REGION 7: HISTORY (The Old West) Fun Facts


North Dakota * South Dakota * Wyoming * Montana * Colorado * Nevada


So much intriguing history awaits the traveler journeying into the Old West!  The Wild Wild West conjures up images of cowboys, gunfights, Indians, saloons, railroads and gold mines – often more romantic than realistic.  Our minds wander onto the plains, up into the mountains and out into the deserts where bandits wait to jump the next stagecoach or train in search of loot!  The culture that developed in this harsh and violent landscape however, led to a breakdown in law and order and made daily life a struggle for survival.  In this dangerous environment, people developed the philosophy that a person not only had the right to bear arms, but to defend to the death the property that they had claimed.  Even today, this ideology remains primarily unchanged.

 For our ‘Focused Events’ we’ll spend most of our time between the years 1865 and 1895.

We’ll call this the ‘Age of the Old West’:



So much was happening during the Westward Expansion!  Here are a few of the highlights of the Old West:


*The 1st American Gold Rush was in North Carolina in 1799. The 2nd was in Georgia in 1828, and the California Gold Rush started in 1849.

*The biggest Gold Rush lasted from 1849-1858 and was in California.WWW4

*The Gold Rush was the largest mass migration in the U.S.

*Over 300,000 people moved to California during the ‘Rush’ in search of fortune.  They were called ‘49ers.  Many of them arrived in ships, and early sections of San Francisco were built out those ships.

*More fortunes were made by merchants than by miners.

*The Gold Rush led to California establishment as an American state.

www5*Gold could be panned or mined.

*Between 1848 and 1858, $550 million in gold was extracted.

*By 1858, most of the surface gold had been extracted and more modern techniques were being used in mines.  Depleted resources and gold being discovered in Colorado led to the end of the Gold Rush.


*The word, ‘Cowboy’ first appeared in the English language around 1725.  It came from the Spanish word vaquero meaning ‘one who manages cattle on horseback’.  Initially, the term was used when referring to an outlaw, bandit or horse thief.

WWW3*Cowboys were an essential part of settling the West.  Ranching was a big industry, and the cowboys helped to run ranches, herd cattle, repaired fences, and cared for the horses.

*Cattle were in constant need of being transported.  Cattle drives required about 12 cowboys per 3000 head of cattle.

*Cowboys usually lived together in bunk houses.

*The cowboy’s gear was important.  The boot was essential gear as their design kept a cowboy’s feet in the stirrups, and prevented slipping to avoid being drug by a horse.  The hat protected them from sun and rain, and the chaps protected the legs from cacti, sharp bushes and rash.  The bandanna kept them from breathing in the dust kicked up by horses and cattle.www6

*Rodeos were created by the cowboys with the events centering around their daily lives.

*The average cowboy in the Old West made between $25 and $40 per month.


*1815: The first charter to build a Railroad was granted, and construction on the New Jersey Railroad Co began in 1832.

*1830: The first steam powered locomotives start passenger service from Charleston, SC.

*1840: The number of miles of railroad track hits 3,000.www9

*1860: The number of miles of track reaches 30,000.

*1860: The first locomotive vacuum brake is invented.

*1861: Central Pacific Railroad is created.

*1861-1865: Both the Union and the Confederacy used the railroads during the Civil War to move troops and supplies, but the superior network in the North contributed to the defeat of the Confederacy.

*1862: The Union Pacific Railroad is chartered.

*1862: President Lincoln signs the Pacific Railway Act which authorizes the construction of the first trans-continental railroad to be built by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad companies.

*1863: The first track is laid by the Central Pacific heading east from Sacramento.

*1864: The Pullman sleeping car is built

*1865: The Southern Pacific Railroad is founded.

*1868: Central Pacific buys the Southern Pacific.

*1869: The Golden Spike (or Last Spike) was driven on May 10th signaling the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the U.S. joining the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines at Summit, Utah.

*1872: First automatic air brakes begin use,

*1877: The Royal Gorge Railroad War between the Denver & Rio Grande and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe begins in Colorado.

*1883: The Southern Pacific is completed from California to New Orleans.

*1885: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe completed to San Diego.

*1885: The Southern Pacific and the Central Pacific merge creating the Southern Pacific Railroad.

www10*1886: The first refrigerated cars go into operation on the Southern Pacific.

*1888: The Northern Pacific is completed to the Puget Sound in Washington State.

*The ‘Golden Age of the Railroad’ was considered between 1880 and 1920.

