13 Incredible Wild West Photos
The Wild West was a formative time in the history of the United States of America. Occurring over three centuries (1609 – 1912), the Old West, which is often portrayed in movies and TV shows, is widely considered to have taken place after the American Civil War ended in 1865 until the closure of the frontier in 1890. During this short period of time cowboys ruled the plains as outlaws made their names and many of the great Wild West legends were created. What we know of this time is recorded in books and Wild West photos depicting the way of life back then.
This was the time of prospectors, cattle merchants, cowboys, outlaws, and gunfighters. It’s a period of American history that has grown in stature over the decades as more myths and legends have become part of American folklore. People like Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, Jessie James, Wild Bill Hickok, and Billy the Kid became icons of their time whose stories live on today in books, movies, and TV shows.
To highlight this incredible time in American history here is a collection of Wild West photos that show what life was really like for those living in the American West.
13 Incredible Wild West Photos
1. The Cowboy (1888)
When you think of the Wild West, the first thing that generally comes to mind is the cowboy. These men of the land were employed by ranchers to help move cattle during the different seasons. Often hard-working individuals, these drifters moved from ranch to ranch looking for any type of work they could find.
Identifiable by their distinct clothing – work boots, chaps, shirts, and cowboy hats – these days cowboys are often portrayed as outlaws in movies and on television. The particular cowboy in the photo above in the full getup was taken somewhere in Sturgis, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota).
2. Green River City, Wyoming (1872)
While you can’t actually see Green River City (it’s a speck in the background), this stunning photograph gives you a glimpse at the incredible rock formations found in that area of Wyoming. Known as buttes, these large natural landscapes are isolated hills usually formed from erosion over a period of many years.
3. Billy the Kid, 1879
This is one of the only photographs that still exists of the outlaw known as Billy the Kid. Born Henry McCarthy, the gunfighter killed eight men before being gunned down himself at the age of 21. After killing a blacksmith, Billy the Kid joined a group of cattle rustlers before becoming part of the Regulators and taking part in the Lincoln County War of 1878.
Accused of shooting Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady, Billy the Kid was eventually tracked down and captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett, another famous name from that time. Sentenced to hang, Billy escaped from jail, killing two sheriffs in the process. He spent two months on the run before eventually being tracked down by Garrett and killed.
Since his death, Billy the Kid’s legend has only grown, with his exploits celebrated in various forms of media over the years.
4. Sioux Camp, 1890
The Sioux were a tribe of American Indians who resided around the Dakota area of North America. There were two main tribes, the Dakota and Lakota, with both having many run-ins with the American government. The Lakota, known as fierce warriors, was a Native American tribe involved in many famous battles with the U.S. Army, culminating in the Wounded Knee Massacre, where American soldiers slaughtered around 300 Lakota people.
Today the Sioux people continue to fight for their rights and demand the return of their land. They are scattered on reserves throughout the United States in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana.
5. Buffalo Soldier, 1890
The Buffalo Soldiers were part of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. These men were the first all-black regiments in the American army. The African American soldiers were involved in the Indian Wars and the Johnson County War. They represented around 10% of American soldiers from 1870 to 1898, with the oldest surviving Buffalo Solider, Mark Matthews, passing away in 2015 at the ripe old age of 111.
6. Gold Hill, Nevada (1870s)
The town of Gold Hill was a major source of gold and silver for two decades during the late 1800s. Some of the major mines, including Yellow Jacket, Crown Point, and Belcher, are believed to have returned around $10 million in precious materials. It was a thriving town during this time, with a population of 8,000 at its peak.
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7. Doc Holliday (1879)
This old time photo of Doc Holiday was taken sometime in 1979 by an unknown photographer. It shows Holiday smartly dressed and posing for the photo, his mustache in immaculate condition. Holiday was many things during his 36 years on earth. A gambler, dentist, gunfighter, and outlaw, he was a good friend of lawman Wyatt Earp.
Holiday was involved in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, lived in Dodge City at one point, and had a reputation as an expert marksman who killed many men, although history buffs believe that number was more likely two or three. He caught tuberculosis at age 21 but managed to live with the disease until it finally took his life in 1887, some 15 years later.
8. Jesse James (1864)
Jesse James was another outlaw who made his mark during the old Wild West. He and his brother Frank were part of the pro-Confederate guerrilla group known as the “Bushwackers,” who many believe committed war crimes. After the American Civil War ended, the two got into the robbery game, holding up banks, trains, and stagecoaches throughout the Midwest.
James, Frank, and the various gangs they belonged to gained a reputation as notorious killers who took what they wanted. As the law closed in on them in 1982, Robert Ford, a new member of the James gang, shot and killed Jesse James from behind.
Like many popular figures from that time, Jesse James’ legacy has only grown over the years, with the picture above a photo of James as a youngster before he turned into the vicious killer that was slain at age 34.
9. The Deadwood Coach (1889)
Taken by famed American photographer John C H Grabill, this image is of a stagecoach taking people to the town of Deadwood. You might be familiar with Deadwood through the TV series of the same name. It was a thriving town during the Wild West where many famous people from that era lived, including Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok, who also met his end there.
As you can see from the photo, the men are all dressed quite similarly in their suits and top hats. They are all sporting moes as well. No doubt they were heading to Deadwood to sample a few quiet ales in the saloon.
10. The Completion Of The Transcontinental Railroad (1869)
The Transcontinental Railroad connects the west with the east and is considered one of the great American creations of the 19th century. Completed soon after the American Civil War, the railroad enabled travel between the two coasts, opening up trade routes and giving people easier access to the United States.
This photo was taken when the last spike was hammered into the railroad, finally completing it. The event occurred at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869.
11. Shoshone Falls (1874)
This majestic waterfall that’s part of the Snake River in central Idaho is a sight for sore eyes. Despite its isolated position, Shoshone Falls became a tourist attraction after first being discovered in the early 1840s. Decades before that, the Native Americans living in that area used to fish for salmon there. It continues to be popular with visitors and was successfully jumped by professional stuntman Eddie Braun in a rocket in 2015, who was replicating Evil Knievel’s failed attempt from 1974.
12. William “Curly Bill” Brocius (Unknown Year)
William “Curly Bill” Brocius was an outlaw cowboy involved in numerous crimes throughout the Wild West in the late 1800s. He is best known for participating in the murder of Morgan Earp, the brother of Wyatt. After this incident, he went on the run as Wyatt and his posses of deputies chased him across the country.
Wyatt and his crew eventually stumbled upon Brocius and his men at Iron Springs on March 24, 1882. A gunfight took place and Curly Bill was killed by a bullet to the guts by Wyatt. It was hard to believe the two were enemies, as just 18 months earlier Wyatt had testified for Brocius in a murder trial, helping him get a not-guilty verdict.
13. Deadwood (1888)
This photo shows the town of Deadwood and its citizens celebrating the completion of the railway that would run through the town. Like many Frontier towns, the railway opened up new opportunities for the townsfolk and was greatly appreciated by most who lived there.
Deadwood became famous after gold was found there in 1874. At its height, around 25,000 people resided in the town, with many of these prospectors looking to make it rich. Many characters in the acclaimed Deadwood series are actually based on real people who lived in the town, including Al Swearengen, Wild Bill Hickok, Seth Bullock, and Calamity Jane.
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