The Wild West, also known as the American Frontier, was the period of American history between the 1870s and 1900s, characterized by the settling and development of the western territories of the United States. This period of American history was marked by westward expansion, the growth of cowboys and cattle drives, the rise of mining towns, and the displacement of Native American populations.
The Wild West began after the Civil War when the government started encouraging westward expansion through the Homestead Act of 1862. This act offered free land to anyone settling and developing it, which led to a large influx of settlers moving west. Many of these settlers were farmers and ranchers who established large farms and ranches, while others were miners who set up mining towns in search of gold and other valuable minerals.
The cowboy culture emerged during this time, as ranchers hired cowboys to drive cattle to market. Cowboys were a rugged and hardy group of men skilled in horseback riding, roping, and shooting. They were also known for their distinctive dress style, which included wide-brimmed hats, boots, and bandannas.
The Wild West was also a conflict between settlers and Native American populations. The government’s policy of westward expansion led to the displacement of many Native American tribes, who were forced to move to reservations. This often led to violent conflicts, such as the Battle of Little Bighorn and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Many towns and settlements were situated in remote areas, with little or no access to basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care. Additionally, the harsh weather and rugged terrain made life difficult for the pioneers who ventured into this vast, uncharted territory. One of the most significant issues facing the people of the Wild West was the constant threat of violence and crime. Outlaws, bandits, and other criminal elements preyed on settlers, stealing their possessions and sometimes taking lives. The lack of organized law enforcement meant that vigilantes or the U.S. military often meted out justice.
Local sheriffs and marshals often provided law enforcement in the Wild West, but there were also famous lawmen like Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, and Billy the Kid. The Wild West was known for its outlaws and bandits, such as Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. Despite the harsh living conditions and the threat of violence, many people were drawn to the Wild West by the promise of adventure and the chance to start a new life. The period was also marked by the building of the transcontinental railroad, which connected the East and West coasts and made it easier for people to travel and settle in the West.
The Wild West era ended in the early 1900s, as the western territories became more settled and the government began to enforce laws and regulations. The cowboy culture also began to fade away as the cattle industry shifted to large-scale operations and the use of trains to transport cattle.
The Wild West era holds a certain romance and mystique in American culture and history, with stories, movies and TV shows that depict the life and times of the cowboys, outlaws, and settlers who lived during this time.
Lincoln County in New Mexico was the scene in 1877-1881 of a violent conflict between cattle ranchers and merchants in which the outlaw and gunman Billy the Kid was a prominent participant. Pat Garrett (left) was elected sheriff of Lincoln County in 1880 and charged with tracking down and arresting the Kid, which he succeeded in doing after a shootout. Billy escaped from custody and in 1882 was shot and killed by Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Poe (right), who had been Garrett's deputy, succeeded him as sheriff in 1882 and Brent in turn was elected to the post in 1885.