*1930: The Railroads had reached their peak number of miles of track adding up to over 430,000.  Trucks and airplanes however, eventually have led to the decline of the railroads.


Life in the Old West was made up of long, hard days.  It was filled with lawlessness, sickness, death, hardships and strained relationships with the Native Americans.  It was also a time for great discovery, building and expanding.  Here are a few facts about life in the Wild West:


*Most settlers traveled to their new homes in covered wagon caravans.  It could take 3-6 months to travel the Oregon or California Trails.

*Pioneers had to carve their homes out of the wilderness.  The wilderness provided firewood and building material, as well as plants and animals for food and medicine.

*Pioneers had to learn to contend with wild animals.

*Pioneers had to learn to plant crops – much of which they learned from the Native Americans.

*Livelihoods included farming, ranching, mining, establishment ownership (saloons, stores, brothels etc…), and thievery.

*During the 30-or-so-year of the Old West’s heyday, there was roughly 1 woman to every 10 men.

*For both men and women, a day’s work went from sunup to sundown.

*Children went to work as soon as they were able.

*The Old West was pretty lawless.  Laws were enforced by mutual consent of the community, and many lawmen were corrupt.

*Fewer people died from gunfights and Indians than by disease.

*Lack of clean water killed thousands in the Old West.

*The average life expectancy was about 43 years.  Infant mortality rate was at about 20%.

* The Pony Express only ran for a short 19 months, but during this surprisingly short time, the riders carried nearly 35,000 pieces of mail over 650,000 miles. Only one bag of mail ever became lost or missing.  The average age of a Pony Express rider was nineteen, and his salary was less than $150 per month, plus room and board.



*During the time of the Westward expansion (1830-1860 approx.), the U.S. created a policy based on the ideology that Americans were destined by God or Nature to extend their nation across the continent, and that this belief was both inevitable and justifiable. Journalist John L. O’Sullivan coined the phrase ‘Manifest Destiny’ in 1845 while he was writing his editorials.

*The U.S. was committed to this policy and willing to go to war to achieve its goal.

*The U.S. was able to negotiate and secure from Great Britain the rights to the Oregon Territory including California and the Pacific harbors.

*1845: the Mexican-American War resulted in the annexing of over 500,000 square miles of Mexican lands including Texas.

*At its start, the Manifest Destiny ideology was both controversial and contested, andwww1 remains so today.

*1862: Congress passed the Homestead which gave away 160 acres to any family or individual that promised to make improves on the land for a minimum of 5 years.



*Jesse James: The most famous of the James-Younger gang, known for bank, stagecoach and train robberies.  Shot in the back of the head by a friend for the reward money in 1882.

*Tom Horn Jr.: Tracker, bounty hunter, lawman and detective for the Pinkerton Agency.  Tom was forced to resign due to his temper, and became a killer-for-hire committing at least 50 murders. He was executed in 1903.

*James ‘Killer’ Miller: Paid assassin and gunslinger.  Killed between 14 and 50 men.  Though known as ‘Deacon Jim’ because he regularly went to church and refused to smoke or drink, ‘Killer’ Miller was kidnapped from a jail in OK and hung in a barn.

*Wyatt Earp: One of the most feared and respected lawmen of his time, Earp is most known for his ‘Vendetta Ride’ leading a group of gunmen to murder 30 people associated with the killing of his brother.  He died in 1929 of a UTI.

*Henry ‘Billy the Kid’ McCarty: Although one of the most famous of cold-blooded killers, Billy was actually brave, loyal and funny.  He had entered a life of crime out of necessity, and was killed in 1881 at the age of 21.

*’Wild Bill’ Hickok: Actor, gambler, lawman and best shot of his time.  Participated in ‘Western-style quick draw’ duels.  Shot in the back of the head during a poker game in 1876.

*Henry ‘The Sundance Kid’ Longabaugh: Initially a horse-thief, he rode with Butch Cassidy in the ‘Wild Bunch’ and was responsible for the longest string of successful bank robberies in history.  Died in a shoot-out in 1908.

*Robert ‘Butch Cassidy’ Parker: Leader of the ‘Wild Bunch’ gang and responsible for countless bank robberies. Died of multiple gunshot wounds in 1908.

*Doc Holliday: Starting out as a dentist and contracting tuberculosis at 15, Doc turned to gambling and gun slinging.  Although he rode with Wyatt Earp in the ‘Vendetta Ride’ and killed at least 10 people, his other crimes are highly debated.  He died of tuberculosis in 1887.

