accidents. Dropping a Colt SAA in half cock can break the notch and discharge the revolver, it's been documented before. A live round under the hammer of a SAA is unsafe no matter what notch the sear is in.
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    I saw that episode; I wish they had documented this incident as I have never heard it before. I have my doubts about the authenticity of the story.

    As to the "design flaw" I have to dispute that claim. Everyone knows that one left one chamber empty and placed it under the hammer. Load one, skip one, load four, cock and lower the hammer.

    Only load all six if one expected serious trouble very soon. I also heard some time ago that if one were involved in an on-going shooting situation many people would shoot one round and unload the empty and reload (if possible) in order to keep the gun fully loaded.

    From what I have read about Wyatt Earp in particular and shootists in general they knew what they were doing with their firearms. I just can't picture someone like Wyatt Earp dropping his gun.

    I would love to hear an opinion from someone like Phil Spangenberger about this. Perhaps I'll run into him again at the gun show in January and ask.

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    A ridiculous comparison due to population differences.
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    And the urban violence of the manifest destiny era. The various proto urban gangs in the east were not exactly holding tea party cotillions. Such as the Dead Rabbits, Bowery and etc no doubt had some firearms.
    Also the period of labour unrest of the era, and the various shootings between such as the Molly Mcguire's and various Mine owners. And during the great RR strike of 1877 there were deaths on both the civilian and state troops side, even today how many of the protesters who died is unclear.

    So not entirely surprising that the firearms death rate was much higher in the East. The numbers were there and it wasn't exactly a stable period in American history. Such as Earp, or the Younger's get a lot of attention-but that's the lingering effect of penny dreadfuls.

    If the wars on the plains are not counted, the overall frontier death rate was likely much lower. They were too busy being snowed in, beating locusts of their crops, talking to chickens out of prairie madness, bartering sugar and coffee with the local Indian's, town boostering, digging holes all over the Rockies and Sierra Nevada's (and dying in those holes), and waiting breathlessly for month old newspapers or the Sears catalog...to be spending all that much time shooting each other. And movies not withstanding much of the stranger's visiting situation was not get out the gun and peer fearfully through the windows often it was more coffee if they had it and the relief to have some one else to talk to...people actually walked or rode over passes (when these were clear) just to go off visiting.

    The reason that Earp and such are still remembered is that these incidents were exceptions. Most western firearms were used as tools, and only peripherally for offense ( As madcratebuilder mentioned lots of emigrants armed to the teeth but in general they shot themselves by accident more often than were taking potshots at the Sioux, Comanche and the like). A good indicator of how much the firearm was a tool on the frontier is how many old and cheap double shotguns survive, and how many old single shot small caliber rifles are still rusting away under some old barns rafters.

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    For info on the Dead Rabbits, get the movie "Gangs of New York."


    In his book, Frontier Violence: Another Look, author W. Eugene Hollon, provides us with these astonishing facts:

    In Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City, and Caldwell, for the years from 1870 to 1885, there were only 45 total homicides. This equates to a rate of approximately 1 murder per 100,000 residents per year.

    In Abilene, supposedly one of the wildest of the cow towns, not a single person was killed in 1869 or 1870.

    Zooming forward over a century to 2007, a quick look at Uniform Crime Report statistics as shown in Table 6, shows the following regarding the aforementioned gun control “paradise” cities of the east and our home town:

    DC – 183 Murders (31 per 100,000 residents)
    New York – 496 Murders (6 per 100,000 residents)
    Baltimore – 282 Murders (45 per 100,000 residents)
    Newark – 104 Murders (37 per 100,000 residents)
    San Antonio - 122 Murders (9.3 per 100,000 residents)

    It doesn’t take an advanced degree in statistics to see that a return to “wild west” levels of violent crime would be a huge improvement for the residents of these cities.

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    There was also in play the strict firearms laws which were selectively enforced. What I mean is that most old west town had laws that prohibited the carry of firearms in the city limits. When a non-resident arrived in town he was supposed to "check" his firearm wither with the sheriff, and it would be returned to him upon his departure.

