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20 Incredible Old Photos From the Wild West!

Kelsey Freeman

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1.  The American Civil War was the defining event of the Old West.  From the early days of increasing agitation between slave and free, to the era after the war when well-armed and well-trained veterans traveled the plains, the vast majority of people in the Wild West had some sort of connection to the Blue or the Grey.

2.  The American West was mostly unpopulated at the end of the Civil War, and the men and women who would come to live there often came from the war-torn cities of the East. Here is a group of soldiers who may very well have found their way out West, carrying their unique style and skills with them.

3.  The place built up fast, though.  There was practically nobody living in Comanche, Texas, before 1860.  By the 1880s they were building mansions.  This is a mansion called Oaklawn Heights, built at the highest point in town.  Cowboys and horses on the streets below didn’t stop their bosses from living the high life.

4.  Here is the fabled Wild West town of Deadwood, in the magical and mineral-rich Black Hills of South Dakota. Keep in mind that this valley was utterly empty and pristine only fourteen years before, but then General Custer discovered gold, and this is all that came with it.  “Civilization” can spread quickly, as quickly as trees can be turned into boards.

5.  Speaking of Custer, here is the man himself, reclining on the ground with his dog. This picture was taken when he was a young soldier in the Civil War, working for General Fitz-Joseph. His actions in the West, terminating in the deaths of him and his entire command, were still years in the future.  It was here that he was learning the skills that would carry him to disaster.

6.  Speaking of the Lakota , here they are doing a traditional powow in the year 1901.  First Nation tribes were an integral part of the Old West, though their story is one of illness, betrayal, and decline. However, the Lakota still hold the rights to the Black Hills, and some day their stewardship of the land will be restored.

7.  Here is a picture of a young Lakota man, probably a cowboy or rancher judging from his attire, smoking a cigarette and thinking hard. The synthesis of American, Mexican, and Lakotan cultures was so complete in this area that it’s impossible to know where one culture ends and another begins.

8.  Living in the Old Wild West was hard work. Here are a couple of cowhands getting ready to hit the trail in Nebraska around 1889.  As you can see, they’re expecting to be gone for a long time.  Everything they had to live on for weeks was packed on those horses.

9.  They had a lot of ground to cover!  This is the R. P. Bean reach, in Van Horn, Texas. This was the sparsest and most desolate part of the state, so they had to ride their horses a long way to keep those cattle in check.

10.  Here are some cowboys relaxing and taking a meal. The chuck wagon behind them contained food and helpful supplies, including needles, thread, and laundry soap. People really did dress like that, even when working outside in the full sun. The protection afforded by full clothing was more than worth in it a world full of brambles, thorns, barbed wire, excited livestock, cold wind, sudden rain, and blistering sun.

11.  When cowboys wanted to relax, they went to the big city. In those days, that meant the Big Easy. Easily accessible by riverboat from anywhere on the right side of the Rockies, New Orleans was the biggest cities most people in the Old West ever saw or ever wanted to see.

12.  It was a young world then, and people went into business at a very early age. This was especially true during the war. Here is a young man, a child by modern standards, and the cannon he helped to fire during the War Between the States.  Maybe 12 years old when this picture was taken, no more than sixteen by the time the war ended, he was quite likely one of the millions who sought their fortunes to the West after the close of hostilites.

13.  The world to the East, the world they left behind, was a world of ruin and pain. Here is Harper’s Ferry, one  of the most important cities in Virginia, after the war was done with it. Scenes like this were what people went West to try to escape.

14.  Their world was a world very much in progress.  Here is the Washington Monument in the age of the cowboys.  America took a long time to get around to finishing it.

15.  It wasn’t all blood and sweat, though. Here are two brothers in 1860, getting ready to depart on the Oregon Trail and bringing their music with them.

16.  They had a big world to look forward to. Here is a cowboy overlooking his natural terrain. Although this picture was taken in 1939, it is truly a timeless moment.

17.  Here is a mess hall, or cafeteria, on a ranch in Montana. Again, this picture was taken in 1939, but nothing had changed from the Wild West days. If one went back today, perhaps it would still be much the same.

18.  The lack of trees in the Old West led to a lack of lumber, and that led people to look elsewhere to keep themselves warm in the winter and cool in the summer. An easy expedient, especially in the sere climate of the American West, was to build the house half underground. These dugout houses were comfortable, safe, and easy to build. Both the rich and the poor lived in such habitations.

19.  Horses were an everyday part of life. Here is a magnificent stable all the way back in Washington D. C., an excellent example of the regard in which these beasts were held in their day. It is said that Texans refused to get off their horses.