*Sam Bass: Honest Cowboy turned bank robber, Bass was responsible for the largest ever robbery on the Union Pacific Railroad.  Killed by the Texas Rangers in 1878.

*William “Curly Bill” Brocius: Leader of the ‘Cowboys’ gang of cattle rustlers near Tombstone, Curly Bill was killed by Wyatt Earp for being tied to the murder of his brother.

*Tom ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum: Cowboy-turned-bank robber and leader of the Ketchum gang.  He is known for being the last man hanged for attempted train robbery after a botched hanging leaves him in pieces in 1901.

*Charles ‘Black Bart’ Boles: Notorious bank robber famous for apparently never having fired a shot and leaving behind poetic messages at the scenes of his crimes. Known for using aliases, Bart served time at San Quentin and then completely disappeared.



 1). NORTH DAKOTA: Motto: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable”

*1610: Henry Hudson explores and claims the eastern Dakota area for England.

*1713: England gains northern Dakota from France.

*1787: First formal mapping of the Dakota area is completed.

*1801: First White settlement in Pembina.  Trading post established at Grand Forks.

*1803: Missouri Watershed returned from Spain to France.

*1804: Lewis and Clark explore the Dakota area.

*1818: Dakota becomes part of the Missouri Territory.

*1829-1831: Fur Trading Posts established at Ft Union and Ft Clark.

*1861: The Dakota Territory is established.

*1863: The Dakota Territory is opened for homesteading.

*1866: Ft Buford Military Post established.

*1872: Northern Pacific Railroad lays tracks from Red River to Jamestown. First telegraph line is run between Fargo and Winnipeg.

www3*1874: Gen. George Custer explores the Black Hills and discovers gold.

*1875: U.S. War Dept. allows white settlements on Indian lands creating conflict.

*1876: Custer defeated at Little Big Horn.

*1878: Ranching begins in Western Dakota.

*1879: Great Dakota land boom begins.

*1885: The first prison built in Bismarck. First hospital for the insane opens in Jamestown.

*1890: Sitting Bull is killed.

*1889: The North and South sections of the Dakota areas becomes separate territories.

*1889: North Dakota becomes the 39th state admitted to the Union.

*1901: Theodore Roosevelt becomes President.


2). SOUTH DAKOTA: Motto: “Under God the people rule”

**1610: Henry Hudson explores and claims the eastern Dakota area for England.

*1713: England gains northern Dakota from France.

*1760-1764: The Sioux and Arikara War.  www4

*1804: Lewis and Clark explore the Dakota area.

*1817: First fur trading post established at Ft Pierre.

*1831: First permanent white settlement at Ft Pierre. First steamboat arrives at Ft Pierre.

*1864: First military post established in the Dakota Prairie.

*1874: Deadwood becomes famous mining camp town.

*1878: Charles Ingalls settles in De Smet, the ‘Little Town on the Prairie.’ Later, the town becomes the setting for five of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.

*1889: South Dakota becomes 40th state admitted to the Union.  Pierre is the initial capitol, but it takes 20 years to make that permanent.

*1890: Massacre at Wounded Knee leaves over 250 Lakota Indians dead at the hands of the 7th Cavalry.

*1927: Work begins for the Mt. Rushmore Natl Monument.

*1938: Sturgis Motorcycle Rally established.

*1939: Badlands become a Natl monument.

*1948: Work on the Crazy Horse Memorial begins.

*1960: first Native American elected to congress.

Did you know that:

*With so many lakes and rivers, South Dakota has more miles of shoreline than Florida?

*It is illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota?


3). WYOMING: Motto: “Equal rights”

*1742: Wyoming first explored by France.www5

*1807: John Coulter – mountain man from the Lewis and Clark expedition – discovers geysers in Wyoming.

*1811: First expedition into Wyoming.

*1822: With an ad in the St Louis Gazette, William Ashley recruits young men to develop his fur trading venture into the new frontier.  The roundups that he held at Green River, UT become annual and are called, the ‘Rendezvous’.

*1833: B.L. Bonneville discovers oil near Lander.

*1834: Ft Laramie becomes Wyoming’s first trading fort and eventual military post.  Most of the treaties with the Indians were signed here.

*1842: The Great Migration begins on the Oregon Trail.

*1849: U.S. purchases Ft Laramie

*1860: Pony Express started.