    However these laws were not enforced against the local citizenry, and so all of the bankers, shopkeepers, etc. WERE armed......and everybody, from the cowpoke to the sheriff knew it.

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    And that for many people cartridges were expensive, so compared to the modern range activity many of these weapons were fired as little as possible.

    Even in situations which on the surface warranted lethal force. In the years shortly after the war there were two gentleman who walked across the Kansas and Colorado prairies armed with an old needle gun (likely what they called a first Allen conversion or the slightly later 50.70 era Springfield). In all they had fewer than 30 cartridges. The Kiowa or Cheyenne disapproved of their passage and so followed them almost all the way across. The two Argonauts pointed the rifle at the Indians the Indians moved out of range, but due to the limited cartridges and the desire to bluff their way across they never fired it. And so it went until they got close enough to the settlements that the Indians decided it was time to quit.

    And tepelle is quite right about the local citizenry obeying the law, but not its spirit. Pocket revolvers seemed to be quite common as these were cheaper than the big bores such as the Remington/Colt/SW .44, .45's, and much easier to carry discretely when out buying flour, hammers, treacle and weird home remedies. It's often vexing here in the west when people find great grandpas old hand gun and it turns out to be some small breaktop, a "Swamp Angel", "Tramps Terror" or etc and not a '73 Colt's Army.

    So the movie image of the average westerner festooned with ammunition and carrying the most expensive 'man killers' of the era does tend to provide a misleading context. Just as likely it would have been some small top break, and a shotgun or cut down surplus rifle with 10-12 cartridges. Many of these people had a hard enough time buying shoes and food without spending their monthly wages on a high grade weapon.

  10. #10
    Until a ways into the 20th century the Northeast had little gun control. The Southeast after Reconstruction had a fair amount of it, mostly aimed at disarming the Blacks and poor Whites. Even today NH, VT and ME have very little gun control compared to some of the Western states...
    Sic semper tyrannis

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    but I wonder if they are taking into account the much smaller population in the west than the east?
    A ridiculous comparison due to population differences.
    Death rates are just that - rates. In modern times, they are measured in deaths per 100,000 of population. I would imagine that back in the 1800s, a more relevant rate would be deaths per 10,000 of population.

    So, it is not ridiculous. It is, indeed, a valid comparison, that is rate to rate. Now, if your assertion is that population density is a major characteristic of high murder rates, I would have to argue against that too. Japan has one of the highest population densities in the world, and one of the lowest murder rates. What would be a better theory is the combination of high density and diversity of ethnicity. IMO, there is a much higher coefficient of correlation between murder and those two factors together. Or, maybe, the cause is competition. Sociology is not my strong suit.
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    It doesn’t take an advanced degree in statistics to see that a return to “wild west” levels of violent crime would be a huge improvement for the residents of these cities.
    Quote:
    but I wonder if they are taking into account the much smaller population in the west than the east?

    Quote:
    A ridiculous comparison due to population differences.

    Death rates are just that - rates. In modern times, they are measured in deaths per 100,000 of population. I would imagine that back in the 1800s, a more relevant rate would be deaths per 10,000 of population.

    So, it is not ridiculous. It is, indeed, a valid comparison, that is rate to rate. Now, if your assertion is that population density is a major characteristic of high murder rates, I would have to argue against that too. Japan has one of the highest population densities in the world, and one of the lowest murder rates. What would be a better theory is the combination of high density and diversity of ethnicity. IMO, there is a much higher coefficient of correlation between murder and those two factors together. Or, maybe, the cause is competition. Sociology is not my strong suit.
    +1. population totals are irrelavent when using death rates
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    I would think that an unbiased study would show the same thing today, but the anti's have the study statistics skewed thier way because they are the one's mainly doing the studies.
    Gringo; Well, there is this recent FBI crime report, coming as it does after a large gun buying spree in America.
    http://www.fbi.gov/page2/dec09/crimestats_122109.html

    If the FBI is skewing the data, they're not doing a very good job of skewing if the plan is to show that more guns means more crime. Hence I tend to place some trust in the report.