20. The Wild West was known and beloved by all, even when it was still happening. The mythology of the West, including the fabled stagecoach hold-up, was carried nationwide by Buffalo Bill’s Flying Circus and their many imitators. They acted out all the most famous scenes of the West, carrying the news to the small tows of the East and enshrining them in our cultural memory.

21.  The land of the horse and the wide-open sky has had a powerful grip on our imaginations for a very long time now. Children have been dreaming of being cowboys since time immemorial. Here is a young man and a pony on the Jersey Shore in 1901.  No matter where he went in life, he always carried within him that child who wanted to be a cowboy.


Let’s start our list by acknowledging that you don’t start a journey on the frontier because life is going to be easy. Literally building up a country from its foundation took a lot of work. Here we see workers at the McDonald Brickyard in Round Pond, OK.

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Guns weren’t just part of American life back in the 1800s, they were the only way to make sure that you and your family stayed safe. Unfortunately, there were individuals who took it too far like Billy Brooks. Brooks was a notorious gunfighter who served as a lawman in Kansas before turning into a petty thief and criminal. He was hung in 1874.

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The fall of Custer is one of the most famous moments in frontier history, if only for the way that it disparages the Colonel Custer himself. Here we see Curly, a Crow scout that worked directly beside Custer. He was there during the final battle and he ended up as one of the only survivors. Curly fled the battle to alert other Americans what had happened but since he knew no language, he had to resort to sign language. Curly became something of a minor celebrity and lived until 1923.

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Surviving the Wild West meant that you had to get creative. Here we see a team of California workers banding together to do something known as Dragnet Fishing. This image was taken at some point in the early 1900s.

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If you liked to fight and didn’t like Native Americans, there was always a job for you. Here we see George Crook, one of the most well-known Indian-fighters in the entire United States Army. Crook was a gritty, ‘get things done’, kind of soldier.

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Death Valley is still one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the entire United States. Now, imagine trying to traverse this stretch of desert without your air conditioner. Here we see a wagon train that is being hauled by 20-mule teams. This team is angling for the nearest railroad in order to complete their shipment of borax.

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Life out West was less than sanitary at the best of times. Here we see cowboys taking a pit stop to get cleaned up during a prolonged cattle drive. Cattle drives could last up to three months at a time.

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Here we see a wagon stopped in the middle of Greenwood County in Kansas. What looks like a pleasant afternoon lunch was actually a hard-won meal after a long day of wagon riding. Nothing was easy out here, ever.

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Here we are transported back in time to Arizona, circa 1887. What we see in this old photograph is a group of men playing cards at a table in front of their brand new ranch. This is supposedly John Doyle’s Ranch and we can see that frontier life was notoriously difficult, even when you had friends at your side.

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Ned Christie wasn’t what you would typically think of when it comes to Old West outlaws. Christie wasn’t a bank robber and he wasn’t a murderer. Instead, he was a Cherokee native who ran whiskey. Christie was killed in a firefight after refusing to allow lawmen to arrest him. Here we see Christie’s body lashed to a board for a ‘trophy’ photograph which was a popular type of photo for lawmen of the time.

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What we so often forget about life in the Wild West was that everything was more or less uncharted to exploring Americans. What this meant was simple: everything was new, everything was ‘up for grabs’, and every discovery was fascinating. Here we see members of the Geological Expedition led by Clarence King. King helped to explore the Sierra Nevada.

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When fighting between Americans and Natives wasn’t bloody, it was often just sad. Here we see a group of Apache Indians being hauled to the Southern Pacific Railway for transfer. 1886.

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This photograph was discovered by Phil Spangenberger in the cabinet of an old antique shop somewhere in California. What we see are the Sierra Nevada Mountains which is being traversed by a pair of passengers with armed guards at their flank. To have armed guards back in the late 1800s meant that you were generally someone of importance.

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Is there a more famous outlaw in American history? We don’t think so. Jesse James was the most notable member of the James/Younger gang. He was murdered in 1882 by the ‘coward’ Robert Ford.

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Long before Chuck Norris was hamming up basic cable with a hat in his hand and a gun at his hip, real Texas Rangers were working to become the most famous lawmen in American history. Here we see James Thomas Bird as well as John J Haynes during a photo shoot in 1868. Rangers were famous for fighting Comanche as much as finding outlaws.

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While the Wild West was a journey of exploration for Americans, it was something quite different for Native Americans. Here we see Chief Joseph, one of the most renown orators and war chiefs in Native American history. Chief Joseph was vital during the Nez Perce War in 1877.