*1861: Transcontinental telegraph is completed and Pony Express service is discontinued.

*1866: Ft Kearney established.

*1867: The Union Pacific enters Wyoming.

*1868: Wyoming established as a Territory.

*1869: Wyoming women get the vote.

*1871: ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody begins guiding hunting parties through Yellowstone.

*1872: Yellowstone created as 1st National Park.

*1885: Chinese Massacre at Rock Springs.

*1888: Capitol building completed.

*1890: Wyoming is admitted as the 44th state in the Union.

*1897: Cheyenne Frontier Days begins.


4). MONTANA: Motto: “Gold and Silver”

*1803: U.S. acquires most of Montana in the Louisiana Purchase.

*1805-1806: Cherokee and Chickasaw cessions open up land to white settlement as Lewis and Clark explore Montana.

*1832: First steamboat arrives at Ft Union.

*1846: U.S. acquires the rest of Montana in the Oregon Treaty that established boundaries with Canada.

*1851: Laramie Treaty with U.S. Government and 7 local Indian Tribes.

*1862: Gold discovered at Grasshopper Creek near Butte.

*1863-1864: Gold strikes near Virginia City and Helena.

*1864: Montana declared a Territory.

*1866-1868: Red Cloud War between the U.S. Army and the Lakota Sioux Indians.

*1872: Congress establishes Yellowstone National Park.

Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte

*1875: Helena becomes Capitol replacing Virginia City.

*1876: Gen. Custer is defeated at the battle of Little Big Horn.

*1876: Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce Tribe escapes from Oregon into Yellowstone, but is forces to surrender in 1877.

*1877: Copper mining begins in Butte.

*1880: Utah and Northern Railroads enter Montana.

*1889: Montana admitted to the Union as the 41st State.

*1910: Congress creates Glacier National Park.

*1914: Montana gives women the right to vote.

*1919: Oil discovered in Cat Creek north of Billings.

*1935-1950: Series of Earthquakes hit Montana.

*1972: Current State Constitution is adopted.

*1980: Fallout from the Mt St Helen’s Volcano eruption blankets Montana.

*1988: Forest Fires sweep through Yellowstone Natl. Park.


5). COLORADO: Motto: “Nothing without the Deity”

*1541: Colorado explored by the Spanish.

*1682: Colorado explored by and claimed for France.

*1765: Spanish expedition in search of gold and silver.

*1803: U.S. acquires eastern Colorado as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

*1806: Pike’s Peak discovered by Zebulon Pike.

*1848: U.S. acquires western Colorado form Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago.

*1850: Current boundaries of Colorado are determined, carved from existing territories including the Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Utah territories.www11

*1851: First permanent settlement at San Luis.

*1858: Gold discovered in Colorado.

*1859: First Mail Stagecoach arrives from KS; Rocky Mountain News goes into publication, and oil and more gold is discovered.

*1861: Colorado is recognized as a Territory.

*1865: Ft Morgan established for protection against Indians.

*1867: Denver chosen as Capitol.

*1870: Railroad connects with the East Coast.

*1871: Colorado Springs founded by Gen. Wm. Palmer.

*1874: Photographer W.H. Jackson discovers ancient cliff dwellings near Mesa Verde.

*1876: Colorado admitted to the Union as the 38th state.

*1878: Leadville becomes world’s largest mining camp.

*1880: Denver & Rio Grande lay tracks through Royal Gorge to Leadville.

*1881: Ute Tribes moved to reservations.

*1886: Last public hanging (Andrew Green-for murder and robbery) in Denver.

*1888: Last Indian Raid into Colorado.

*1892: The Denver Post begins printing and the Brown Palace opens.

*1894: Capitol Building completed.

*1894: Colorado 2nd state to grant voting rights to women.

*1905: Due to a political squabble, Denver had 3 governors for one day in March.

*1906: The Denver mint begins production.


6). NEVADA: Motto: “All for our country”

*1519: Area explored and claimed for Spain.

*1819: The Adams-Onis Treaty defines Nevada’s northern border.

*1826: Jedidiah Smith becomes first white man to enter Nevada.

*1829: Fur trapping gets underway.www12

*1830: First pack train to cross from Santa Fe to Los Angeles through Nevada.

*1841: First organized immigrant party passes through Nevada.  Over 60,000 will cross through Nevada before 1849.

*1843-1844: Explorer John Fremont leads expedition through the Great Basin area.  They’re the first white men to see & name Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe.