    However; A right is not contingent upon statistics. The Bill of Rights lists no crime rate thresholds as exceptions. If you think about it; wouldn't it be more important to have access to the means of self defense if the crime rate were higher?

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    Read

    "More Guns Less Crime" by John R. Lott Jr.

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    The numbers were there and it wasn't exactly a stable period in American history. Such as Earp, or the Younger's get a lot of attention-but that's the lingering effect of penny dreadfuls.
    Spot on.
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    You guys are silly. Of course the West was wilder and bloodier than the East. In the East the women were all fair and delicate and the men wore bowler hats and tipped them to the ladies.

    In the West there were few older people, fewer younger people and almost every town had 30 or 40 bad guys getting killed every time the good guy went in and had to fight his way back out again. Its in the movies, I seen it for myself a hundred times, maybe 200 times. Then they showed all those documentaries on TV like Gunsmoke and the Rifleman and Wanted, Dead or Alive. They wouldn't make this stuff up would they???

    As sure as I am sitting here writing this nonsense the anti's are using this as their reference point for their numbers. It's just like the deer kissing Bambi lovers think Walt Disney produced a real life show about deer who talk to rabbits and blue birds and all hunters are evil.
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    Wonder what Bat Masterson would have thought about all this that has been mentioned???

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_Masterson

    Bat Masterson lived in the American West during a violent and frequently lawless period. His most recent biographer concludes that, Indian-fighting aside, he used a firearm against a fellow man on just six occasions, far less than some of his contemporaries such as Dallas Stoudenmire, "Wild Bill" Hickok, and Clay Allison. However, the fact that he was so widely known can be ascribed to a practical joke played on a gullible newspaper reporter in August 1881. Seeking copy in Gunnison, Colorado, the reporter asked Dr W.S. Cockrell about mankillers. Dr. Cockrell pointed to a young man nearby and said it was Bat and that he had killed 26 men
    The above sums it up well...

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    In politics and journalism..

    The truth is whatever you can get away with...

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    its seems quite relavent.....its the RATE not the total number....for example:

    1 in 10 in the "old west" is 10%

    100 in 1,000 in the modern east is 10%.

    so the numbers are higher now due to population but the RATE is the same.

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    Last night Turner Classic Movie channel showed one of my favorite "Cowboy" movies "Monte Walsh". It seems to me to be an accurate and sad snap-shot of the dying days of the "Wild West"
    Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you.

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    Which Monte Walsh version was it, The one with Lee Marvin, or the one with Tom Selleck?

    Bill
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    The one with Lee Marvin. To me it ranks amongst the few authentic "Cowboy/Western" movies.
    Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you.

    If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.

    A pipe gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth

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    Thank you for the reply...!

    While I liked both the Lee Marvin Movie version and the Tom Selleck movie version, the Lee Marvin version was the most accurate in depicting real cowboy life.

    I especially liked the scene where the cook adultrated the food, with croton oil, after the cowboys gave him an unwanted bath.

    I'm from southwest Montana. I have seen several ranches that looked like dead ringers for the one in the Lee Marvin movie.

    Bill
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    I would surmise that there were times and places, such a mining camp or town duriing a gold rush, that crime would be up; however, it seems more and more that the legend of the lawless "Wild West" was often a Eastern dime novelist projecting on a blank canvas for a thrill seeking audience of Easterners.
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    Bodie California was one of the most violent mining campsin the west - Bill

    Like many booming mining camps, Bodie soon earned a reputation for violence and lawlessness. Killings were sometimes daily events and robberies, stage holdups and street fights were common occurrences in the camp.

    In its day, Bodie was more widely known for its lawlessness than for its riches. Of Bodie, the Reverend F.M. Warrington would describe it in 1881 as "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion."

    Given Bodie's reputation, it is perhaps not surprising that one little girl, whose family was moving to the mining town, reportedly prayed: "Goodbye God! We are going to Bodie.”
    A fool enters into contention, and his mouth calls for strokes - Proverbs 18:6 KJV

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