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This incredible photograph shows Olive Oatman in 1856. Oatman had been a captive of the Mohave for a prolonged period of time when her ransom was finally paid for. Oatman is seen sporting a tattoo that was given to her by the Mohave as an honorary sigil, hoping to afford her a positive afterlife.

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When historians say that our country was built on bloodshed, do not argue. Bill Anderson, one of the most ferocious and deadly pro-Confederate leaders of the 1800s, was a perfect emblem of all the bloodshed. This photograph shows Bill Anderson himself and it was recovered by a Union soldier from Anderson’s body.

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This fascinating photograph shows us Belle Starr, a woman from the Indian Territory who found herself increasingly ensconced in the lives of bandits. She had been in a relationship with Cole Younger and had even married, at different times, of course, the likes of Sam Starr and Jim Reed. For some people, the life of a bandit was an attractive proposition — but it was not a long-lived one.

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This incredible image was not pulled from a Clint Eastwood film. Instead, we are looking at actual Navajo riders crossing the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona circa 1904.

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History

Could the Wreck of the Last Slave Ship Have Been Found?

Cynthia Brooke

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The international slave trade was outlawed far before slavery itself was banned in the United States; however, these laws didn’t stop people from trying to smuggle in new slaves of their own. During the height of slavery, one owner of an Alabama plantation made a friendly wager with a friend that he could still smuggle slaves into this country on his boat, which he called the Clotilda; however, one a fateful day in the hot summer of 1860, this plantation owner was worried that the authorities were going to catch them. He had just returned from West Africa and had to quickly unload his slaves in the middle of the night. Then, he set his beloved Clotilda on fire in an effort to hide the evidence in the Mobile Delta.

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A Possible Discovery by a Local Reporter

Now, close to 160 years later, a reporter from Alabama claims to have possibly found the wreck of this boat. Following a “bomb-cyclone” that went through the area in January of 2018, the wreck might have been revealed. Ben Raines, a reporter for AL.com, used historical records and the journal of the Clotilda’s captain to start his search. The intrepid reporter also relied on interviews from the time, local lore, and even the memoirs of local residents.

Revealed by a Massive Cold Front, a Bomb-Cyclone

As a result of the massive cold front, a burned-out wreckage of a ship was revealed just a few miles north of the Mobile Delta, where the ship was supposedly ditched. There are iron spikes, charred wood, and what appeared to be the body of the boat. The reporter, who posted a video along with one of his recent articles, stated that he had a gut feeling that this might be the wreckage of the long-lost slave ship. He might have uncovered a piece of the international slave trade.

A Chapter of the International Slave Trade

About thirty years after setting the boat ablaze, the financier of the voyage boasted about his smuggling abilities to a local newspaper. This newspaper story highlighted the importance of the slave trade to the local area. Many slaves were brought in from Benin (located in Africa) aboard the famous ship, even after emancipation had been declared. This area was dubbed “Africatown.” Since that time, many of the local residents can trace their roots back to ancestors who were brought over on this ship, signifying the place that the Clotilda has in history. Furthermore, historians such as Sylviane Diouf have even written entire books discussing the ship.

With the Help of Drone Technology: Gathering Evidence

Raines took a drone and recorded some aerial videos and snapshots of the famous wreck once it had been uncovered. Furthermore, he even took a visit to the site of the wreckage with a specialist to analyze the build and construction of the boat. With the help of professionals, everyone agreed that the design of the ship matched that of other boats that had been built during the time period of the international slave trade. Furthermore, it did show signs that it had been set ablaze, further confirming the identity of the vessel. In order to gather more evidence and information, he will need access to the hull of the ship. It could hold other artifacts that might identify it as a slave ship. Unfortunately, this will require Raines obtaining special permits to access the body of the vessel. With more time, funding, and manpower, Raines might be able to learn more about this small piece of history.

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History

A Recovered 1930s Interview Tells The Story Of The Surviving Slavery

Brooke Hurbert

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Many avid readers enjoy a good book by Zora Neale Hurston. What they may not know about her is that her talents ran much deeper than writing. Unbeknownst to many, she tracked down a man with an extraordinary story to tell. She found not just any man, but the last one that survived being held captive on a ship filled with slaves being transported from Africa to the U.S. 

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Not only did Hurston find this man, she thoroughly interviewed him as well. Unfortunately, she was not able to put the interview into book form, despite her best efforts. It wasn’t until 2018 that the interview was finally published in the form of a book titled Barracoon: The Story of The Last “Black Cargo.” With the release of Hurston’s book many longtime unanswered questions were suddenly answered. 