*1848: U.S. acquires Nevada from Spain as a part of the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty.

*1849: Gold is discovered near Dayton.

*1851: Carson City is established as a trading post.

*1855: Mormons establish a mission under Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Valley.

*1855: Potosi quicksilver & zinc mine opens in L.V. Valley.

*1857: The Pioneer Stage Line begins stagecoach service through the Sierra Nevadas.

*1858: Gold is discovered in El Dorado.

*1859: The Comstock Lode produces silver, gold, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, barite and tungsten.

*1860: The Virginia City silver mine opens.

*1861: Territory of Nevada is established.

*1836: Nevada becomes the 28th State to join the Union.

*1864: The Nevada State constitution is sent from Carson City to Washington D.C. by Morse code telegram.  It was the longest and most expensive telegram in history.

*1884: First school in Nevada for Native Americans opens.

*1885: Lemann Caves discovered.  The site becomes a National Monument in 1922.

*1914: Women of Nevada granted the right to vote.

*1931: Nevada legalizes gambling.

*1941: Las Vegas Strip opens for business.


*The famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral wasn’t much of a shootout and didn’t take place at the O.K. Corral.  Although one of the more famous gunfights in history—the shootout between Wyatt Earp and 8 of his closest friends only lasted about 30 seconds. The shootout didn’t take place within the O.K. Corral, but rather all the shooting occurred near the intersection of Third and Fremont in Tombstone, Arizona, which is behind the corral itself. It was brutal, though as three of the lawmen were injured and three of the cowboys wound up dead.


*DID YOU KNOW? There were less than 10 true bank robberies between 1850 & 1890

 *DID YOU KNOW? There were strict gun-control laws in the towns of the Old West

* Failed bandit Elmer McCurdy’s corpse had a more interesting life than the man did.  In 1911, Elmer McCurdy, after making off with only $46 from a train robbery, was shot and killed by lawmen. McCurdy’s unclaimed body was then embalmed with an arsenic concoction, sold by the undertaker to a traveling carnival, and exhibited as a sideshow curiosity. For nearly 60 years, McCurdy’s body was bought and sold by various haunted houses and wax museums as a prop. His corpse finally wound up in an amusement park fun house in California, and during a filming there in 1976, a part of the ‘prop’ broke off, revealing human tissue. Testing by the Los Angeles coroner’s office revealed the prop was actually McCurdy. He was buried at the famous Boot Hill cemetery in Dodge City, Kansas, 66 years after his death.

*DID YOU KNOW? More bowler-type hats were worn by cowboys and outlaws than the Stetson we’ve come to know

 *DID YOU KNOW? A handful of the most notorious outlaws were women…including Belle Star, Etta Place, Pearl Hart, Della Rose, and Big Nose Kate.

* The Long Branch Saloon of “Gunsmoke” fame really did exist in Dodge City – and still does – sort of.  Anyone who watched the television show “Gunsmoke” growing up is familiar with Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, but who knew that it was a real place? No one knows exactly what year it was established, but the original saloon burned down in the great Front Street fire of 1885. The saloon was later rebuilt and now serves as a tourist attraction featuring a reproduction bar and live entertainment. According to the Boot Hill Museum, the original Long Branch Saloon served milk, tea, lemonade, sarsaparilla, alcohol and beer. www3

*DID YOU KNOW? The Old West six-shooter revolver only had a range of about 50′ 

*DID YOU KNOW? Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show traveled and ran for 30 years

* Feral camels once roamed the plains of Texas.  One of the crazier ideas in American history, the U.S. Camel Corps was established in 1856 at Camp Verde, Texas. Thinking that the arid southwest was a lot like the deserts of Egypt, the Army imported 66 camels from the Middle East. Despite the animals’ more objectionable qualities (they spat and regurgitated), the experiment was generally considered a success. As the Civil War broke out, exploration of the frontier was stalled and Confederates captured Camp Verde. After the war, most of the camels were sold (some to Ringling Brothers’ circus) and others escaped into the wild. The last reported sighting of a feral camel came out of Texas in 1941. It is presumed that no descendants are still alive today.www13

So whatever spot calls to you from the Old West, head on in armed with a little info and a great hat.


2 Comments on “REGION 7: HISTORY (The Old West) Fun Facts

  1. Pingback: REGION 7: ART & ARCHITECTURE (The Old West) Fun Facts | Road Trips and Tiny Trailers

Leave a Reply