The wide, open west meant acres and acres of land for ranching. Once the railway came, ranchers could make huge profits by shipping their cattle to large cities, such as Chicago. During cattle drives, cowboys drove cattle from Texas to cattle towns, which sprung up near the railways.
These cattle towns were wild, lawless places. Almost every town had a hotel, a dance hall, and a saloon or two. Outlaws robbed trains and banks. Magazine and play writers wrote about the “wild west,” making it seem even more exciting than it really was.
- Ranching was hard, but profitable work. A steer bought in Texas for $3 could be sold for $40 in Chicago. Cowboys endured dry, hot conditions, Indian raids, storms, and stampedes to get their cattle to the railways where the cattle were loaded in stock cars and shipped to large cities.
- Outlaws like Jesse James and Billy the Kid are often portrayed as being adventurous heroes. In real life, they were vicious criminals, often shooting their foes in the back.
- The Wild Bunch robbed trains, banks, stores, and post offices from 1892 to 1895. This group included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. All of its members were eventually killed by gunfire by bounty hunters or law enforcement officers.
- Lawman, Wild Bill Hickok became gained legendary fame. He was such a good shot that he rarely had to draw his gun. No one wanted to mess with him. He was shot in the back and killed while playing poker.
- Calamity Jane, a friend of Bill Hickok, was a rough frontierswoman. She worked as a professional scout and joined a Wild West show, standing on a moving horse while shooting her gun. She is buried next to Bill Hickok.
- Buffalo Bill began working for the Pony Express when he was 14-years-old. Later, he became a soldier, a bison hunter, and a professional scout. He started Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which made him a legend and toured throughout the United States and Europe.
- Outlaw: a criminal; someone who doesn’t follow the law
Discover another American legend, Annie Oakley.
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Tobin, Declan. (2017). Cowboys, Outlaws, and Heroes - American History For Kids. American History for Kids. Retrieved from http://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/cowboys-outlaws-heroes/