Barracoon tells the story of a man born with the name Kossula, which later became Cudjo Lewis.  When he was born he lived in Benin, a country in West Africa. At the age of 19 he was kidnapped by the Dahomian tribe. Against his will he was moved to the coast and sold as a slave, along with approximately another 120 men. He and the other slaves were forced to reside on the Clotilda, a slave ship which would take them from their home country to America.

In 1860 the ship arrived in Alabama with all captured slaves on board.  Despite the declaration in the U.S. that slavery was legal, bringing slaves in from other countries was illegal. The ship arrived in Alabama during overnight hours. They were then confined to an area swamp for a matter of days. For fear of being caught, the kidnappers set the ship on fire. There is a distinct possibility that the remains of the ship were found in early 2018. 

Those that read the book will get a firsthand view of the ordeal through Lewis’s eyes. Throughout the book, Lewis expresses how it felt to be sold into slavery against his will. He talks about how even though his fellow slaves lived together on the ship, they were separated once they reached Alabama. Readers experience the pain of the ordeal right along with him. 

Lewis talks about how he struggled with being placed on a plantation he felt out of place in. Due to language barriers, he and the plantation workers could not effectively communicate. The frustration Lewis experienced during that time is evident throughout the story. He also shares with Hurston that the Civil War had started and he’d had no idea at the time. He later gained knowledge that the point of the war was to free him and his fellow slaves. 

Following Robert E. Lee’s April 1865 surrender, Lewis told Hurston that Union soldiers came to the boat he was working on. They then delivered the news that the slaves had finally be freed . Not content to return to his prior life, Lewis and his fellow freed slaves teamed up to purchase land in Alabama. Located near Mobile, the men transformed the land they christened Africatown. 

Though Hurston faced controversy for her handling of the book’s subject matter, she kept the book intact. Much of the book took Lewis’s exact words and put them on paper. At the time she was trying to get it published, this prevented her from being able to do so. As her readers know, Hurston was known for her controversial views on anthropology and not shying away from dialogue considered vernacular. Much of that is evident in this book. 

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History

When Trucking Leads to Change

Anjali DeSimone

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The United States decision to resupply the Israeli military marked the beginning of a national crisis. In response to this decision, Arab members of the OPEC banned exports of petroleum to the United States and other supporting countries of Israel. Subsequently, oil prices quadrupled, and the economy begin to suffer. One of the people affected by this crisis was JW Edwards, A meat truck driver from Overland Park, Kansas. In an attempt to financially survive the crisis, Edwards and other truck drivers made up code names to let each other know where to find diesel fuel; however, this this did not last very long, as many gas stations did not supply enough diesel to meet trucker demand.   No gas meant no deliveries, and no deliveries meant no money. Not only was there no gas, but there had been talk of changing the maximum speed limit to fifty-five miles per hour. Edwards knew that if this continued for too long, he would be forced out of business. “I had to take things into my own hands.” he said. “My family was depending on me.” 

On the night of December 3rd, while passing through Blakeslee, Pennsylvania Edwards ran out of gas in the middle of the interstate. He had had enough. He picked up his CB radio and invited other nearby truckers to come block the interstate in protest.

When John Robinson, a local trucker from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania heard Edwards on the radio, he headed that way to show his support. Robinson knew and understood Edwards’ frustration all to well as he and his family were also feeling the affects of the oil crisis. He had been in the trucking business for thirty years, hauling lumber from state to state. Not only was this his families only source of income, but at the time, his wife had recently given birth to their fourth child. “Some nights he would come home and not say nothing,” remembers Mrs. Robinson. “I knew that he was worried, but I trusted that he would figure it out.”

The protest stretched nearly twelve miles, causing a standstill for nearly one thousand vehicles. It wasn’t long before truckers in other states followed the lead. The protest caught national attention, and although some state leaders promised changed, gas prices continued to rise. Since the protest had begun, food shortages were on the rise and the economy was a mess due to the over 100,00 people who were now unemployed.

It wasn’t until a group of six truckers from the Independent Driving Association decided to come together to speak with government officials that things begin to get better. Government officials agreed to ensure that the truck stops had enough diesel fuel to meet the demands of the truckers. They also worked together to appeal the decision to decrease the maximum speed limit.

In March of 1974, approximately six months after it had all started the embargo ended.  Negotiations between Israel and Syria were finalized. The affects of the crisis however, including the high fuel prices, lasted  throughout the 1970s.  

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